The Mahi Tahi steering committee recently sent an open letter to the journal HAU’s board of Trustees. We received this reply.
Subject: An Open Letter to the HAU Journal’s Board of Trustees -
Message: Dear friends,
we really appreciate your letter, and we do agree with your critique. We apologise for the founding use of the name HAU without collectively seeking for your advice. HAU’s only move at the time was to invite Paul Tapsell to be a member of the first editorial board. Although this Maori concept has become anthropologist's common parlance, HAU Journal and HAU Books should have consulted you before using it. As you say, the new Board of Trustees have pressing issues to deal with now, but we would be honoured if you, in due time, could open a venue for conversation and understanding in the spirit of true reciprocity.
(for the Board of Trustees)
Here is Mahi Tahi’s response:
Tēnā koutou katoa,
We appreciated your candid and swift response to our open letter. We are particularly glad to see public acknowledgment of Paul Tapsell’s involvement in the initial phase of the journal.
While your response focused on the issue of initial consultation, our open letter was present and future focused. We’re certainly interested to see what your plans are to tackle the current issues you face.
You are right that the word, hau, is indeed common parlance in anthropology, and it’s worth our whole discipline reflecting on the process by which concepts can get so removed from the communities that generate them. After all, for a journal that sees the generative potential of ethnography for developing theory, taking a century old, third hand, western account, without any further reference to that living, changing, intellectually engaged social world, is simply bad ethnography. It also assumes anthropologists are the only ones who can extrapolate wisdom from the raw building blocks of someone else’s ‘culture’, that we are accountable only to our own intellectual circles.
You invite us to open a venue for conversation. Rather than asking us to initiate that process and to trust that things are/will be different at the journal, our suggestion is that the journal takes full responsibility for thinking about and understanding the issues at hand as an initial step.
In Māori communities, whanaungatanga - the process of building strong relationships - ideally comes before the pursuit of other goals. But before such relationships can be built with others, good intent and sound actions have to be well demonstrated. This seems particularly pertinent in relation to how well HAU can demonstrate its own whanaungatanga, that it cares for and support its staff and volunteers in the immediate term, and whether it refuses to tolerate violent or abusive behaviour from anyone involved in the journal.
We are happy to suggest several highly qualified professionals to consult on linguistic and cultural issues. It’s vital that in trying to address the different issues that we and others have raised, the journal doesn’t inflict further exploitation by expecting indigenous scholars, all of whom are busy, some of whom are insecurely employed, to perform free labour in the name of this consultation. This is another way in which well intentioned academics reproduce the structural violence of colonisation. Māori and Pākehā scholars have ample work to attend to already, right here in Aotearoa, in order to decolonize our own departments, our own classrooms, and our own university institutions.
Innovative open access initiatives are springing up in many places within anthropology now, and indigenous-led publishing platforms are thriving in New Zealand. In other words, it’s now up to HAU to demonstrate why anyone in Aotearoa should engage. This might sound harsh, but we mean it respectfully, as a challenge.
Finally, we encourage you, along with all anthropology journals, to think hard about how specific issues, like the claiming of an indigenous name, are symptomatic of much wider structures of inequality. We should all take a hard look at the way our ‘top’ journals reproduce and reinforce privilege and power for certain circles of academics (often white, often based at high prestige institutions in the US, the UK and Europe, often linked to editors through personal networks, often invited to contribute) and how this too is part of the ongoing effects of colonisation that are still writ large within anthropology. In other words, decolonising a journal doesn’t just mean consulting on indigenous terms, it means challenging the hierarchies of knowledge that systematically exclude BIPOC scholars.
We are aware that this response contains some robust critique, which we offer constructively, and in good faith. This is a crucial moment in anthropology, and for HAU, and we see real potential for important change to occur.
We appreciate your willingness to engage with these issues.