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WayfindingHoturoa Barclay-Kerr
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Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr Bio:

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (Tainui) is the captain of the oceangoing waka Haunui. He is the son of Wharetoroa and Ngarungatapu Kerr, is married to Kim and has five children: Namaka, Turanga, Rangiiria, Noenoe and Hinemanu. Hoturoa has been sailing around the Pacific for more than thirty-five years. He paddles waka, sails waka, teaches waka.

Hoturoa grew up with his numerous elders who nurtured and cared for him on the many marae of Waikato. He is a native Māori speaker and spent the first six years of his life with the Tuhoe people in Rūātoki, where his parents taught at the Rūātoki District High School. When he and his mother moved to Auckland when he was six years old, he learnt only the English language. Hoturoa recalls how the children laughed and mocked him for his inability to speak English when he started school in Auckland. He was educated at Onehunga High School and went on to study for a BA at the University of Auckland, and a Masters at Waikato University. His Master’s thesis investigated how the waka is a symbol of mana in the twenty-first century. He was a lecturer at Waikato University for over nineteen years. More recently he has specialised in education and leadership programmes that use the waka as a platform for learning and development.

Hoturoa is an orator on his marae at Kāwhia, the home of Haunui, and the ancient landing and settlement place of his ancestral waka, Tainui and his ancestor Hoturoa.

-Te Toki Waka Hourua

Transcript of Audio:

Kia ora,


I'm from Aotearoa; New Zealand, and I'm a descendant of the people who have become to be known as Māori. But back in the time of my ancestors people were known by the different tribal names, and it wasn't until what people came to our lands, when we sort of had to make a differentiation between us and them. So we took on, or people started describing us, as Maori which really means the natural people of this land. Maori actually means to be normal, or natural… so like freshwater is Wai Māori and other things like this world, of our land Māori. So, my name is Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr.


I'm Maori in a generic context but if I was to talk about exactly who my people are my people are all descendants of an ancestral canoe that came from out of the Pacific and settled in this land about 700 or 800 years ago. And that is a tiny canoe. I can trace my family tree, my father Papa from myself from my grandson, all the way back to those first travelers on the canoe that landed here, and then quite a lot of generations back into our Pacific homeland as well. So I've lived in Aotearoa, all my life, although I've traveled on my canoe to lots of places around the Pacific.


 The degrees that I have, uh, Bachelor's degree in Arts, I did anthropology and linguistics, when I was, when I did my undergraduate program. I did a master's in Waikato University and Maori studies, we wrote a dissertation about the canoe, or the waka, is a cultural icon of our people. And in terms of my own world, and probably in terms of how, what I, what I see is the most important thing, is it that my tribesmen exceed me as a speaker to speak on their behalf in any big tribal gatherings, and they will recognize more they recognize me as a navigator in what we call a tahuna, one that’s knowledgeable in lots of different areas. More specifically, for me that's around the canoe, the ocean and ritual, all kinds of rituals so that's probably that's more important actually to me then degrees and stuff to record it, you know, musically, because it's a recognition of by my own family, and my own cousins, my own aunties and uncles, that they confident that I can do these things for them.


So if he would ask me what I thought traditional ecological knowledge was in my world, in terms of understanding the ocean, the impact of us on the ocean, and the impact on the ocean of the ocean on us: These are the kinds of things that I think make up my little basket of tradition, or what I think traditional ecological knowledge is, assuming we have old stories that talk to us of ancestors of ours who went, for example went into the forest, you have the trees to make canoes and things in, we actually have a story that shows that if you don't do the right, because you're among mental processes which is recognition of the different Guardians of the forest and the guardians of the trees and all the creatures of the forest, if you don't recognize these different entities in the right way, in the appropriate way, the goals and tasks you see for yourself will may never be completed. 


And so this carries over to all of the things that we've grown up in learn to do in terms of how we behave on the ocean, how we, how we build them. Well firstly, how we find trees, how we cut them down, how we move them out of the forest, and we set up a compound to build our canoes, and all the rules and rituals that come with it. But once it can use built in finish it's also harder standing have this then becomes a vehicle to carry on the conversation of how we as people need to interact with our environment. And I think that's the kind of stuff that is a foundation for the traditional ecological knowledge that I understand, which tells me, when is the best time to go and do certain things in our environment, whether it's cutting a tree down whether it's going to catch a fish, whether it's going to hunt birds or other things, either in the forest, way up on the legs, or on the harbor, it's understanding the overall cycle of things. 


Understanding when you don't touch anything, because it will be a time when that resource or those, those foods are in a time of recovery. And so you need to understand: “Okay this, we need to do these kinds of things. Instead of what other people might normally do.” And one of the things my grandmother always spent a lot of time trying to tell us a bit was the idea that it's understanding where certain food is, when is the right time to have a sit in when is the right time to leave it to recover, how much you should take, what do you should leave, and how this relationship with gathering even planting and harvesting, if you do it well, it works in with the whole ecological system where we live in, so you have a fairly well oiled machine. We everything takes care of itself and if you take care of, if you take care of all these things, those things in turn will look after you. So, you know, even when it comes down to get new people coming onto the canoe, and I said one of the most important things you need to be able to do is understand what a maintenance program might look like on this canoe, because if we do everything according to what we think is the best for this canoe, when we in times of trouble this canoe will save your life.


It's the same as the only other parts of our environment if we do if we know how to take care of it properly, in times of need that's what's going to save your life. So, I always think of the, the voyaging model that we have: is we're reintroducing a lot of people who got a little bit disconnected from a traditional ecological understanding by using the canoe is a small self contained little world, that they can start to understand these little bits and pieces.


Now, in back in the time of my ancestors before colonial contact, there was their systems of navigation that we've started to revive again, and these systems of navigation, or combination of a number of things it's, it's combination of knowing the right season to be traveling, knowing what the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars are during the traveling season, understanding what migratory patterns of different birds and animals might be during their time of travel, and understanding what the weather patterns might be and understanding how to how to detect the changes in things like cloud cover, the types of clouds and all those things that will help you predict the weather that's going to be accompanying you on that particular journey. 


This is all done by observation, and looking at what's around you, understanding the natural cycle of things, in understanding where the signposts of nature are to help you sit where you want to go. This was the way things were done for a long long time, but they're one of the issues here in Aotearoa was that once, because it's such a big land once our ancestors came to all do the training backwards and forwards to the Pacific homeland that our ancestors came from, slowly dying away. And we got to a point where really, there was no real need to be traveling backwards and forwards to the islands in the Pacific, other than to visit your relatives.


And so, focus became more around coastal travel, and we've made it in changing from giant double hulled canoes, it could sail thousands of miles to canoes that were ideal for moving up and down the coast of New Zealand. So, there was a change in what canoes people use in how they use them in the type of navigation that took place.


Once we get Western thinking, there became a time where everybody -I want to say everybody  but I am talking about both my ancestors and people coming in - got to a point where they start to underestimate the value of traditional stuff.



And so of course when people turn up with things like watches and clocks and sextants, and all these types of things -these tools- , two people can use to help prod and navigate a course, what starts to happen is that the traditional knowledge of the people becomes undervalued and part of that is because it's not written down, it's just it's not it's information is passed on orally from one generation to the next, where it gets to a point that people who are so used to seeing things written down in on paper and in books tend to think that anything is orally transmitted isn’t of value or isn’t real. So we went through a stage in Aotearoa where the traditional stories of navigation, and traveling, especially from the faraway islands, started become lost in the realm of missing Legion. There it was just kind of the kinds of stories that people told that they told but didn't really believe in, because no one could get, fathom, the idea that actually you don't need some of these tools to travel thousands of miles across the ocean. And so we, we've been sucked in to a world of thinking that the only good way of doing things is a wisdom, like. So things have changed over the years over the last 50 years or so.


And, you know, part of it I guess is understanding what Wayfinding is, from my point of view, is Wayfinding is finding your way across, thousands of miles ocean, and it needs to be successful, you need to be able to understand what it takes to prepare a group of people in the vessel, and then figure out what course you want to take, and then actually across land at a place far across horizon, below the horizon that no one else can see, but is all the information that's been stored over centuries to get you there.


Now, that's just one aspect of wayfinding. You know wayfinding also really talks about things like how do you take your people, had you sit and think about what are the best outcomes for your people. You can show them. So, in terms of the canoe model, you're showing them that there's a new place to go, to this could be new opportunities, new land, new resources, all of those things. That's one aspect of it, but if, if we draw back on it, it says things about just doing that you can do these kinds of things with your family. You can do these kinds of things with your clan. This sort of sitting down and looking at, okay, how can we plan, it might not be a journey across thousands of miles of ocean but it could be a journey to get them from position, perhaps, of where the health isn't so good, to a position where they're healthy, they feel good, they're healthy. In the end they operate in a really, really solid collective. That’s wayfinding too. The whole idea of it is trying to put a plan together, to get you from one island, (could be a real island, or an imaginary island) to another one. And that other island could be a real island or it could be some outcome or goal that your group has, has thought about and decided that's where we want to get to.


So, but the canoe is a great way of illustrating what this is all about.


Where I talk about going out over the ocean on these canoes, the canoes that I sail on, twin hull voyaging canoes that are sail driven, they have sails that blow us across the ocean. 


Now I've had people who have come to me and said, “Oh, they’re just like these catamarans' that are down at the marina. And I'm goin, “Well actually, those catamarans are just like ours, because our canoes were the prototypes of these types of modern craft that people fly around on now. So, our canoes have two hulls, we have sails, they drive us, they're pretty big my canoe that I sail on is 72 feet long and can be sailed with 16 people. We can sail with eight of us, eight of us have sailed on some pretty far journeys too, but they need to be big enough that you can carry enough food, you can carry enough water, you have space for preparing food, you have space for crew to sleep, and you sail the canoe 24 hours a day, seven days a week for however long it takes you to get to where you need to be.


You have a big steering oar at the back end of the canoe, at the stern, and this is what do you use to keep your canoe on track. Now you know how to balance your sails and trim them, with the wind, you can actually hit where you want to go without having to use a steering mechanism.


The most basic parts of ocean going Waka are the two hulls. The cross beams that attach them are really, really strong lashing patterns and techniques, these different types of meshing patterns useful for strength and flexibility, you use to tie the cross beams onto the hulls to keep them to bring them together.


You have rigging that holds the masts up, and your sails that you run off those masts. You have those, and your steering pedal, or steering oar that keeps you on track, those are the most basic parts of an ocean going canoe, and their ability to store food and water.


Now, when we think about how stars are utilized, one of the main stores of information that a navigator needs is an understanding of where stars rise and set on the horizon, for the duration of your journey, because stars rise and set in specific, specific places on the horizon all the time, never changes.


And so if you, if you understand the way stars move which is the earth moving, but spinning, what it looks like the stars are coming up out of the eastern sky: They go up, go over here and they come down in the western sky. We understand how stars move the most - the best time to utilize them is when they're just rising above the horizon, or when they're just going down below, they're just down to the horizon because they don't have a lot of north-south deviation in the journey up into the sky.


So, what a navigator needs to understand is how to transfer the view from one star as it's risen to a point or set when it’s coming down to a setting point where it becomes, where you can't use it accurately. You need to know how to transfer your point of reference, from that one star that’s becoming of no use, to another one that might be rising or sitting that you’re able to use, that as a really, really quick way of looking at stars in that way. 


The Southern Cross is a really important group of stars for us here in Aotearoa, well because, for a number of things. Firstly, in combination with a number of other stars that are around it, you're able to use the southern cross to find ways to [audio glitch]. Then once you found South, you can find your other cardinal points really easily like North, East, West, as well. If you know how to use those kinds of lineups, Starline, you’re actually able to utilize the Southern Cross with it. The other good thing about the southern crosses for us in the southern hemisphere, is we sail further and further north to southern crosses, as it goes around in its circular motion around the South Celestial Pole, when we were in New Zealand, we could see the Southern Cross, well the southern cross never sets, it just spins around,. But the further north we go is the Southern Cross comes to the lower part of its spin, it starts to drop below the horizon. So as a Southern Cross drops below the horizon, each navigator will calibrate the clear hand measurements using their hands and things but you're able to actually calibrate how many miles to the north you're sailing. If you're sending hair to the southern hemisphere, up towards the equator and then up to places like Hawaii, this opposite thing happens when hitting back down to Aotearoa. The higher the southern cross is, the closer you're getting to south. So those are just real little quick things I can share with you about how stars are used and how the southern cross can be utilized as well.


If we go back to Wayfinding, for me to share what some of the values and skills that come with Wayfinding. I think part of this is, is understanding what it takes to be a leader. What it takes to understand what you need to be able to do to keep everybody on board with you. When I say, on what I mean, just to stay with whatever the program is, to have faith in the kinds of things you're asking them to do. And to exude the kinds of things that give them confidence in your decision making, gives them confidence in understanding the things that you'll be making decisions on are all in their best interest. Or the big thing about all of this is understanding that, because of the communal way, traditional societies operated, the leader always needed to understand how, what the best outcomes for the people are at all times.


And that means things like - From when I was very young, some of my old uncles said to me: “Always make sure that you can always provide your people with food and a place to sleep, and other things that they need to survive”. So if wayfinding takes you down the path of understanding what are the current, what are the key, things that I need to understand and know, to provide for my people, and to give them the best opportunities that I can. To understand what they require, and then to understand how we can collectively work together, to achieve these things that they want. 


That's, at the end of the voyage, I want everyone getting off the canoe, and instead of running away from me, saying to me: “I can't wait to go on the next trip. I can't wait to do this again with you.” And these are the kinds of measures of success, one of these voyages kind of brings, you know I've had a young man asked me one time if we were going to die because it was so rough and stormy. He said “Are we gonna, are we gonna die?” And I said, well, not if I've got anything to do with it, you know what, I'll use my knowledge and experience to the utmost, to make sure that the decisions I make aren't going to put us in a position where we think, where the only outcome is death is not going to happen. It’s leadership and understanding what it takes to be a good leader, some of the skills that come with wayfinding.


From, I think from a Western viewpoint, it's been a long time for them to get their heads around what traditional navigation is all about. I think for quite a while, especially through the 50s and 60s, especially here in Aotearoa, I think the common thinking was that my ancestors got here by mistake, that they went out on a fishing trip, so way up in the islands, and somehow got blown out to sea and then ended up landing on a place like this. You know, always tried to say to people, you don’t normally go on a fishing trip with your whole family, and your cousins and your children, and maybe some trees, and maybe some pigs, and maybe a chicken or two (if you're just going out for a fishing trip.) And I think it's a very difficult thing for people who are so used to believing, or so used to reading things in books, and having tools from western-wechnical world at hand, to do the things in to achieve the things you need to do. They have a really hard time trying to deal with people who say: “Well, I don't need that stuff, I can just look at the sky, I can look at the ocean. I just look at them. Look at the birds and the fish, it's going to tell me a whole lot of information that I need to get moving along.” So I think, it was easier for people to believe theories of accidental voyaging, than to actually admit that the navigational knowledge of our ancestors was right up there. 


That it was actually real stuff. And that it was actually just as scientific as any other things that people might have from a western framework, the sort of encounter nature, today you know, walk around in town, sometimes people will come to say:  “Oh, you're the guy who navigates canoes across the ocean!” and I say, “Yep.” And then the next thing he says, “Oh, you can tell us the truth... you really do use a GPS, don't you.” You know, that’s just a general, I guess, discriminatory thinking that people have, that they still have a really difficult time thinking that indigenous people are clever. And I think that's a really tough thing for a lot of people who think that they come from a world where they're civilized, but they come from a world where they have written everything down, so their stuff is right and everything else is wrong. It's really difficult for them to come to terms, where the only thing that's been really good over the last 30 or 40 years is yet, despite all that, we still built canoes, and we started sailing everywhere. We sailed our canoe to all these different places around the Pacific, then people are absolutely astounded that we've done it. But I think that came from the time when I was a little boy, and all my grandmothers and grandparents told me these stories about the epic journeys of my ancestors.


Then, you know I went to school, you know, I mean I guess I’m in a schooling system that is predominantly based on a white one, on white theories, that I started to learn that everybody else didn't believe in the same stories that I believed in. So one of the things that happened was as I’d become a teenager was that I actually wanted to go out and build a canoe, and learn how to navigate, sail, and navigate into these waters and SAY: “See? It’s actually real.”. The great thing is that there is a whole lot of  other people that did the same thing, and got to the point now where we can sail the big world. You can believe what you want, but we've done it, and we can tell you that we're alive to tell you that story.



So I think Western thinking, not just academia, but I think Western thinking has had a really difficult time, and has trivialized these epic voyaging stories of our ancestors. They don’t talk about my ancestors, the way they talk about Greek heroes going around on the boats and stuff... It's amazing, because our ancestors sailed way, way further than those guys out in the Mediterranean Sea. So, these are the kinds of things that motivated me to get out and do the kind of stuff that I've done. 


In terms of the preservation of indigenous knowledge, I think for people to firstly understand that preserving it is one thing, but practicing it is another, then they need to go hand in hand. You know I know guys who are pretty good at writing about navigation, you know, pretty good at writing about canoes with it, but they don't actually come out and do it in. And so, when you sit down and ask them what you have dealt with them, they'll give you some kind of scenario that they're running a bit, and then you say to him well: “It doesn't work like that. It looks okay, but it actually doesn’t work like that.” And so, part of the journey that I've been on over the last 30 years or more of my life, is actually looking at building canoes, sailing on them, in them, and then reframing the stories that my grandfathers and grandmothers told me, because they're telling me the stories of the true journeys of my ancestors.


From the point of view of a land-lover, of course, none of them haven't been on out on the ocean, none of them have ever been far enough from land to know one, so I could just see the ocean for the stories or stories… stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. They have been land dwellers, they haven't been long distance voyages anymore. So once I started sailing and doing all these things, I started to see how some of the stories that they were telling me, they had clues in them, that up until then, that you would never understand. Unless you actually went out there and did something on a canoe, or you tested what they talked about out in the middle of the ocean, and then suddenly, unlike tunes, it’s a bit of an understanding or revelation of some of the meaning, or something they’ve taught, they’ve told you about, it's associated to this practice. So I think it's really, really important that not only do you need to preserve indigenous knowledge, but you need to practice it. Because when you practice it, you get more out of the knowledge that has been preserved, you understand more and you are able to gain more solid understanding and information from the old stories of your ancestors.


In terms of why traditional ecological knowledge should be taken more seriously, in academia and with policymakers is: I think they missed the point, because they don't live in these places, so they don't live is someone who's a part of a particular environment, and a part of a particular ecosystem, part of a particular area, or in a coastal area, inland area, a lake area, anything. If they don't live there, they don't understand how everything works. And our ancestors have been doing this kind of stuff for thousands of years. And if they really want to understand what works and what doesn't work, they should be sitting down and talking to some of the grandpas and grandmas, that I know, who used to live in a particular type of way, and everything worked, but now they've been forced to live some other way and now they have to go to the shop to get new stuff.


Or now, they sit on the shores of what was once a bountiful harbor area, and they lament the fact that all the food they could gather when they were children, is no longer available. And it's because people have gone and changed everything. Whereas, back in their day they had these [unsure] right from the start. They had a system of things that worked, they told you when you did this, when you did that, when you did the next thing. And so you're able to maintain and preserve, and grow the resources around you.


So seriously, some of the people in academia and policymakers need to go and meet some of these people and listen to them, and don’t look at them as just some crazy old person who lives by the sea, who lives in a forest, but as a person who knows stuff. I think that's one of the biggest difficulties too is it often, because people have a degree or because people say they're a scientist or they come from an institution, there’s immediate skill differentiation or knowledge differentiation that occurs: That immediately puts grandparents, they presume, into a minor role, where they actually have a major role in these kinds of things. 


Other than lead I, I just really want everyone to work well together to understand how nature works. To understand the kinds of things that if we do things well and we listen, not just to the stories, but to our hearts. We can make a big change


For me, well when I was helping with one of the young navigators, his job was to navigate us to Hawaii. And often during the journey north, he’d asked me for my opinion. Then often I'd say him: “Do you remember this certain story I told you about this area? And what’s the message in that story?” Will we be cruising along somewhere, so I’d be saying “What did I tell you that so-and-so said we need to look for, when we come to these places? What are the signs we need to see?” And so he saw all those things, then we finally got to Hawaii successfully, he did a great job navigating us to Hawaii. I asked him before we got off the canoe: “What was the one thing you learned on this voyage?”, and his reply to me was that he said, “Our ancestors will never, ever abandon us.” And so if we take that on board, and we think about all the things that our ancestors have talked to us about, in we’ve learned from them: They won't abandon us. And we can keep moving on in this world. [Transcribed by Sierra Gerber].

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