How people make meaning in their lives
Dr Linda Waimarie Nikora (Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Tūhoe) looks at how people make meaning in their lives — in order to tackle big challenges.
"I came up to Auckland in 2017, to become co-director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga — the national Māori Centre of Research Excellence — and Professor of Indigenous Studies here in Te Wānanga o Waipapa. Before then, I had worked for about 30 years in the University of Waikato psychology department.
"Psychology is a code word for 'how people make meaning in their lives'. We all make meaning in order — hopefully — to have purposeful, impactful, good, well lives.
"I am particularly interested in how Māori find meaning in their lives. With that question as a springboard, I have ended up in all sorts of areas: death, rituals, customs, medications and, more recently, into the much broader mass of activity that is Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.
"Ngā Pae has brought me into conversation with many people who, sometimes unwittingly, are applying psychology as part of their everyday work. For example, in the office next door to mine, a soil scientist, Dr Dan Hikuroa, is working on how we can make our waterways cleaner. That's a people problem, not a soil problem — he has to ask 'how do we get people to do things differently?'
"So I can make a small contribution in an area — environmental problems — that I probably would never have come across if I was simply in an academic psychology department."
I am particularly interested in how Māori find meaning in their lives.
"Indigenous studies is important. The list of Indigenous peoples and languages is reducing very rapidly, and that's a hugely worrying thing.
"One of the problems with a reduced number of cultures, languages and ways of life is that we lose the spectrum within humanity of doing things variously.
"In ecology, the possibilities for ongoing survival are much greater in a diverse system than in a monoculture. Monocultures have reduced resilience. That's the pathway that the world is moving down horribly rapidly — it's a global phenomenon and it should be a global concern.
"Our indigenous researchers here in New Zealand have made a significant impact on the international stage as we reflect on our own quest to be self-determining. Lots of Indigenous people from the global community come here to learn about our experience."
One of the problems with a reduced number of cultures, languages and ways of life is that we lose the spectrum within humanity of doing things variously.
"Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is a nationwide network so I spend a lot of time in online meetings. My job as the Centre's co-director is to support the work of our 150 researchers and their students. It's also flying the flag and saying 'come on troops, let's go in this direction' — ensuring our capacity is focussed on priorities when working as a collective so we can make a bigger difference than if we were all working piecemeal on separate problems. We recently promoted a research focus on climate change. I love talking about climate change because, again, it's really a people problem so it's back to psychology.
"I also advise several Ngā Pae research teams. One team is asking about precarious households in austere times — how do people manage? What are their challenges? It's heart breaking; our systems are compassionless. So the challenge becomes 'how do we change the system?'
"And I'm supervising a post-doctoral researcher, Dr Kiri Edge, looking at sexual ethics. She's interested in the challenges that people confront when moving into new relationships. How do they find and make new relationships? What did they learn from their previous relationships?"
I love talking about climate change because, again, it's really a people problem so it's back to psychology.
"The ultimate goal of our research is transformative change, making a difference in people's lives. It's not about research for research’s sake, it’s not about research for academic promotion. It's about research that is felt by our communities."
Linda welcomes conversations with students and researchers who are interested in studying or working in the Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga multidisciplinary space on Indigenous issues that concern their own communities.