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Annie Potts, Director of NZCHAS, talks about New Zealand’s original approach to ‘decolonizing’ the 2019 AASA Conference

August 22, 2019 Conferences No Comments Email Email

Why bring AASA to Christchurch?

“The Australasian Animal Studies Association’s biennial conference had not yet been held in Aotearoa, even though New Zealand-based scholars are dedicated members.

“The New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies (NZCHAS) at Canterbury University is the only research and teaching hub in this specialized field of study in the Southern Hemisphere; we also offer the only full programme in Human-Animal Studies courses (from 100 level right through to PhD level).

“This was a really important opportunity to host local and international specialists in this interdisciplinary area, to show them what NZCHAS and UC offers in terms of teaching, postgraduate and academic research opportunities, and to showcase how Christchurch is the leading city for HAS in Australasia.”

‘Decolonizing’ the event

The conference theme was Decolonizing Animals. It explored how colonial politics and histories have shaped, and continue to shape, the contemporary worlds of humans and other animals.

“We designed, planned and ran the conference according to bicultural kaupapa (principles) with a plant-based animal-centred twist. All delegates received information about tikanga Māori (customary practices) ahead of the conference so that correct protocols were maintained throughout the event. And our vegan kaupapa ensured that this was an animal-friendly event.

“The conference committee comprised Māori, Pākehā and tauiwi scholars, and we were concerned to ensure that the event was a non-hierarchical, intersectional and inclusive event – only first and last names appeared on badges, no-one’s title or ‘status’ in academia was displayed.

“Indigenous perspectives on human-animal relations were prioritized — we invited Māori keynotes from different iwi in Aotearoa, as well as keynote speakers with Mohawk and Aztec heritage from the USA and Mexico respectively.

Professor Philip Armstrong with companion pigs on one of the conference outings

“Although AASA conferences tend to be primarily academic conferences, one of our goals was to also decolonize the academy itself, so we also invited keynotes who were animal advocates in their communities, as well as experts in indigenous plant-based practices. For example, one keynote session focusing on Latin American perspectives featured a lead campaigner against bullfighting from Colombia (Terry Hurtado) followed by an expert on indigenous plant-based food from Mexico (Wvtko Tristan) who prepared a traditional Aztec plant-based meal as part of his presentation.

“We were especially keen to make students feel welcome and to this end one of our doctoral students arranged a postgraduate workshop on Critical Animal Studies and Intersectionality which was led by one of our keynote speakers from the USA.”

Delivering to all tastes

“Christchurch was a great place for this event. The weather stayed fine and the venue – The Piano Music and Arts Centre – was central, new, bright and warm, with a variety of accommodation, shops, galleries, and cafes and the city’s vibrant street art within walking distance. All keynotes were put up at the new Crowne Plaza Hotel a few doors down from The Piano. This was a beautiful welcoming space after a long day of conferencing.

“Christchurch also happens to be the New Zealand’s capital for plant-based kai (food), so delegates (most of whom were vegan) were spoiled for choice in terms of nearby cafes and restaurants. Yealands Family Wine provided free vegan wine for the opening reception.”

A host of benefits

“Canterbury University benefited from this event in some very direct ways.

“As a result of this opportunity to showcase what NZCHAS offers we have now been approached by graduate students from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, Central America and Mexico about undertaking doctoral research in Human-Animal Studies at UC in the future.

Moreover, we have been invited to participate in international exchanges such as the Erasmus+ teaching programme (between European universities and UC) and host international scholars at our centre who have won prestigious European postdoctoral and other academic grants. Specialist networks also emerged during the conference comprised of scholars and animal advocates from across the globe.

“Since this event I have also been contacted by a publishing business in Cambridge, UK, that wants to publish a collation of papers from the conference.”

Morning karakia with Witi Ihimaera.

Super support crew

“I teamed up with Jean Hendry from Tourism New Zealand and Claire Hector-Taylor from ChristchurchNZ, to bid for the 2019 AASA conference. They were really friendly, helpful and encouraging – we couldn’t have done it without their guidance and support.

“Tourism New Zealand was immensely helpful at the start, inviting me to put a bid forward for the AASA conference in 2019, and then putting me in contact with ChristchurchNZ who helped me to design the proposal document. I was also sponsored by TNZ to attend the AASA conference in Adelaide in 2017 where I presented the successful bid. ChristchurchNZ also supplied important local knowledge and guidance and provided maps of Christchurch and promotional materials of the region for placement in delegates’ conference bags.

“UC helped us immensely too, from organisation to AV and budgeting assistance. The College of Arts also sponsored the attendance of Professor Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider (one of our opening keynotes) and Vermont-based feminist psychologist Dr Pattrice Jones (another keynote speaker).

“Our postgraduate students were the backbone of this event; they were the frontline team who welcomed and cared for our manuhiri (guests) so warmly and enthusiastically. They were awesome ambassadors for UC and NZCHAS.

“Being part of such a kind and generous and fun conference organizing team made this event an amazing experience.”

DELEGATE QUOTES:

“That you honoured your doctoral students, activists, people whose identity often marginalizes them in our world, artists, and most importantly, Indigenous peoples, not merely through superficial acts, but by placing them at the centre, performed precisely the ethics we espouse. It was a wonderful conference. Beautifully organized, rich in content, gentle in manner, honest, gruelling, hopeful and connected.”
Professor Danielle Celermajer, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

“I think what really stood out for me and other conferences goers I spoke to was how integral the New Zealand setting was to the success of a decolonizing animal studies event. I think the organisers did a really good job of ‘doing’ decolonising animal studies through centring Māori, language, speakers and practices, rather than just talking about how we might do it theoretically.”
Zoei Sutton, PhD Candidate, FLINDERS UNIVERSITY, AUSTRALIA

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