Aggressive Academics and the Search for the Mother’s Milk

When I was 3 months old, for some strange reason, the hospital told my mother that I was allergic to breast milk (an absolute ludicrous piece of advice). Against all her instincts, gut intuition and inner voice, she followed the advice to switch me to formula. From that point on, she said, I became an ‘aggressive’ baby. I wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t feed properly and became extremely stressed for long periods. No doubt, I rebelled against this inferior substitute of nourishment and was demanding the ‘real thing’.

My mother, a Māori woman from Ngāti Porou, had moved from the small, rural and densely Māori community of Whareponga/Ruatoria to be with my father. My father was a Pakeha, taking my mother into the white/pakeha community of Invercargill. Which in those days was like crossing into different worlds.

My mother had been removed from all she had known about how to act and be in this world. So when she as confronted with these two very contrasting pieces of information – what she felt was right and what she was told was right, the two knowledge banks, didn’t align. Her normal whanau/family systems, processes and support weren’t available or accessible to direct her.

We, as indigenous scholars become vulnerable to these types of predicaments, because we are often removed from the bosom of our communities and placed in academic institutions that contradict indigenous ways of thinking and doing. We often find ourselves faced with contrasting information. Our academic institutions are designed for people who primarily want to propel and forward their careers, producing what I call aggressive academics.

I was alarmed recently, at the last conference I attended to find a Māori Professor – an aggressive academic, so adamant, so determined to climb the ladder, that he was producing substandard research. In business there is a term that you hear often thrown around when ideas are being assessed – Is it scale-able? This means how big and how far across the globe can you take this idea. This is often the goal in academia, those who have the biggest and most scale-able ideas get rewarded with fame, fortune and promotion. This Professor was trying to make our indigenous knowledge and our way of doing things scale-able, or in academic terms, generalizable. I’m not against doing this, but not at the expense of diminishing the mana of our knowledge. The flaws in his methodology and intention of his research screamed out so loudly that even I, a mere  PhD student could hear them. Some of our Indigenous scholars have had to become aggressive academics to survive, trading off between doing what they feel is right and what they are told is right.

It is important that we don’t get obsessed with making ourselves scale-able. We are in fact unique and special. This can never be duplicated. Our academic institutions want us to focus on scale-able ideas, they want to ‘fast food–ify’ our knowledge and then send it as imitation milk formula out to the multitudes. Our academic intuitions have a long way to go before they ‘get us’, and our challenge as indigenous academic scholars is to keep fighting for the mothers milk.

Artwork: Wahine me kereru Robyn Kahukiwa


  1. jo

    s a Maori we need to stay true to who we are our Tikanga our reo and most importantly our whakapapa. It is there that we hold richness,knowledge that is greater than any academic literature n ‘ scale able’.
    Your article also reminded me of the book by Patricia Grace ‘A way of talking’ and ‘BUtterflies’. When assimilation into a culture like your Mums to Murihiku the two world are so vast an different. Hautoa .. thank you for this article and having the courage to speak out for Maori.
    Pai rawatu

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ngahuia dixon

    Kia ora Kiri – just by chance came across your comments – well put – my own doctoral research was on mother’s milk centrality (more precisely the embodied waters of birth and mourning) and what you say is absolutely correct – kia kaha kotiro


  3. Mariaelena

    Well said Kiri! I admire the way you are able to articulate pieces of ‘reality’ because it is a sad reality – there exists aggressive academics.Let’s unite and stay true to ourselves, let’s keep having the best interest of our Indigenous roots at heart now and always. Ka pai kotiro sister!

    Liked by 1 person

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