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Associate Professor Krushil Watene

Associate Professor Krushil Watene (Ngāti Manu, Te Hikutu, Ngāti Whātua o Orākei, Tonga) is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities at Massey University.

Krushil specialises in moral and political philosophies of well-being, development, and justice with a particular focus on indigenous philosophies. She works closely with Māori communities to support the revitalisation and sustaining of mātauranga Māori, and the ways in which Māori justice concepts can contribute to global justice theorising.

Krushil was appointed to the United Nations 2020 Human Development Report Advisory Board and is looking at ways to access which dimensions of environmental sustainability impact most directly on human capabilities to produce and sustain well-being. She was elected as a Rutherford Discovery Fellow in 2018, and her work has been supported by the Marsden Fund, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, and the Land and Water National Science Challenge.

Q. Why did you join the Panel?

Ideas about concepts like fairness pervade our lives and shape the society in which we live. Critical discussion and reflection about these concepts can shape how we live together and can shape our places in the world. It’s important to get people thinking about the way we live together, how our policies constrain or enable what we can do, what we think justice and sustainability requires, and so on. Fairness plays a role in these conversations. Being able to have these critical discussions is an important part of what it takes to re-imagine our lives together.

Q. What do you bring to the Panel?

Being trained in mainstream philosophy, I would say that I bring an understanding of the way in which an idea like fairness shapes our social narratives. As someone committed to Māori and other indigenous concepts, I also bring useful critical tools to bring mainstream narratives to light and to show how Māori notions provide powerful narratives of their own.

On my father’s side, I’m mainly from Tai Tokerau. My grandmother is a Wikaira/Kaio from Whirinaki in the Hokianga. My grandfather is a Wynyard/Watene from Kāretu in the Bay of Islands and the Kaipara and Tāmaki. On my mother’s side, my grandmother is English from Yorkshire, and my grandfather was Tongan from Vava’u. My brothers and I grew up in South Auckland. Relationships have been an important part of my life. Navigating differences – particularly different values and narratives – and searching for connections amidst those differences has been central to finding a place in the world. This is probably one of the reasons that it’s important to me to make sense of how culture grounds and facilitates wellbeing, justice, and what it means to live good lives.

A lot of my research is about prioritising the needs and aspirations of communities in these kinds of wellbeing discussions. Often ideas like fairness are implicit in community conversations. So, although we might not use particular words to describe our experiences or hopes for the future, much of what we do say tells us something important about what something like a ‘fair future’ requires. Communities are a source of great knowledge about the future – often the role I that think people like me have is to listen to what they say and demonstrate how what is being said can shape the future. For example, my beautiful people from Ngāti Manu want to (among other things) rebuild connections to our landscapes and our marae. In part this means restoring the ecosystems, but it also includes reconnecting our people with language, practices, and each other through our own ways of being but also through such things as meaningful employment opportunities and the full range of wellbeing dimensions.

Q. Where is the future likely to drive us if there isn’t any change?

Many of our concepts are grounded in individual rights and property ownership, and treat the natural environment as a resource without limit. We also tend to hold the view that society is a collection of individuals working together for mutual advantage. On this view, the value of individuals is largely determined by how useful they are. These views ignore the full range of ways in which we (individually and collectively) enrich each other’s lives. They ignore the importance of love, kindness, and our own vulnerabilities. Put another way, there are many threads that make up a fair and flourishing life and community.

Q. Are there grounds for optimism?

The place of other knowledges and Māori knowledge in particular within our discussion of these concepts is really vital.  It doesn’t take much to see that we need listen more to each other, to accept that things should be different, and work toward creating a fairer and more equitable future.

Many stars are needed to light the night sky. And we need many people, many voices, and many more perspectives to get a sense of the important challenges we face, and to work towards something better. And I mean this not merely as a nation but also as a global community. Philosophy can really help here. One part of the journey is about trying to understand where our ideas have come from - how we get to where we are in our thinking, why our thinking continues to stay here, and how we can move it forward. More importantly, Māori philosophy gives us a different narrative, a different story about where our ideas come from and what influences our thinking. Among the opportunities for learning within Māori philosophy is a story of how ideas and thinking survives, finds a place even in a hostile environment, and how the natural environment can shape and safeguard that thinking. More generally, philosophy can chart a powerful story about what we should do from here. I think this is what philosophy and particularly Māori philosophy brings to this panel and to important conversations about fair, equitable, and just futures generally.

View a profile on Krushil Watene as a Rutherford Discovery Fellow.