Indigenous Geographies

People: Jay Johnson

My research focuses primarily on comparative studies into the struggles over Indigenous peoples’ self-determination.  This research has focused on resource management, political activism on the national and international levels and on the political struggles over particular places and landscapes.  Much of my research work has been conducted in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and North America. 

Biculturalism, Resource Management and Indigenous Self-determination:
This research project began with my dissertation work at the University of Hawai'i.  The dissertation focused on the struggle by Māori to gain greater control over resource management and their use of the Resource Management Act to aid in this struggle.  I also compared Māori struggles with Inuit struggles to control wildlife and resource management in the newly formed Nunavut Territory of northern Canada.  I have recently updated this research and hope to publish these findings in the Canadian Geographer.

Waitangi: a contested landscape:
I and geography PhD student Will Price are currently conducting archival research and preparing for field research on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, site of the negotiation and initial signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Māori chiefs and the British Crown on 6 February, 1840.  This treaty established British sovereignty over New Zealand while promising to protect Māori self-determination over their lands and treasured resources.  The site of the signing, the house occupied by the British Lieutenant-Governor and the Māori carved meeting house added for the 100th anniversary have become a major tourist destination.  These buildings and surrounding lands were purchased by Lord Bledisloe, then Governor-General of New Zealand, as a gift to the nation intended to aid in nation-building.  It is for this reason that the Treaty Grounds have become the focus of much of the Waitangi Day national holiday celebrations.

Māori, the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand, have, in more recent years used the Treaty Grounds as a site of protest over the failures of the New Zealand government to protect their self-determination since the signing of the treaty.  They have used the ‘birth-place of the nation’ and the Waitangi Day national celebrations as an opportunity to air these grievances before the nation.  This research project will explore the contested interpretations and employments of the landscape of the Treaty Ground to support frequently conflicting political and cultural agendas. 

I and Will will travel to New Zealand in mid-January of 2010 to conduct research at the National Archives, the Auckland War Museum, and the University of Auckland libraries.  We will also be conducting interviews prior to and during the Waitangi Day national celebrations at the Treaty Grounds with a variety of individuals involved in creating the spectacle and celebration.  We intend to produce two journal publications related to this research and I hope to continue the research and eventually produce a book.  This research is partially supported through funds from the Kansas University Center for Research. 

The politics and philosophies of place:
I am engaged in on-going research collaboration with Soren Larsen of the University of Missouri examining and comparing how various Indigenous and Western philosophies of place effect how different groups engage in political action around particular places.  Currently we are preparing an edited volume for publication through which academics who have worked collaboratively with Indigenous communities and in so doing have had their own (Western, academic, personal) geographical understandings questioned, challenged, and finally expanded and reformulated into “deeper” senses of place will describe these collaborations.

Research Website


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