In August of 2002, on the Stoney Indian Reserve in Canada, over 60 tipis shone brilliant white in a meadow surrounded by dark green conifer forests and the blue of the Canadian Rockies. Indigenous educational leaders from around the world had gathered “to celebrate the sharing of Indigenous-based initiatives by featuring holistic education efforts to maintain and perpetuate Indigenous ways of knowing and promote the positive development of Indigenous communities.” In between the tipis a Maori man, not yet an elder but already an important figure working for Maori higher education and Indigenous peoples’ rights, rolled rather than walked around. Trevor Moeke’s deep voice and laughter added to the polyglot of Indigenous languages spoken at the sixth World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE), as excitement trampled down the meadow’s deep grasses.
Makwa fits you good:
He wanders around the grounds,
rolling like a meadow rolls,
growling here and there
with the song of who he is
and greeting morning and evening skies
with the power of his presence.
His earth spirit
gathered from earth, wind, water, sky.
Walking in sunshine
between startling whiteness
of tepees that point poles
toward a startling blue sky,
he smiles with white teeth
and laughs with a deepness
that shakes aspen leaves
and sets them to dancing
even though there is no wind.
The day before the WIPCE conference opened, leaders of Indigenous higher education institutions from the United States, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia had founded the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC). After days of working on and adopting a mission statement, goals, and objectives, Lionel Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota), president of Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota, had triumphantly asked Rongo Wetere, the founder of the Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWoA)—the largest Maori-controlled tertiary institution in New Zealand—to kneel to the ground and kiss mother earth. Moeke and other founders of WINHEC knelt with them. Afterwards all “sought the spirit of prayer, of humility, of hope” with the “heartsong of generations backward and forward” as singing voices echoed through an evening swirling with celebration. This organization, born in excitement and song, gained Moeke as a co-chairman in Cusco, Peru in 2011.
WINHEC was founded, in the words of the Aborigine delegation, to help the “original people of the land.” The basic sense of those who gathered on the Stoney Reserve was that the world’s Indigenous languages, cultures, and societies had been suppressed, casting Indigenous peoples into poverty and social circumstances that did not allow them to flourish. Since education, and especially higher learning institutions, were key to the preservation and growth of Indigenous cultures and long-term economic development, WINHEC was designed to further these goals wherever Indigenous people lived. It was also designed to stress the importance of Indigenous control of institutions since, the delegates felt, only with the guidance of elders and an understanding of language and culture could higher learning institutions provide the spiritual strength to improve the lot of Indigenous peoples worldwide.
At the time of WINHEC’s founding, Moeke was moving from his role as one of the driving forces in founding New Zealand’s first Indigenous-controlled college, TWoA, into the process of working on Maori radio and television projects that would eventually lead to the Global Oneness Project. This venture has been “producing and curating stories since 2006 through films, photography, articles, and educational materials that explore the threads that connect culture, ecology, and beauty.” On his blog Moeke explains the core of his philosophy in both the Global Oneness Project and WINHEC. “Being from the East Coast of New Zealand, a land of kina hunters and dusty roads, we learnt there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who make dust, and those who eat it—so let’s make dust together,” he says.
It is this sense of action, of making, that seems to drive Moeke to travel the world, gathering stories from Maori and other Indigenous people, and working with WINHEC leaders to create a viable organization that can improve the lives of Indigenous populations. In WINHEC, this making has not only included developing a constitution and by-laws—the usual activities of organization-making—but has also led to the creation of a journal that contains articles by Indigenous scholars, the development of an accreditation authority that gives Indigenous institutions of higher learning a way to gain credibility for language and culture programs, and the establishment of an online university that brings Moeke’s and WINHEC’s sense of the importance of cross-cultural pollination to students via the Internet and through partnerships between Indigenous educational institutions.
By working to create networks and sharing, Moeke believes the world can be transformed in ways that improve Indigenous peoples’ lives everywhere. He also believes that such improvements will enrich all society, giving all peoples the spiritual depth necessary to recognize how diversity produces the creativity and generosity necessary for humans to be human.
Dr. Turoa Royal, then the chief education executive of Te Tauihu o Ng Wananga, a sister school to TWoA in New Zealand, was the elder chosen to be the first chairman of WINHEC. Moeke at the time acted as one of his key advisors, helping establish WINHEC’s initial headquarters in New Zealand. This early work was not easy. Funding has always been a major challenge. One of Moeke’s key responsibilities during those years was to determine how to keep the organization fiscally viable without private funding or government support.
Ray Barnhardt from the University of Alaska Fairbanks provided one key solution. He and other scholars had been talking about the importance of an accreditation authority that could strengthen Indigenous cultures and languages. Moeke worked with Barnhardt and a dedicated group of educators to develop the WINHEC Accreditation Authority on August 12, 2003. This new body not only gave credibility to language and culture education at Indigenous institutions worldwide, but also helped fund the organization through dues and fees charged to those seeking accreditation.
This accreditation authority, moreover, has had an importance beyond its role in funding WINHEC projects. For decades, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) have sought to create an accreditation authority with tribal values that can help fashion a new approach to education. Although AIHEC and its member TCUs have not developed such an accreditation authority, WINHEC has provided a vehicle by which several TCUs have accredited academic programs, thus strengthening both WINHEC and the tribal college movement.
As Moeke is fond of saying, “We are greater together than we are of ourselves.” Although he is only one of the great visionaries who have been leaders in WINHEC, there is no aspect of the organization with which he has failed to be involved. The organization has grown from a few individuals and colleges to include peoples and institutions from Europe, Asia, and South America—partially as a result of his tireless advocacy. What has been important to WINHEC is the energy and unflagging optimism he brings to his role. He is always listening, thinking, collaborating, and making—creating a song that resonates through Indigenous communities around the world wherever people are trying to establish institutions of higher learning that protect and grow the spirituality that makes them who they are as a people.
In the end, Trevor Moeke is an educational leader who believes in oneness, who has participated in founding an Indigenous-controlled college, and who has helped create organizations with worldwide significance to Indigenous people. Today, even though he is still growing into his elderhood, he stands below the graves of Maori kings above the Waikato River on New Zealand’s North Island as a bird sings with a song as liquid as wind. He thinks deeply before he speaks, telling the Maori people’s story and weaving a network that stretches from the Stoney Reserve in Canada to all the countries growing WINHEC into a force to be reckoned with in the contemporary world.
Tom Davis participated in the founding of WINHEC and has served as president of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, Little Priest Tribal College, and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. Makwa, in Anishinaabe, means bear.
Carpluk, A.L.S. (2002). Who Is This Child Called WIPCE? Sharing Our Pathways 7(4). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED472518.pdf
Davis, T. (2003). Makwa Fits You Good. Gekinoo’imaagijib, The Ones Who Teach. Cloquet, MN: Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
Davis, T. (2005). The Birth of WINHEC. Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education 16(4), 21.
Global Oneness Project. (2007, March 24). Trevor Moeke: Kotahitanga: The Maori Word for Oneness. Global Oneness Project. Retrieved from http://dotsub.com/view/6b330513-bf64-4c92-8ba4- fa7b624f9e31
Global Oneness Project. (2014a). Trevor Moeke. Global Oneness Project. Retrieved from http://www.globalonenessproject.org/people/trevormoeke Global Oneness Project. (2014b). About the Project. Global Oneness Project. Retrieved from http://www.globalonenessproject.org/about-project