Dr Tracey McIntosh heads the Sociology Department at Auckland University.
She is an academic who, from hands-on experience as well as tertiary studies, has learned a great deal about how the world ticks — and how societies function and misfire.
Having enterprising parents, a South Auckland upbringing, a powerful work ethic, and a taste for travel has been educational, too.
Here she tells Dale about the journey she’s been on, the successes she’s seen and the hopes she has.
Tēnā koe, Tracey. Thank you very much for joining us today. And, first up, you and I might acknowledge a bond in that we both have a Pākehā dad and a Māori mum. I wonder what you can tell us about the whakapapa lines of your folks.
Well, I always say that I’m Tūhoe through my mother, and I’m Westfield freezing works through my father. And both of them were as important as each other when I was growing up. I’ve got fabulous parents. I chose well. And these days we live in a three-generational household.
My father (Eric McIntosh) will be 89 this year, and my mother (Lorna) who’s 80, still works full time. We have a blended family of seven children. A few of those have left the nest — although they keep threatening to come back.
My mum was born in Ruatoki and came up to Auckland (into a settlement camp in Western Springs) not long after the Second World War. She was from a large extended family of Takurua Tamarau. Dad had a quite different background. He was the only child of UK migrants — one English, one Scottish.
He left school at 13, became an A-grade mechanic, and then was in the J Force as a part of the occupying forces in Japan immediately after the war. Then he spent all of his working life at the Westfield freezing works until they closed in the 1980s. Dad was a very big union man, and I guess that legacy has stayed on with me.
My mum has always been involved in social justice issues. She was also in business on her own, and was either the first Māori woman, or one of the first to get a business loan in her own right. She ran a typesetting business in the city, City Typesetters, right up until the late 1990s. And since then she’s been working at the district court as a personal assistant to the judges. Just an astonishing woman.
And where was home for you?
I grew up in the house that my dad built in Tironui, just north of Papakura. My brother, Grant, and I both went to Papakura Normal but then he went on to high school at St Stephen’s in the late 1960s. I went to Rosehill Intermediate and then Rosehill College.
I understand that yours was the kind of household where you’d be discussing politics at the table. And not just politics, but unionism and social justice issues. No doubt that had some effect on the kind of person you’ve become.
Oh, absolutely. A huge effect. I can remember some of the big strikes when Dad was a union delegate. One of them carried on for weeks. We had a big garage under our house and it’d be set up with all the food there. There’d be people coming and going, bringing food, doing food parcels, and others picking up parcels. So that had an impact on me.
And even the language did, too. I didn’t come to university straight from school. I came years later as an adult student. Nearly 30. But, when I began studying sociology, there was the language I’d been brought up with because Mum and Dad had a lot of friends who were socialists or communists. This was a very working-class environment.
Because of Mum we already had this really strong sense of the importance of the collective, in terms of things Māori. It wasn’t that the individual was unimportant but that the collective was the privileged unit. And from Dad we absorbed his socialist politics.
And Dad was unusual, too, for a working class man of that time, in being attuned to feminism. So we also grew up with that. And, in addition, my parents were extremely open to what we’d now call “gender expressions” and diverse sexualities. All of those sorts of things. There were a lot of parties at our place. We had a very privileged upbringing in terms of recognising the diversity of human experience. It wasn’t a matter of tolerance. It was an enthusiasm for and engagement with that diversity.
The other thing that was quite unusual for a Māori family at that time was that we travelled a lot — even to Mexico when I was 15, on a sort of a socialist pilgrimage. And we had strong Pacific connections, too, through Mum. So I grew up in a house where there was a lot of love, but where there was also just a lot of interesting stuff going on.
Sometimes New Zealanders with a British whakapapa have trouble understanding Māori cultural dimensions. And here you were with a mum from a big family and your dad a solo child. So that could have made for some stresses and strains.
Well, that’s interesting because, although Dad was an only child, he was a social being. And he really embraced that whānau of Mum’s and going down home to the Urewera and all of that. Mum had this sense of the nobility of Tūhoe as a people and of the strong line that I was already carrying. But Dad gave me the intimate stories of the whānau. Many of these were hilarious stories. And, in quite a lot of them, drink and misbehaviour seemed to have played quite an important role. So Dad became a collector of those stories, perhaps because he had so few himself. And he became a very strong part of that family.
Thanks very much, Tracey. It’s a rich kōrero. Now let’s focus on the South Auckland you know — and the South Auckland that is frequently disparaged and dismissed as a place where kids are being short-changed when it comes to education.
Yes, that’s the way the area is often represented. But there’s this huge breadth and depth in South Auckland that you find nowhere else. It’s where we’ve got our most trilingual speakers in this country. In any other part of the world, that diversity and capability in language would be celebrated. And yet often it’s seen by outsiders as a deficit because it’s South Auckland. Like many people brought up in South Auckland, my brother and I see it as a great source of pride.
There’ve been changes though, haven’t there? Because now we have white flight. Some brown flight, too. And there are some communities with no Māori or Pasifika people — and others with no Pākehā. What are they missing?
This has been a real change from my childhood when parents sent their kids to the closest school and, in many cases, felt that was their responsibility over and done with. They were confident that the school would take over their responsibilities — and all they’d have to do was turn up for the parent interviews and maybe to the end of year assembly.
And, in those days, our schools were a mixture of Māori and Pākehā kids. Now I find that I’m sometimes driving past schools where I don’t see even one Pākehā kid. And I recall, not so long ago, Willie Jackson talking about King’s College where he’d sent his son — and observing that most of those boys weren’t getting a bicultural upbringing. So they weren’t being prepared for the bicultural future waiting for them.
They’re now teaching te reo there, and competing in kapa haka. So there’s progress at a top end school like King’s. But often at the other end there’s too much homogeneity. There isn’t a healthy mix of cultures.
When Grant, my brother, went to Tipene nearly 50 years ago, it was largely a Māori school. But it was still in its heyday then. It was still seen as a very strong school, and was able to teach the boys how to navigate the Pākehā world as well as the Māori world. And that’s what we want for our kids — that they have access to the world that they’re going to live in. But that’s not what we’re seeing in a lot of our schools today.
Kia ora, Tracey. Now you went on to university, but before that you’d spent some years working in France and Burundi and Rwanda in Africa — and in Tonga and Fiji as well. So you’re yet another example of a wahine Māori who turned to tertiary education only as an adult student. And I’ve been intrigued to learn that you focused on religious studies and ancient history.
Actually, I started doing extramural papers with Massey University when I was in Tonga and then Fiji. And I guess it was because I’d travelled so much that I had that interest in different systems of belief. All along I felt really lucky to have been born Māori. But there was so much I didn’t know about other cultures and beliefs. And I wanted to make sense of the places I was visiting.
There was another impulse though, when I came to university. And it was a very simple thing. I just thought it would be great to know a lot about something. To know something in depth. In the beginning it was religious studies. That’s what I’d done in those seven papers with Massey. But then I decided to take up ancient history. Egyptian and Mesopotamia’s ancient history.
Can we talk about Māori and Pasifika relationships for a moment? And what took you to Tonga?
Well, after I lived in France, I went to Africa, with my love partner at the time, a wonderful French man. An architect. And, after that, he came back with me to New Zealand where we had our first child. Through that time he was looking for jobs — and he found there was one for an architect in Tonga. Not in Nuku’alofa, but up in Vava’u. Church-building. We were a young couple with a six-month-old baby, but we just jumped at it. So off we went to Tonga.
And what a privilege it was for us to be able to live in a community like that. But it was also a time for thinking about furthering my academic education. Which I did, largely through the Massey extramural programme at the time. Then from Tonga we went to Fiji — and I ended up spending a lot of time there, including working at the University of the South Pacific. That was 10 years later when I’d completed two of my degrees but before I’d completed my doctorate.
I’ve written about the Māori and Pacific relationship in “Hibiscus in the Flax Bush”. I was looking at that relationship and the tensions over the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. And one of the greatest quotes about the migrants of that time was: We didn’t come to hongi Māori.
I’ve always loved that quote because the thing is that they weren’t invited here by Māori. They were invited here by Pākehā at the time to fill the jobs in manufacturing and the freezing works. To meet the need for unskilled or semi-skilled labour. So there were tensions on the lower rungs of the ladder, as people were competing for the same resources. And not recognising each other. Knowing that we’re related but being, in many cases, uninterested in that relationship.
So Pacific people look down on us because of our loss of language. Because of our loss of land. Because of our loss of place. And we look down on many of our Pacific cousins because of our views of the less technologically developed homelands they came from.
It’s been really interesting looking at those tensions and, over time, seeing those connections — and the reconnections when the Treaty came to be seen in the 1980s as something that Māori could hold to. And out of that has come not just stronger Māori and PI identities but Pasifika identities too, largely through intermarriages.
Another keen interest of yours has been Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga where you’ve been a co-director, and which has played a big part in encouraging and publicising Māori academic research. It really has helped focus attention on the value of research by Māori academics, hasn’t it?
When Linda Smith and Michael Walker, as the founding directors, started Ngā Pae — it must be 14 years ago now — there were truly only a handful of Māori researchers who could lead research in their own right. But now we literally have hundreds of Māori researchers who can lead. It’s completely normalised now. You will have entire research teams where every member is Māori.
When I first got into the research game, the role of Māori researchers was one where we’d be in a Pākehā or mainstream research team — and we’d have our little bit of Māori to do within it. We very rarely designed those research proposals. Virtually never. We had almost no role in decision-making.
But the power relationships have become very different. Ngā Pae is now this powerful vehicle for transforming what had been the standard ways of thinking and doing. And really that is appropriate because Māori have this incredible tradition of intellectual scholarship that goes at least as far back as our navigators.
And now, with Ngā Pae and other institutions, we have a huge number of research centres. Some of them very much rohe-based. Some iwi-based. Some health-based. And what we see is that Māori knowledge isn’t static. We can draw on traditional knowledge, but we’re also absolutely a part of new knowledge production. And I’m very proud that, as a collective, Ngā Pae has played a significant role in ensuring that Māori knowledge is understood and valued.
There are far greater things to do. There’s still some decolonising of ourselves to do so that we can make real change in people’s lives. That we can all recognise ourselves as agents of positive social change.
Kia ora. We could be critical of governments for dragging the chain, and for not recognising our potential earlier. We seem to have to protest and fight every time we want change. I suppose that state of affairs will continue. And no doubt you’ll be shining your torch on various issues in the coming years. But do you have some particular issues in mind?
Well, the struggle goes on in our relationship with the Crown. There is so much that has to be done. But what we need to be working towards is a New Zealand where Māori are leading us into the future. And we can see real meaning behind that if we look at that demographic shift with an aging Pākehā population and a youthful Māori and Pasifika population.
If this nation is to flourish, then Māori and Pasifika people must flourish. We need Māori to be a part of every form of decision-making. In our political spheres. Economic, too. Cultural and social as well. We’re willing to do that in partnership. There’s huge potential there. But, if the government doesn’t take up that opportunity, the whole nation will suffer. And one of the roles that Ngā Pae can play is ensuring that we have those decision makers right across all disciplines.
Tracey, we know that one person can have quite an impact outside or within a whānau. One person’s success, whether that’s in a trade, a business or the academic world, can have a flow-on effect. Nieces and nephews are watching and perhaps hoping to emulate your successes. Has there been that sort of spinoff in your whānau?
Definitely. And, at Ngā Pae, Michael Walker and I have looked at that. We always thought about it when we sat at graduation. We’ve seen that for us, for Māori, we don’t have to wait a generation for results. In fact, we sort of worked out that, for every graduate, we can see the effect easily within eight years. For example, we often see fathers and daughters graduating together.
My husband (Steve Matthewman) and I are academics and we both were first in our families to go to university. And, for our kids, university was always seen as a legitimate pathway.
What it does, of course, is normalise further education. I’ve seen that impact within my own whānau. And I recognise the strength of education as a tool for transformative change with the women that I work with at the Wiri prison. They see it themselves, even with one of the young women that I’ve been working with. She was excluded from the compulsory education system at 13. And she’s in prison doing a very long lag. She came in at 16 years old. She’s done a number of university papers now. Having never written an essay before. Having never done an exam in her life before.
And now her younger sister has started university. You know, I’m seeing a number of those things. Even from behind the wire, she’s been able to show the value of education in her own whānau — and hopefully disrupt the intergenerational reach of marginalisation.
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and non-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going. If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider contributing $5 or $10 a month.