A very busy 36 years have passed for husband and wife team Dr Maui John Mitchell and Hilary Mitchell as they return to the campus where they first met as undergraduates.
The Mitchells are back at UC to work as research fellows in Aotahi: School of Māori and
Mrs Mitchell studied English, French, Latin and music while Dr Mitchell completed a PhD and lectured in the Psychology Department from 1967 to 1974. They were also the inaugural co-wardens at University Halls in Maidstone Road.
As a postdoctoral research fellow Dr Mitchell is teaching a course while the two of them collaborate to complete volume IV of their award-winning series, Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka: A History of Māori of Nelson and Marlborough. Volume I, subtitled Te Tangata me Te Whenua — The People and the Land, published in 2004, derived from reports they wrote in the late 1980s to background iwi and hapu claims to the Waitangi Tribunal. It covers early history of Te Tau Ihu: myths and legends, the succession of tribes, contacts with European explorers and whalers, the arrival of the New Zealand Company and land issues.
In 2006 the Ministry for Culture and Heritage awarded the Mitchells its major history grant to prepare Volume II: Te Ara Hou: The New Society which examines effects of colonisation and European settlement on the tangata whenua of Te Tau Ihu. Published in 2007, it won the history section of the 2008 Montana Book Awards.
Volume III: Nga Tupuna: The Ancestors, published in 2009, is probably the most useful, said Dr Mitchell. It contains Māori baptisms, marriages, census records, reserve lands ownership and other lists to assist whanau to locate their tupuna in time and place. Most of this material is not readily accessible, being in church, library and museum archives throughout the country. “This volume has already become a valuable resource, and will reduce requests for information from us,” said Mrs Mitchell. “Families now have access to details of their ancestors which they may not have known before.”
Dr Mitchell's interest in whakapapa (genealogy) began as a teenager when he asked an elderly aunt to write out their family tree. “She refused, but said ‘Sit down, boy, put your paper away and listen. We'll deal with this in the traditional way, then you will be able to write it out yourself; if you can't, tough luck'. So we thrashed it out, night after night for about two weeks — eight generations of every main strand of our Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa and Tainui heritage, linking our Golden Bay families to ancestors at Taranaki and Kawhia; every sibling in each generation — their marriages, their descendants, their alliances, and their participation in events. I can still reproduce it; it seems to be imprinted, not just as my own whakapapa, but as a basis for establishing connections.” Whakapapa is central to the Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka publications; the Mitchells believe it is only through knowing relevant whanau relationships that historical events can be properly understood. Volumes I and II are therefore liberally illustrated with whakapapa tables of the main players.
Volume IV, their latest project which they began as JD Stout Research Fellows at Victoria University in 2009, is a book of biographies of the chiefly families of Te Tau Ihu, with several whakapapa tables accompanying each whanau. “We are recording the lives of rangatira whanau during the 19th century; over the eight iwi of Te Tau Ihu, there will be 25-30 family groupings. So far we have drafted eight whanau biographies with accompanying whakapapa, and circulated copies to descendants. Responses have been very encouraging with additional oral traditions and whakapapa returned.”
The Nelson-based Mitchells, who established Mitchell Research in 1985 to undertake social research, have published other work. In 2006 they contributed two monographs to the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit at Victoria University, one on Wakatu Incorporation, the other on the foreshore and seabed issue. They also wrote Whakatu Tribes for Te Ara, the online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. They have supplied 28 500-word stories to The Prow, an online resource sponsored by Nelson and Marlborough public libraries. Earlier this year they finalised a chapter for the commemorative publication, Contested Ground: Te Whenua i Tohea, the Taranaki Wars, which recently won the history section of Nga Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards. The Mitchells' chapter, Ripples Reach Te Tau Ihu, discusses impacts of the 1860s Waitara war on Māori and Pakeha communities of Nelson and Marlborough.
Dr and Mrs Mitchell grasp every invitation to publish aspects of their work “to try to dispel widespread beliefs that ‘Nelson and Marlborough were not really Māori areas', or that ‘there weren't many Māori here [Nelson]
when the settlers arrived'.