This piece is a contribution by a combination of authors and artists who are genealogically from the same family. Lilomaiava Ema Siope (our sister) is our Traditional Sailing Master; her collective poetic interludes represent a side of her multifaceted life. Faavagaga Siope (our brother) is our aiga (family) ethics committee artist; he shares his collective art. These collective pieces bring together the echoed voices of temporal and spiritual migration throughout Oceania as their whispers traverse into higher education. Joshua Iosefo (our son) closes with a collective poem about the reclamation of our faasinomaga (identity).


The title of this piece of collaborate art (I/Eye) is part of the aiga (family) ethics guidelines for Fetaui. Fetaui represents the narrator and Jerodeen the academic analyzer. These two identities were used to collaborate with the artist Faavagaga. The waters are calm and the scene is set with the va'a waka houroa (traditional double-hull canoe) as the iris, representing the collective epistemologies and ontologies of Oceania. The pupil reflects on our ancestors and our birds that guide us to our lands. Below the calm waters are our fish in our ocean, moving with us as aides and signs for and of our ecology. The birds and the fish are reminders of our sacred duty to the ecology, a commitment to our bioethics.2 The outline of the eye is designed with the migration story of our forebears who navigated to Aotearoa/New Zealand, the land of our cousins.3 The land where we as a family share with tangata whenua (Māori, the indigenous people of this land Aotearoa/New Zealand); we are migrants to the land of our cousins. This art piece identifies the collective genealogical movement of I/eye from a migrant geographical temporal spiritual perspective. Collectively, this description is directly related to the Samoan Indigenous Reference (SIR), which Sister Vitolia Mo'a suggests “recognizes and affirms nature and existence to be contextually universal, diverse and unique. The same indigenous reference acknowledges inter-connectivity as basic to the existence. … There exists within this Samoan indigenous reference… a Samoan spirituality.4 SIR is underpinned by the Va’ (relational space).5 Therefore, relational navigational tools chosen by our aiga for the understanding of faasinomaga (identity) is critical autoethnography (CAE).

Figure 1.
Wayfinding I/Eye.1 Artist: Faavagaga, co-created with Fetaui and Jerodeen. All images courtesy of the authors.
Figure 1.
Wayfinding I/Eye.1 Artist: Faavagaga, co-created with Fetaui and Jerodeen. All images courtesy of the authors.

Within CAE, we embrace Stacy Holman Jones's considerations of three focuses for CAE.6 Firstly, theory and story must dance to the tune of each other's sound waves. In doing so, we must be mindful that both are of equal value and neither is drowned out by the powerful beat of the other; they must be in sync. Secondly, CAE intimately acknowledges the importance of material and ethical practice. This is in line with the SIR's inclusion of the importance of a bio-ethics that recognizes the animate and inanimate as sacred.7 Finally, CAE embraces emancipation throughout this process. These three focuses open a portal for the validation of indigenous ways of knowing and ways of being. Shawn Wilson, alongside Linda Smith and Dan Wulf, assert the importance of indigenous values being legitimized within higher education.8 Furthermore, acknowledging relational spaces as integral to indigenous ways of being are complementary to SIR's notions of Va’. Although prominent indigenous scholars have robustly researched and written for well over two decades, higher education remains a space of power for the dominant.


During a conference, I listened to a woman professor from Korea being questioned on a Korean concept that is similar to Va’ for Samoans. As she was being scrutinized, I began formulating my own set of questions within my indwelling spirit. Are these two white men probing her because they truly do not understand or are they probing her because she is a woman who is making a statement that does not have a framework steeped in Western epistemology and ontology? I then heard myself ask out loud… interrupting… “Um… I have a question… Do we have to create a Western framework for indigenous concepts? After all, are we not moving forward into decolonization?” One male professor replied immediately with a raised voice and said, “YES, ABSOLUTELY YOU DO!” A second white male professor leaned forward from across the room with his finger pointing at me and said, “In this scholarship you do! Your stories are…” he waves his hands and motions to the outside of the building “they are out there, they are not part of this scholarship.” He resumed his finger-pointing at me and continued, “In here this is Western scholarship and you have to use our Western tools for it to be robust and considered as legitimate and real scholarship.” The room was quiet. I could feel my colleague next to me tense, I patted her thigh and replied, “I suppose the real question here is, Who defines what ‘real’ scholarship is?”

The session ended and my colleague said, “I can't believe he said that and did that with his finger pointing at you.” I just sat and smiled. The Korean professor on my left leaned toward me and said nothing, just smiled widely. We all made our way out of the conference room for afternoon tea. During this time, a number of people approached me about how disturbed they were about what had happened. I didn't have anything substantial to say so I just nodded and said, “Yes, that was interesting.” The finger-pointing professor came up to me and said, “You asked a very good question.” I nodded and smiled. Just before I replied to the finger-pointing professor, a young woman came up to us and asked why I had posed the final question. I said, “I'm intrigued by the thinking around who decides what knowledge is important and the power and control that comes with that thinking. I also understand both professors’ replies (I motion to both of the white male professors) and can see that their opinions are based on them holding on to domination, holding on to the status quo.” I paused and exhaled. “Actually, I get that they like being on top. But to be quite honest, I'm over the missionary position.” With that I smiled humbly and walked back into the conference room.


This picture of a tombstone depicts SIR on the left side. On the right side is a cross, symbolic of Christian spirituality within Samoa. The fluidity in the middle are stars that represent the navigation that we as immigrants negotiate within dominant spaces. Unfortunately, the death of one side or both sides within higher education is inevitable and inexorable.

Figure 2.
SIR—Fluidity—Spirituality. Artist: Faavagaga, co-created with Fetaui and Jerodeen.
Figure 2.
SIR—Fluidity—Spirituality. Artist: Faavagaga, co-created with Fetaui and Jerodeen.

Audre Lorde suggests that we cannot take down the master's house by using the master's tools.9 Although the way finder was in the master's house and although she had paid and trained with the master's tools in higher education, she and her people were still not accepted.

The reality for the way finder was that even though she was an invited guest to the master's house, her ways of knowing and being were not accepted in the master's house. It was not about the tools she had paid for in higher education to use to create equality. Rather, it was all about the Master—his rules his values his power. It is therefore naive to think that there will not be a price to pay when claiming indigenous epistemologies and ontologies as acceptable within higher education.

The way finder in this narrative has a smile plastered on her face. She uses humor to signal she is woke and uses the smile to mask her brokenness. Truth be told, she wanted to scream out “You racist pompous power-controlling fucker,” but held back. Despite the bitterness she felt, she knew better. The brown screaming woman yelling obscenities is what they expected. To counter that, she wore a mask. Yet brewing beneath the surface of that smile-mask was a wounded person once again oppressed in higher education—battered by the raised voices signaling a forceful way to do it their way, beaten by the violent pointing of the finger at her. Weeks later she continued navigating the cost.


Aged eleven sitting on the edge of life she motions to her friends, the stars, and her ancestors

She whispers respectfully…

speak to me

speak to me through your nature,

speak to me in the animate and inanimate,

will me to your desired place for my existence

In the still of the night she remains in awe of heaven's majestic beauty she awaits…

Clouds and wind move and time has passed…

At the age of 30 lying in the tree shaped into a hull

she feels and hears her ancestors saying

“when you see a tree you see a fale (house) when you see a tree you see a va'a.”

She is now in Aotearoa and she can hear Matua Hector Busby saying the same.

Simultaneously her ancestors are whispering to her in Aotearoa and her bones in Samoa are whispering to her.

On land she navigates the stories of her ancestors in nature which envelopes her

On land she navigates the stories of her ancestors of the healing magic of nature

On land piece by piece by peace she glimpses understanding of her existence

On the water she hears her ancestors whispering to her in the winds

On the water she hears her ancestors speaking to her in the stillness of the storm

On the water she feels her ancestors in the swells and ocean currents

Her existence speaks to her

Our people our land our ocean our planet is our reason for existence.


Stepping into the academic space as a marginalized person, I/eye have been fearful of not being good enough, not knowing enough, not being white enough to write, and not being right enough.11 These fearful thoughts can debilitate anyone. However real these fears are for me, at times they have been minimized by fairer people. Fairer in skin color (white) and fairer in character. Although there have been many fairer (white) academics who have been allies in my higher educational journey, for this piece I/eye focus on four women.

My supervisors Barbara Grant and Frances Kelly welcomed and challenged me—as a Samoan woman born in Aotearoa—to embrace who I/eye am holistically. There were moments when I/eye shared my grief and tragedy, and at no point did either of these women try to placate me out of my/our lived experiences. Instead, they sat and bore witness as allies. These two women embraced SIR as legitimate and at every turn in theory/research questioned me. They questioned me not to impose their ways, but to encourage/push me to clarify and articulate our ways, to validate my identity. In 2015, I/eye attended a workshop with Stacy Holman Jones, in which she encouraged us as early critical autoethnographers to move from “theory to story.” This was pivotal for us as an aiga ethics committee because CAE enabled the SIR to be theorized and accepted in higher education. Finally, Anne Harris's sheer brilliance and boldness as an academic activist has often muted my fears in academia and given me courage to continue. I/eye have witnessed Anne and Stacy create space for “all” at the table. A table where the status quo has been dominant white middle-class males. A table at which I have often seen people use “us” (the marginalized) as eye candy for promotion.

These women are the exception to the status quo. All four of these amazing women create multiple tables of all shapes, sizes, sexes, and colors. At their tables they promote equality and equity for all. These four women openly share their fears, their falls, their vulnerability, and their wisdom. From our perspective, each of them embodies Sister Vitolial Mo'a's relational ethic of care.12 Each of them continues to teach me the importance of integrity and hard work. They “enable” the marginalized to acknowledge fear and be fair and “do it” anyway.

My faasinomaga has been a wayfinding geographical temporal spiritual process within higher education. When I first began this CAE journey,13 my links to my faasinomaga hung on the limitations of my understanding at that time and within that space. As time has passed, our understandings as a family of our multiple worlds have deepened. As the (re)search for identity in higher education continues through CAE, our own ways of being are illuminated and enriched. I/eye once viewed the Va’ only as a relational space.14 As time has passed and as our lived experiences have grown, I/eye now view Va’ as relational space that acknowledges power and hierarchy.15 This recognition is exciting, and reconfirms the importance of indigenous values, methods, and beliefs. For those of us who are custodians of this knowledge and way of being, it is our sacred duty to navigate and way find (Who says so?); way fare (At what cost?); and way fear/fair in this space of higher education with our own tools to build our whare/fale (houses) and faasinomaga.



See Fetaui Iosefo, “Scene, Seen, Unseen,” in Questions of Culture in Autoethnography, ed. Phiona Stanley and Greg Vass (London: Routledge, 2018), 69–79.
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta'isi Efi, “Bioethics and the Samoan Indigenous Reference” (keynote address, UNESCO bioethics conference, Tofasmamao, Leauvaa Samoa, 2007).
Lilomaiava Ema Margaret Fetu Vui Siope, “Way Finding a Way Forward” (keynote address, Wayfinders Discovering New Horizons, New Zealand Educational Institute National Pasifika Fono, 2018).
Sister Vitolia Mo'a, “E tala lasi Samo; E mau eseese a'ana: Universality, Diversity, and Particularity” (paper, Pacific Law, Custom & Constitutionalism Conference, University of Auckland, New Zealand, February 2018).
Albert Wendt, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” in Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, ed. Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 399–412; Melani Anae, “Teu le va: Samoan Relational Ethics,” Knowledge Cultures 4, no. 3 (2016): 117; Fetaui Iosefo, “Who Is Eye? An Autoethnographic View on Higher Educational Spaces from a Pasifika Girl,” in Global South Ethnographies: Minding the Senses, ed. Robert E. Reinhart and Antonio Garcia (Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense, 2016), 199–208; Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni, “The Va and Kaupapa Māori,” in Critical Conversations in Kaupapa Maori, ed. Te Kawehau Hoskins and Alison Jones (Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishing, 2017), 132–44.
Stacy Holman Jones, “Living Bodies of Thought: The ‘Critical’ in Critical Autoethnography,” Qualitative Inquiry 22, no. 4 (2016): 228–37.
Tui Atua Tamasese Ta'isi Efi, “In Search of Harmony: Peace in the Samoan Indigenous Religion” (paper, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, Italy, 2005).
Shawn Wilson, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (Halifax, Canada: Fernwood Publishing, 2008); Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books, 2001); Dan Wulf, “Unquestioned Answers: A Review of Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods,” The Qualitative Report 15, no. 5 (2010): 1290–95.
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2007).
JoFI identity is the poet. It is the acronym for Jerodeen Olivaigafa Fetaui Iosefo.
Robin M. Boylorn and Mark P. Orbe, eds., Critical Autoethnography: Intersecting Cultural Identities in Everyday Life (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013); Fetaui Iosefo, “Moonwalking with the Pasifika Girl in the Mirror: An Autoethnography on Spaces in Higher Education” (MA thesis, University of Auckland, 2014),
Sister Vitolia Mo'a, “Faasinomaga (Identity) and Va (Relational Space)” (paper, Pasifika Research and Ethics Pre-conference Symposium, Australian Association of Bioethics and Health Law Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, July 2015); “Culture as a Foundation for Care,” (paper, Aniva Pacific Health Workforce Fono, 25 November 2015),
Iosefo, “Moonwalking with the Pasifika Girl in the Mirror,” 11.
Unasa L. F. Va'a, “Samoan Cultural Perceptions of Ta-Va,” in “Ta-Va (Time-Space) Theory of Reality, special issue, Pacific Studies 40, no. 1/2 (2017):