Professor Graham Smith is a prominent Māori educationalist and advocate who has been at the forefront of alternative Māori initiatives in the education field and beyond. His academic background is within the disciplines of Education, Social Anthropology and Cultural and Policy Studies. More specifically, his academic work has centred on developing theoretically informed transformative strategies related to intervening in Māori cultural, political, social, educational and economic crises.
Professor Smith has been an influential contributor to the development of what he has described in his writings as the ‘twenty-five year Maori educational revolution, 1982 – 2007’. This period saw the development of a range of alternative educational strategies by Maori communities, beginning with Te Kohanga Reo (Maori Language pre-school initiative), through the Maori Immersion elementary school development (Kura Kaupapa Maori), Maori Secondary Schools (Whare Kura) and the emerging tertiary option of Wananga. He has had a ‘hands-on’ approach with respect to his participation and commitment with these initiatives. Professor Smith was the foundation chairperson of the Council for Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi: indigenous-university in Whakatāne.
He has also contributed on a broad front to the New Zealand education as a whole; he remains a leading voice in the challenge for the legitimate inclusion of Maori theorising within the traditional academy; he has lead a concentrated effort focused on producing increased numbers of Maori students at Master’s and Doctoral level; he has built a broad-based international network of indigenous scholars who work with Maori and his theoretical leadership has informed the emergence of Māori Education studies as a distinct entity within Education Faculties within New Zealand universities. Perhaps his most significant contribution to Maori education has been his preparedness to enact what he is arguing and not simply describe what should be done. In this regard he has often left the comfort of the mainstream to become engaged in front-line struggle. In his words, ‘academics need to get beyond describing the pathology of our existence and they need to be able to answer the question “how have you personally contributed to making change?” rather than the question “what do you think should be done to make change?” To this end, Professor Smith has helped establish and taught in Te Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Maori, and Te Whare Wananga contexts. Professor Smith was Pro Vice Chancellor (Māori) for four and half years at the University of Auckland (this was the first University to establish such a position and led the way for all Universities to follow suit). Following this he was invited to take up a Visiting Chair as the Universitas 21 Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of British Columbia a position he filled for five years.
Professor Smith has made significant contributions to the political, social, economic and cultural advancement of indigenous Māori communities. While his work over recent times has been mostly administrative he has published widely and his work remains influential in the national and international arenas. Professor Smith is one of the most influential indigenous educators today.