Reading as Cousins

Indigenous Texts, Pacific Bookshelves


  • Alice Te Punga Somerville


In a 1973 article “Aboriginal Literature” published in the magazine New Dawn, Oodgeroo Noonuccal writes: “It would also be to our benefit to meet with and know writers of New Zealand and the Pacific and of other lands where the indigene has made his or her way into the field of literature.” In this lecture I will respond, almost 50 years later, to her invitation to imagine the intellectual, political and creative “benefit” of Indigenous-Indigenous connection in the context of literary studies. Specifically, I will reflect on the idea of being ‘cousins’ – close kin in some contexts but virtual strangers in others – as a possible approach to thinking about the relational work of Indigenous and Pacific literary studies.  As a Māori scholar of Pacific literatures, I ask: How and where do Indigenous writers and literary scholars from the Pacific “meet with” Indigenous Australia? What does it mean to “know” one another as Indigenous peoples from cultural and historical contexts that are vastly different yet also deeply familiar? How is the Pacific bookshelf reconfigured when texts and writers from Indigenous Australia are present, and vice versa? What texts, writers, networks and intellectual work become visible when Indigenous-Indigenous relationships are the starting point for a story about the study of Australian literatures? How might conversations about settler colonialism, trans-Indigenous literary methodologies and Native Pacific Cultural Studies contribute to our thinking about – and creation of – modes of relationship that centre and stand in solidarity with Indigenous sovereignty?

Author Biography

Alice Te Punga Somerville

Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) is a scholar, poet and irredentist. She writes and teaches at the intersections of literary studies, Indigenous studies and Pacific studies; since January 2022 she has been professor of English and of Critical Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her publications include Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania (Minnesota 2012), Two Hundred and Fifty Ways to Start an Essay about Captain Cook (BWB 2020) and a (forthcoming) book of poetry Always Italicise: how to write while colonised (AUP 2022). Her current research project, ‘Writing the new world: Indigenous texts 1900-1975,’ challenges widely-accepted ‘origin’ stories of Indigenous literatures by focussing on writing published (in English and in Indigenous languages) by Indigenous people from New Zealand, Australia, Hawai’i and Fiji.






Dorothy Green Memorial Lecture