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New Zealand Fulbright Scholar comes to Salish Kootenai College for spring quarter

By Lailani Upham

Fulbright Scholar Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard stands in traditional garb. (Lailani Upham photo) Fulbright Scholar Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard stands in traditional garb. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Salish Kootenai College will be hosting for the first time a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence from New Zealand, Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard, in the upcoming 2013 winter and spring quarters.

Currently Leonard is teaching Maori culture and weaving at Flathead Valley Community College through a Fulbright Foundation grant awarded to FVCC.

The Fulbright Foundation program is an international educational exchange that was birthed in the aftermath of World War II, by Sen. Albert Fulbright of Arkansas. He believed that a mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world was needed and Congress visibly agreed in 1946.

John Rollins who is head of the Art Department at SKC was the driving force of managing to get Leonard on-board. “He (Rollins) has worked on it as a cultural exchange in the fine arts and music,” says Karen Goulet, SKC Art Department faculty member.

Leonard holds a master’s degree in Maori language and management, and has a lifetime passion in the arts – Maori arts.

When studying Maori artists it is important to know the background of the person, he says. He says many of the arts of his culture are driven by their self-discovery of who they are. “I have been extremely fortunate of being secure in my identity in knowing who I am. On examinations of my genealogy you would find that both my paternal and maternal sides have been instrumental in influencing my induction in the arts. Therefore, although I may say that I chosen the arts of our Maori people, it is more likely it has chosen me.”

Leonard says he hopes to understand the identities in the Maori and Native American art styles and work during his stay at SKC. “Through this collaboration, I hope to examine whether there is a crossover in our cultures of techniques, designs, and traditions that can be employed and reflected in my art to clearly and distinctly represent both cultures.”

The artwork talent is carried down in generations with the Maori people, as it can be in Native art, especially in regalia making and beading.

He says both the language and arts hold an equal passion in his heart. His family spoke the Maori language fluently which was passed down to him as much as his art gift.

Leonard says his earliest recollections of weaving came from his grandmother. She was 97 at the time. “I remember her working on her final patterned flax floor mat. She taught me to weave our sea grass “pingao” into a continuous flat four lait strip to decorate glass bottles and she wove up until she was 100 years old.”

His grandmother lived with his family until he was 13 years old and at 105 years old, she moved on to live at his aunts.

At 112, his grandmother, Ranginui Parewahawaha Leonard, critiqued his third basket, saying in her language that is was lovely, but too fine in a certain section and would not be long before it broke.

Leonard admits he is very excited and honored to be on-staff at SKC.

He will be teaching Maori culture and traditional Maori weaving. As a cultural exchange Leonard will be taking Native Studies classes during both quarters as well.

Two of the classes he has dibbed so far are Beading and Singing and Drumming, he says.

For many years Leonard has been a performing with an entertainment troupe in New Zealand. “Through this art form I was able to travel the world and be involved in many cultural exchanges as an ambassador for Maori and New Zealanders. It eventually lead me into the role that I play today as a composer of lyrics, music and actions choreographer, costume designer; both regionally and national for our Maori Performing arts.”

Leonard, along with his wife Ruiha, and four children have already shared their traditional dance during the Saturday evening session at the Veterans Powwow at SKC.

They plan on sharing much more and are looking forward to becoming part of the community on the Flathead Reservation.

“It’s not about sight-seeing. It is more of the people we want to see,” he added.

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