Cultural Diversity in a Globalising World, 13-16 February 2003,
Hosted and organised by RMIT Globalism Institute, in partnership with the Globalisation Research Centre at the University of Hawai’i and Common Ground Conferences.
The Diversity Conference has a history of bringing together scholarly, government and practice-based participants on diversity and community. This was the first time the conference had been held outside Australia, with Hawai’i being an ideal location with its intersection of questions of Indigenous sovereignty and a complex mix of various settler communities, tourists and military personnel. Throughout the conference the organisers observed the Hawaiian custom of offering a lei (a flower garland), ensuring the venue always had a scattering of participants wearing beautiful leis of orchids. It was a reminder we were engaged with layers of different systems of culture and governance. The conference was made possible by a close collaboration between the RMIT University Globalism Institute, the Globalisation Research Centre at the University of Hawai’i and Common Ground Conferences.
The four days of the conference involved nine main plenary sessions (summarised below) interspersed with almost 130 parallel sessions covering a remarkable range of specific topics joined together by the conference themes. These parallel sessions covered issues from the discourses of multiculturalism in Japan, various institutional applications of diversity policy, through to the significance of the phenomenon of the “manifestation of the Madonna” in the Sydney suburb of Coogee. The depth and range of presentations is impossible to capture here, suffice to report that a common response from participants was an appreciation of the opportunity for exposure to related but separate professional and academic disciplines, allowing for a productive cross-pollination of ideas and strategies across the boundaries that usually separate us.
The core focus seemed to be a move away from under-theorised affirmations that ‘diversity is good’ to a much more nuanced account of the effects and uses of diversity on differently situated communities in the context of our current epoch of globalisation. The conference heard Indigenous perspectives on the desire for both basic human rights and recognition of sovereignty on the one hand, and more subtly, for an ethical response to the cultural and intellectual wealth of Indigenous epistemologies. Throughout the conference there was a concern with the very serious consequences for communities, cultures and the environment emerging out of an intensified phase of globalisation. However, the concept of ‘diversity’, while being critically examined as part of this historical process, was argued by many to be a significant and useful tool in struggles for a more just, humane and sustainable world, with a number of speakers declaring a ‘strategic optimism’ about the future.
The conference opened on Thursday morning with an elaborate formal ceremony. It began with a series of chants and dances by an ensemble from an Indigenous Hawaiian ‘charter school’ organised through the Hawaiian Studies Centre of the University of Hawai’i. It was performed to begin the conference with an acknowledgement of native Hawaiian sovereignty and epistemology, based on ancient hula dance and chants. A translation of the chant was provided: ‘Calling the ancestors, grow, expand, the multitude of ancestors. Grow Kane and Kanaloa, grow ‘Ohi’a-laulkoa, and Ka-‘ie’ie, settle here and dwell in your alter. Here is water, life-giving water. Grant life indeed!’1E ulu- Calling one’s ancestors / E ulu, e ulu tini o te atua / Grow, expand, multitude of ancestors / Ulu Kane me Kanaloa / Grow Kane and Kanaloa / Ulu ‘Ohi’a laukoa me Ka ‘ie’ie / Grow ‘Ohia’-lau-koa and Ka-‘ie’ie / A’e mai a noho I tou tuahu / Settle here and dwell in your alter / Eia ta wai la / Here is the water / He wai, he ola / Life-giving water / E ola no e / Grant life indeed. /