By Rosemary Rangitauira 05/07/2021

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua – As man disappears, the land remains.

This proverb embodies Dr Daniel Hikuroa’s ambition to look after the land while he’s here and highlights his passion to weave mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) with science.

Dan affiliates to Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Whanaunga.  

He specialises in many disciplines including Earth systems science, natural hazards and disasters, decision-making frameworks, geothermal geology and climate change.

Dan says he’s comfortable holding two opposing views; te ao Māori and the western world.

“I think it makes me a better researcher.”

He encourages scientists, engineers and technical officials to learn about mātauranga Māori, which he says is part of our national identity.

“If we’re making decisions for Aotearoa New Zealand, we need to draw from all information. It’s incumbent upon the nation for the benefit of the nation to be drawing from all sources. We’ve been drawing from science for ages – now it’s time to apply mātauranga and how we do that is of extreme importance and paramount,” says Dan.

He highlights how science and the natural world reflect pūrākau Māori, including the story about Te Arawa ancestor Ngātoroirangi, and a call for help to his two sisters; Te Hoata and Te Pupu. They brought fire to Aotearoa from Hawaiki, first stopping and leaving fire along significant geothermal Bay of Plenty sites such as Whakaari (White Island), Tarawera, Waiotapu, Ōrakei Kōrako, Tokaanu and Tongariro.

Dan holds several senior positions including as a lecturer of Māori studies at Waipapa Taumata Rau (the name gifted to the University of Auckland by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei) as well as:

  • Commissioner for Culture at the New Zealand National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO);
  • Deputy Chair of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao – Māori Statutory Advisory to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Board; and
  • A member of the Māori Advisory Group for Environmental Defence Society Oceans Reform Project

Dan helped pen the EPA’s Mātauranga Māori Framework, a tool that enables decision-makers to understand, probe and test mātauranga evidence effectively.

“In Matatā, the community noticed the Waitepuru Stream flooded from time to time. It would burst its banks and form a new channel. That channel would move back and forth on the flood plain in a predictable way sweeping back and forth through time. That observation would be codified a certain way by scientists but the way the community codified it was that they liken it to the flicking tail of a ngārara – a taniwha (monster) that lived in the stream. So no infrastructure was built in the area where that taniwha flicked back and forth.”

Dan says understanding mātaurang Māori can help decision-makers with the development of disaster risk reduction planning.

He says one driver into kairangahau (researchers) undertaking more research involving Māori communities has been the Vision Mātauranga Policy.

“In the last three or four years, we’re seeing the benefits of genuinely co-created research and genuine relationships between communities and researchers being developed as well as awesome projects. The key is to have strong intellectual property agreements in place that acknowledges that researchers may record the information but the original mātauranga resides with the community that provide it,” says Dan.

His overarching goal in life is to make a positive difference in society, and often he thinks about and is inspired by the Māori deity, Māui Tikitiki a Taranga.

“His deeds and haututū (mischievous) nature serves simultaneously as a metaphor for creativity and boundary-pushing. As a means to make sense of the world. When I am at an impasse with something I think – what would Māui do?”

That whakaaro encourages the following advice from Dan for upcoming Māori researchers.

“As Māori researchers, we are almost always required to be proficient in, able to navigate and operate in and switch seamlessly between, both te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā. Don’t be daunted by that. I draw strength from the words of my tīpuna Maniapoto; ‘Kia mau ki tēnā, kia mau ki te kawau mārō. Whanake ake whanake ake – Hold fast to that, hold fast to the swoop of the cormorant.’ This refers to the undaunted steely resolve of the kawau as it dives into the water and meaning stay committed to your course of work,” he says.

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Recent research Dr Daniel Hikuroa has been involved in:

Dan has also been featured in recent media including: