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Acknowledging the Value and Integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science

By Steve Pointing 24/07/2015


It has been really rewarding to work with John Perrott and Pare Keiha to articulate our vision on the Value and Integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science. John has written a particularly articulate statement that I reproduce (with his permission) below:

Indigenous knowledge is enshrined in New Zealand’s culture and legislation through the Treaty of Waitangi. The importance Māori place on the environment, and native flora and fauna in particular is demonstrated in Māori art, oral narratives and proverbial sayings.Understanding Māori knowledge and cultural norms is essential for science practitioners in New Zealand if they are to build effective working relationships with Māori communities.

The power dynamics that exist within educational and research relationships change when collaborations are formed between researchers and indigenous peoples.  Collaboration is about sharing with and learning from one another.Māori term this style of collaboration-learning as ‘Ako’, meaning two-way learning relationships. Educational and research relationships stumble at times due to failure to understand and value Ako because culture cannot enter the lecture theatre unless it has first entered the consciousness of the lecturer. This has been a major stumbling block in attracting and engaging with Māori students in life science education.  

To communicate science to Māori group’s scientists must first learn to engage their values. Mātauranga Māori highlights the importance of understanding the interrelated connectedness between people, the things we do, and our values.It accentuates the importance of valuing people and human life and connects the lecturer and student by stressing the importance of ensuring emerging ideas and technology are not created at the expense of first nation peoples or the natural world. Ako processes place at the forefront the guiding principles of dignity and mana (prestige) of all those engaging in the collaboration process.

The key principle of Ako emphasise the learning environment via maintaining the mana of all participants. This is very important with regards to student recruitment, mentoring and retention.Without a doubt, Māori have mixed western ways of doing things with ancient rituals passed down through generations resulting in very effective tikanga (Māori protocols) for ensuring the cultural safety and comfort of all research participants (e.g., students, stakeholders and supervisors).

For instance, We have integrated tikanga Māori and cultural safety protocols into animal dissection and euthanasia laboratories. This has been widely celebrated by Māori and other Pacifica groups and provides great opportunities for:

          honouring commitments to the Treaty of Waitangi,
          attracting and retaining Māori and Pacifica students within the life sciences,
          developing effective relationships with Māori communities and,
          unlocking the funding and innovation potential of Māoridom.

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