Mātauranga Māori should be seen as adding to the toolbox to tackle the big issues for agriculture and other sectors, rather than something that threatens the science status quo, says the head of AgResearch’s new Māori Research & Partnerships Group, Ariana Estoras.

The new structure led by Mrs Estoras is central to AgResearch’s vision to have the knowledge system of Mātauranga Māori in equal footing with Western science and existing structures that have helped support positive change in farming practices and food production in Aotearoa over the decades. The move also helps embed Te Ara Tika into AgResearch’s everyday work, which is a national plan to embrace Te Ao Māori values and tikanga based principles to better respond to Māori needs and better deliver to Māori aspirations.

“What we are striving for is an approach where we are adding knowledge and impact to the important science we have always done, so that we can respond with Māori to their needs and aspirations, but also help provide better solutions to farmers and all of society in Aotearoa,” says Mrs Estoras, who herself comes from a background in science.

“Unfortunately, some have viewed Mātauranga Māori as somehow diluting or being out of step with the science we’ve always done in Aotearoa. Some of this seems to be based on a lack of understanding and therefore an inability to see the value we can create. Our approach is centred around the strength of having more than one knowledge system contributing to solutions for some of the most complex challenges facing our communities. One way of looking at it is having the benefit of a `wise old head’ who has gathered knowledge not just from formal settings but also from life experience learning and interacting with farming and the natural world.”

Ariana Estoras

Mrs Estoras says it is encouraging to see the increasing recognition across the science and research sectors of the value Māori people, resources and knowledge can bring. In agriculture, this means growing connections between the scientists and Māori farmers and landowners who bring huge collective wisdom and a hunger for positive change in line with Kaitiakitanga (living in balance with the natural environment as guardians) of the land.

“The environmental challenges for farmers and Aotearoa as a whole are obviously front and centre right now, and I have no doubt that this is an area where Mātauranga Māori can enhance what the science already has to offer where it comes to best use of productive land, water quality and reducing the climate change impact.”

Mrs Estoras hails from Ngāti Uekaha and Ngāti Maniapoto, and as a child spent a lot of time learning from her grandfather on his Waitomo farm. After studying molecular genetics and gaining her Master’s degree in biochemistry, she worked with the Manuel whānau on the East Coast with a genetic disorder that resulted in members of the whānau losing their sight. Her work helped provide the whānau with some answers and was a launching pad for a career in science in Aotearoa and overseas that has since led to her moving into the primary industries, and more recently into leadership as AgResearch’s Director of Māori Research & Partnerships.

The focus of the new Māori Research & Partnerships Group is “to continue to build Māori capacity and beneficial Māori-centred research led by and with Māori partners, while taking everyone with us”.

“I have been able to work at the coalface with many Māori groups across my lifetime and was able to create bridges between science, policy and funding and what they were looking to achieve, and I get a real buzz from that. I also feel privileged to be among the wāhine Māori in leadership roles in Aotearoa and helping to provide a path for our young people to follow.” 

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