Opinion piece by Ariana Estoras: As the Government prepares to transform Aotearoa’s science and university sectors, the future role for mātauranga Māori and holders of that knowledge in those sectors becomes a pressing concern for many of us.

Two advisory groups will provide advice to the Government about what changes will improve those sectors, and critically how they can “play a greater role in lifting New Zealand’s productivity and economic growth”.

Putting a value on centuries of empirical knowledge transmitted intergenerationally by Māori is not easy. So many of the benefits are less tangible than the economic, but in the coming months it will be incumbent upon us as advocates to demonstrate the breadth of the benefits for Aotearoa.

I take heart from the fact that public consultation by the Government’s advisory groups has asked people to consider how a new science system should embrace and reflect the contributions of Māori as reflected in Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi); and how investment into research involving the study of or application of mātauranga Māori should be managed and funded.

But it is anyone’s guess what this change will mean and what those transformed sectors will ultimately look like. Many of us who have seen the progress from drawing on generations of mātauranga Māori, alongside conventional scientific methods, will be desperately hoping that progress is not lost.

A central issue here is recognising the value of different knowledge systems, mātauranga Māori and conventional science, working side by side. It is not about displacement, or lowering standards or – as one recent article suggested – claiming some races are “better” at science, or more predisposed to it.

It is within our grasp to transform our science and university sectors into places that can tackle complex and wicked problems because they value knowledge and approaches from all parts of society. That includes indigenous knowledge and the long-term intergenerational thinking that is a hallmark of Te Ao Māori.

AgResearch's Kaiārahi Matua/Director of Māori Research and Partnerships, Ariana Estoras

Some critics have argued that mātauranga Māori is unscientific and does not belong in the same conversation as “conventional” science and education.

University researchers Amanda Black and Jason M. Tylianakis argued it(external link) well in a recently published Science article when they asserted that “indigenous knowledge can complement and enhance science teachings, benefitting students and society in a time of considerable global challenges”.
They did not argue that indigenous knowledge should usurp the role of, or be called, science. But they took the view found that to “step from `not science’ to `therefore not as (or at all) valuable and worthy of learning’ is a non sequitur, based on personal values and not a scientifically defensible position”.
If we teach in our schools and universities the value of mātauranga Māori, then in my view we create a richer learning experience for students about the lands and the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, from the place that we choose to call home. It also fosters respect for different knowledge systems in our current and future generations, which many in our older generations may never have been exposed to.
It can help to build pathways for Māori into the research and science sector, which unlocks a wealth of potential and brings fresh perspectives – and potential solutions – to difficult problems our country faces.
A recent conference called Te Kura Roa brought together diverse voices to discuss a future where mātauranga Māori and science can flourish.
A strong vision emerged, which included priorities such as:
•    The need for intergenerational thinking: providing long term funding for science and research, as opposed to short-term grants, so that knowledge can accumulate over generations; and
•    Breaking down walls that exist between scientific disciplines and researchers so that mātauranga Māori can truly flourish alongside all of our science.
In the case of agriculture and rural communities, where Māori have held numerous roles and obligations to the whenua for centuries, there is a real opportunity to address the needs of those communities while at the same time strengthening the rural economy.
Now is the time for those who value the place of mātauranga Māori and Te Ao Māori in our society to speak up so that the Government has a true appreciation of the value it can offer to these transformed sectors, and to Aotearoa.

**The above piece was first published in Stuff newspapers on 5 June 2024**


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