Advocates of Mātauranga Māori request over $100 million dollars, part of which may be for woo

October 23, 2022 • 10:03 am

Below is the entirety of an article from the New Zealand Herald, and is relevant to our continuing discussion of Mātauranga Māori (MM), the Māori “way of knowing,” a mixture of practical knowledge (often acquired by trial and error), legend, word of mouth, ideology, theology, morality, and spiritualism. My beef is the continuing demand that the government make MM taught as coequal with modern science in secondary-school and college science classes. It’s not a valid claim, because MM involves far more than what we know of as “science”. But by all means it should be taught as part of the nation’s sociological and anthropological heritage, as it’s the belief system of the first people to settle on the island. But it shouldn’t be taught like it’s the same thing as, or as a complement to, modern science.

Now we hear that Māori advocates of MM are asking for $100 million bucks to use their belief system to combat rising sea levels (note: that’s about $60 million U.S. dollars, but still an immense amount of dosh).

Click on the screenshot to read the brief article:

And here’s the entire text. Note that this appears in New Zealand’s most widely circulated newspaper, but the piece is heavily larded with Māori language, almost none of which can be understood by the average non-Māori resident (this is likely a form of what I call “valorization of the oppressed”, since Māori constitute about 16% of the population, almost equal to the percentage of Asian residents.) At any rate, read on. (my emphasis below)

A contingent of Māori conservation leaders headed to COP27 next month in Egypt is calling for more than $100 million to fund Māori and Pacific initiatives to combat rising sea levels.

COP27 is the latest Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Conservation International NZ vice-president Mere Takoko will host the Māori delegation and says mātauranga Māori about the significance of tohorā to the protection of the climate is high on the agenda.

“Ko Hinemoana te koka atua o te au moana me nga tai. Kei a ia te orangatonutanga o tatou te iwi maori me nga iwi taketake o Hawaiki.”(Hinemoana is one of our sea goddesses. Our oceans are everything as Māori and as people of Hawaiki. Without her we are nothing.)

Te Pāti Māori co-leader, Rawiri Waititi, who hails from the Tai Rāwhiti iwi of Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Porou, who have long-standing traditions involving many species of whales, agrees mātauranga Māori and indigenous knowledge need to be supported.

Blue carbon solution

“Ko te mate kē, kāore te Pākehā e mōhio he aha te take ka tae te tohorā ki uta. Kei a tātou ērā kōrero kua hoki te tohorā ki te kōrero ki ōna tuakana, ki ngā rākau i ōna haerenga katoa i te ao. Me waiho mā te mātauranga Māori me pehea te tiaki i te tohorā. (Pākehā don’t know why whales beach themselves but we do. They come to talk to their peers and to tell of their travels. We know about this, we know how to look after whales.)

“It is very new. We’re looking at all sorts of options. We’re looking at the potential of biodiversity credits and ocean credits.”

Supports funding call

Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide stored in the world’s oceans. It can also describe coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and salt marshes.

Overseas research shows these ecosystems can store up to four times more carbon than forests on land can on a per-area basis.

Green Party MP and spokesperson for the Oceans Teanau Tuiono is supportive of Conservation International NZ’s call for increased funding.

“Pai ki a au te whakaaro ki a whai huruhuru te manu kia rere, kia whai rauemi ngā Māori ki te tiaki o rātou whenua, te wao, te maunga, te awa, te moana. Ki te haere mai tētahi rōpū ki te āwhina tērā manako, e tautoko ana.”(I support the notion that there needs to be more funding to support Māori protect their whenua, forests, mountains, rivers and moana. If it means another group coming in to help do that, I’m supportive of that.)

COP 27 will be hosted by the Egypt government at Sharm El Sheik from November 6. Climate Change Minister James Shaw will represent the New Zealand Government.

Note the references to sea goddesses, and especially the claim that Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) don’t know why whales beach themselves but the Māori do. It’s so the cetaceans can talk to their peers! But why can’t they talk in the water?

And it is that kind of risible claim that should make funders look on the request for $100 million with a cold eye.  What claim do Māori conservationists, as opposed to any other conservationists, have on this fixed sum of money? It seems to me that if proposals are made to combat this very real problem, they should be funded based on merit and likely efficacy, regardless of the ethnicity of who’s asking. Clearly there needs to be substantial funding to prevent this result of global warming, but one should be wary about taking ethnicity into account when judging who gets the money, especially if they give a bogus reason why whales beach themselves and denigrate the knowledge science has in the process.

And of course that kind of “knowledge” isn’t really knowledge at all: that’s why it shouldn’t be taught in science classes.  As ex-pastor Mike Aus (now a non-believer, said—and this is part of his quote at the head of chapter 4 of Faith versus Fact,

“There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world.”

Well, we know some reasons why whales beach themselves, but it’s not to have a chinwag on the sand with their mates.

40 thoughts on “Advocates of Mātauranga Māori request over $100 million dollars, part of which may be for woo

  1. Our oceans are everything as Māori and as people of Hawaiki. Without her we are nothing.)

    As a preamble, this is fine. But it looks as if this deep concern is itself one of the primary prescriptions. It’s oft been said in various contexts: intentions aren’t magic.

    One of the major problems with this scientific proposal is that science must be falsifiable. Once instituted, under what circumstances would or could any official say “Nope, Matauranga Māori is useless, the sacred ways of the Māori don’t work, move on.” When the indigenous authorities come up with the invariable excuses/apologetics, they must be listened to and treated with respect.

  2. Now the cat leapt out of the bag (or the monkey out of the sleeve, as the Dutch would say): it is all about money (George Carlin should be heard here: MONEY!). The whole ridiculous MM scheme turns out to be about money now.

  3. Just for any not familiar with the New Zealand Dollar, 1 NZD = 0.58 USD = 0.51 GBP = 0.79 CAD = 0.59 EUR.

    No matter what the currency, it’s still a waste of money.

  4. Can whales even hear that well when beached? Presumably their hearing is optimised for working in water, so likely it doesn’t work that well in air. Any whale experts here?

    1. Many years ago, I enjoyed a long chinwag with an Orca at Sea World in San Diego. My Cetacean companion kept rearing up out of the pool to address me in a language of clicks, tones, hoots, and whistles. It was evidently aware that my hearing, at least, worked in air. I neglected to question it about its own hearing preference (or, for that matter, its pronoun preferences).

      1. Well, OK, but did you provide any fish or fresh seal meat? I tend to suspect that is what it was interested in from humans, not conversation to much. Sorry if I dampened your mystical experience! 8^)

        1. In fact, I bought some herring (sold for feeding to seals) and fed it to the gregarious killer whale. No kidding. [This was before they started limiting public access to the whale pool.] Marine specialists tell me that orcas communicate in that manner with
          seals on ledges or ice-floes—-when they plan to eat them.

  5. Similar discourse is not unknown in North America. Here is a little item from an article
    about the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa:

    “In 2008, Canada began a major effort to right the wrongs of colonization. The process, which aimed to recognize the rights of Indigenous groups and shape a new relationship of respect, was broadly referred to as truth and reconciliation. At the museum, this took the shape of a conscious effort to include Indigenous culture and technology in the story of Canadian science—from snowshoes to star stories.

    The museum was so serious about getting the details right that they brought in Buck as a co-curator, along with Indigenous astronomer Annette Lee, who is both Dakota/Lakota and Ojibway.

    “As much as there’s this idea that science is all rational, science is immune from culture, that’s simply not true. Science itself is not actually separate from culture,” she says. “It came from a specific culture, and that’s Western European.”

    Lee means that our very picture of what science is was shaped by Western European history and the biases of that culture.

    But science is something anyone can do, and, Lee says, everyone has done. The process on paper is simple: closely observe the world, test what you learn, and transmit it to future generations. That Indigenous cultures have done so without test tubes doesn’t make them unscientific, she says—just different. “

    1. The scientific process includes another step, and it’s required: after you test what you learn and before you transmit it to future generations, critics from any culture take it apart, check it for holes, come up with alternative explanations, test those, rinse and repeat. It’s an ongoing process of skepticism. Science has to be separate from any particular culture if the knowledge is to be for human beings.

      The fundamental concepts of the scientific process came out of the agora of the Greek philosophers with their argument and rebuttal designed to persuade a community. If that’s “Western thinking” then the Māori shouldn’t be venturing into making scientific claims.

  6. Wasn’t the Maori in the article quotes from people speaking Maori? It’s an official language. It happens in Canada with French too.

    1. I’ve lived in officially and unofficially bilingual communities. I’ve never seen text inserted in a second language – even if co-official. Typically, documents will be bilingual like we see with user manuals; the first 10 pages will be in one language, and the next 10 pages will be in another. In the Middle East, I normally see side-by-side translations, where the left half of the page is English and the right half of the page is Arabic.

      The most I’ve seen in inline text is linguistically non-productive crystalized formulations, like short holiday invocations (“Ramadan kareem”), menu items, and maybe a short term invoking local flavor (“Insh’allah”).

      1. The article was quoting from a Maori only publication then translating it… care to rethink your response because it somewhat is making some assumptions that you may have missed.

    2. It’s not analogous, Diane. Official communications intended for all Canadians are written side-by-side in both official languages. We don’t sprinkle long passages of French into an English announcement, and then translate it in-line. When a politician does shift into spoken French on the air, the English-language broadcast provides simultaneous interpretation over his words..
      If a news report in English is quoting at length a person speaking in French, it would say, “Addressing her audience in French, Ms X said, ‘ We must always strive to . . . ‘.” It wouldn’t repeat the French remarks verbatim first.

      The other difference is that very few Maori can speak or understand Maori. They will have to skip over to the English translation to understand what was said. In Canada, Francophones learn French at home and in school, and speak it into adulthood. They actually will benefit from hearing the French as their first language. But they will tune to a French-language broadcast or news outlet where the whole story is in French.

      What New Zealand is trying to do with an English-language broadcast is pretend that the Maori words will speak to people whose first, and possibly only fluent language is Maori. If there were such people, the outlet could provide a Maori interpretation.
      Imposed bilingualism is always fraught. Each country has to figure out in their own way what accomplishes the political objectives with minimum amount of push-back. Our foreign ears may not hear what New Zealand ears do.

      1. First of all, my name is “Diana”.

        Second of all, if the original is in a French only publication, I think it would be completely normal to quote the French verbatim with English translation. This is referencing a Maori language article written in Maori. They are quoting the original then translating for their audience.

        “few Maori can speak or understand Maori”. Um what?! As a person who has an entire side of my family living in NZ and has a lot of Maori friends this is just false. Maori is so well known that the Maori helped teach Hawaiians their language. My NZ passport is written half in Maori…why? Because it’s the second official language of NZ…..if no one understood it why would that be the case on government documents? It’s a living and used language. My mom’s childhood friend, when she married into a Maori family learned Maori because she wanted to make sure she knew what everyone was saying. If few know how to speak Maori, then this would never happen. The culture and the language was never completely destroyed.

        1. Current estimates of speaking competence in Maori language are about 20-25% for the Maori population, about 5-6% for the total population. How many can understand but not speak the language I don’t know.

          A good deal of Maori use in official documents and especially the news media is driven by government policy and financial incentives rather than general public demand and I notice that the expectation of Maori language supporters of one million speakers by 2040 has recently been downgraded to 260, 000, ie, about one third of the current Maori population or about 5% of the current total population.

          And while it seems reasonable to me that a Maori delegation would make extensive use of Maori, the sprinkling of this language in English language media is causing some, perhaps considerable, resentment. People who want to listen to the weather report but find it incomprehensible, will not respond by learning Maori.

          WRT to the OP, as others have noted, follow the money!

          1. I’m sure the speakers of Welsh are not all that high either but I don’t think people would say to someone from Wales that few speak the language and it’s the second official language as well.

            Perhaps there is resentment but there always is. Meh. I don’t like it when I turn on the weather and I have to listen to it all in French first either but that’s just life.

            1. I used to live in Wales, and it was interesting to hear them seamlessly switch back and forth, or mix the languages in the same sentence. But when with two or more Welsh speakers and they suddenly stop using any English, listen out for the word ‘saesneg’—it means they are talking about you!

          2. I still maintain my objection that Maori should NOT be written. It is an oral tradition, and the Paper People (pakeha) imposed writing by their missionaries and imperialists. Nor should the Maori joust with the PP. Except, of course, for the money! What a fantastic pimp on the simple Paper People of New Zealand! Maoris of all stripes — full, half, quarter, eighth, identifiers — must be having a hukulau (Hawaiian) over this mess!

        2. Diana, I’m not sure what “Maori only publication” you are referring to – I’m not aware of any such. The article quoted was from the NZ Herald, and also appeared in Te Ao Māori news, both English language The article does not give a source for the quotes, although I agree that if they were originally in Māori it is not unreasonable to quote the original followed by a translation. Re the current status of the language, some facts may be found here:

          “few Maori can speak or understand Maori” is certainly overstating it. However, I don’t know anyone who speaks the language remotely fluently, if they speak it at all – clearly.a biased sample, as I live in Auckland, but I do work with a number of large iwi organisations, and all communications are entirely in English, with the exception of email greetings and sign offs, where “Kia ora” and “Nga mini” are normally used.

          1. Yes, I was assuming the quotes were in Maori originally. It could be wrong but there were quotation marks around the original so I figured that they were quoting the speaker. Where the speaker was in English only, the quotation marks are only around the English words and no Maori is given.

            I know a few people who speak Maori fluently but they are also from prominent Maori families and are active at the local Marae. I think they would be surprised to hear no one knows Maori.

        3. Diana, I’ve attended numerous functions at embassies for countries with multiple recognized regional languages: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, United Kingdom… The only one where the organizers made a lengthy invocation for less commonly spoken regional languages was NZ. I couldn’t imagine hearing the Spanish ambassador addressing people in Basque or Catalan. The Irish ambassador would not say much more than “Sláinte” in Irish. This type of performative gesture is unique to NZ – for now, anyway.

          1. It was a bit naughty if the Canadians only did English but perhaps they weren’t expecting Canadians to be there to see it? I remember a broadcast once where the Canadian PM was talking to the US President and the Canadian media asked him something or some such and he spoke in French. I can’t remember the context but he excused himself and said “I need to answer in French”. There was a reason for it but I don’t remember. The look on George W Bush’s face was actually pretty funny.

            1. No – this was at a Canada Day celebration, where most attendees were Canadian (The Québecois, of course, had their St. Jean-Baptiste Day event). Typically diplomatic events in that region tend to be English-only, even though English is not the local language; events primarily intended for citizens are in the country’s primary local language. The non-existent gods alone know how I managed to get myself invited to so many of those events.

              Could you imagine if South African events had to use all 11 official languages?

              1. Very naughty then. Every covid update I saw and this was national broadcasts about your health were almost completely French because it seems all of Quebec has a million journalists who asked all the questions. And in Ottawa where it is Federal and official bilingual and where most tours for tourists are bilingual and where the university requires you to pass a test that you are bilingual (at least that was the case when I was university age) so if it was put on my the federal government that is bad.

  7. As Iwi are wealthy in NZ to the tune of 60.5 BILLION thren it is to be hoped that the taxpayer is not paying for the contingent, led by Mere Tokoko,, to attend..

      1. In the past they were butchered and eaten (if in a safe state to eat, the smell usually tells) with the bones used for tools, weapons and works of art.

        1. But first, the Maori people, as stewards of the land and sea environment, would say a few words of greeting to the beached whales. Something like: “Nau mai — (Welcome), Kei te pehea koe? — (How’s it going?). Then butcher them.

          1. Would probably thank the sea gods for the bounty. That isn’t unusual as many cultures gave thanks for food, ever heard of “saying grace”?

            But honestly, I wouldn’t know. I have plenty of Māori friends and being peasants in the Iwi system and blue collar in regular society they don’t have the same romantic views as the aristocracy and nobility as one put it. But as with many cultures out there I’m certain they gave thanks for the food.

  8. “valorization of the oppressed”

    Excellent description. Kind of like our politicians up here renaming streets and election wards into double-digit syllabic strings that are phonetically incompatible with the English (and French) languages. New Canadians have it hard enough trying to navigate in our official languages without the requirement of pronouncing phrases in languages that only a nominal percentage of our population actually speaks. This political opportunism isn’t very inclusive.

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