The indigenization of New Zealand’s Space Policy

June 4, 2023 • 1:00 pm

The other day I forgot to mention that New Zealand has a “National Space Policy” that you can read about here.  Here’s an excerpt from the brief announcement:

The next ‘giant leap’ in New Zealand’s space journey has been taken today with the launch of the National Space Policy, Economic Development Minister Barbara Edmonds announced.

. . . “With the launch of our National Space Policy, we’re presenting a clear and connected picture of New Zealand’s space interests to the world.

“The policy identifies stewardship, innovation, responsibility, and partnership as key values for New Zealand in space. Harnessing these values will inform space-related engagements, policy creation and strategies across government.

The National Space Policy is led by robust objectives of:

  • Growing an innovative and inclusive space sector
  • Protecting and advancing our national security and economic interests
  • Regulating to ensure space activities are safe and secure
  • Promoting the responsible use of space internationally
  • Modelling sustainable space and Earth environments

“This is an important milestone in our space journey as it provides an overview of New Zealand’s values and objectives to guide future space-related policies and regulation.

“This is an ongoing conversation. We will continue to engage with stakeholders and industry,

That sounds good unless you’ve been immersed in New Zealand’s politically correct efforts to indigenize science. This is ultimately based on the view that the indigenous people (Māori) are entitled, via the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (“Te Teriti”) to coequal participation in science, not just as workers but also entitled to teach their traditional lore, Mātauranga Māori (MM), as coequal in schools to what they call “Western science”.  There is some empirical knowledge in MM, but also a heap of legend, oral tradition, religion, morality, and rules for life. MM, on the whole, is not equivalent to science, but contains science, just as the Bible contains some real history. Yet the interpretation of the Treaty as making all things Māori almost sacred is holding back science in a big way.  So the words “stewardship” and “stakeholders” are, to me at least, code words that this endeavor too will be “decolonized.”

I’ve seen little analysis of the Treaty vis-à-vis education, but it needs to be discussed. The English and Māori versions differ, not all Māori chiefs signed it, and it’s an agreement, not a constitution. Basically, it guarantees the Māori the rights to keep and hold their land, gives Britain sovereignty over the country, but also guarantees that all Māori have full rights as British subjects. Here’s the important part: Article 3 of 3 (English translation on a NZ government site):

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

That’s all well and good, but it’s not clear to me how the “rights and privileges” of British subjects guarantees the Māori the right to have their “way of knowing” taught in government-run science classes. But of course even debating that issue is taboo in New Zealand. (As always, I think MM is an important part of local culture that should be taught as sociology, anthropology, or even religion, but not as science.)

But I have digressed big time. In the link above is another link to the whole government space policy, which is here.

And here’s the interesting bit:

Obligations which apply to all New Zealand space policies

All space policies must also be consistent with New Zealand’s existing commitments, including. . .

  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi: a commitment between the Crown and Māori which provides the basis for ongoing partnerships between the government and Māori on space, including on the implementation of these values and objectives. The Crown is committed to recognising and reflecting Māori interests, including those embodied in the Treaty principles of partnership, active protection, and participation.

Modelling sustainable space and Earth environments

Encouraging inclusive, sustainable space collaborations within New Zealand

Mātauranga Māori and space are deeply connected, with space representing whakapapa (genealogical links to the beginning of the universe), wairuatanga (the spiritual connection between Earth and the universe, derived from Māori cosmology), and tātai arorangi (Māori knowledge of astronomy). The New Zealand government encourages inclusive collaborations with individuals or groups who are currently underrepresented in the space sector (including, but not limited to, Māori); and for these collaborations to work toward sustainable outcomes. The New Zealand government will also strive to further understand and assess representation across the space sector, to best direct inclusive collaboration opportunities.

The treaty is quoted again, and this means that not only will equity apply to the whole policy, but indigenous people will get piles of money to give their take on the policy. More distressing is the dissimulation of the last paragraph, which simply lies when it says that “Mātauranga Māori and space are deeply connected”.  What they’ve done here, as usual, is make an analogy between science (space exploration) and aspects of Māori society that have almost nothing to do with space (whakapapa and wiruatanga are spiritual and moral concepts). The one exception, tātai arorangi, involved learning enough about the positions of celestial bodies to navigate across the south Pacific and, later, judge the seasons for planting or hunting.  But the space bit of MM is no longer a pressing concern to anybody in the country except those whose ancestry may help them get jobs or money.

This is from a discussion of the subject by two academics:

David Perenara-O’Connell

Māngai, Tāwhaki Joint Venture

The knowledge is very clear with regard to how our people came to be here, and that it wasn’t by mistake, and it was through a deep understanding of the stars and the Sun and the Moon and the weather and the birds – all of those things that they were able to harness to get from one place to the next without necessarily knowing where that next place was.

For us at Taumutu and Wairewa – Ngāi Tahu hapū – we are inherently eeling, fishing villages, so we spend a lot of time at night out gathering our kai, and through that, the importance of the Moon, the time of the year when we gather the tuna, which we call the hinapōuri, the time of the dark nights through to the timing of the sky and the constellations that guide us in those mahinga kai activities.

So when you’re gathering tuna on the banks of the river or on the gravels of Kaitōrete with your tamariki and your kaumātua, there’s an exchange of that knowledge about the stars constantly moving overhead.

In the following, “kūmara” is a Polynesian type of sweet potato. Bolding in the text is mine.

Dr Pauline Harris

For Māori, a lot of our knowledge is passed on through word of mouth, but there’s lots of different forms for that. All sorts of information is carried in things like our pūrākau, our stories, our waiata, our songs, our whakataukī. They all carry messages, knowledge, history, information, data.

I’d like to use the example Whānui. Whānui is a star called Vega. Whānui was the father of the kūmara. And his wife and him had these kūmara children, and his brother Rongo-maui wanted to bring the kūmara to Earth. And so he went up there and he asked for the kūmara. Whānui said, “No you can’t have that. You’re not allowed to take my children.” And Rongo-maui stole the children and brought them down to Earth. Whānui was very angry with the fact that his children were taken, and he sent down his other children, which were like caterpillars and stuff, and they were sent down to Earth to destroy the crops of the kūmara so that they couldn’t use them.

There’s lots of different messages in there. There’s messages around the wrongdoing of stealing things but also about the relationship between kūmara and the star Vega or Whānui itself. And when that star rises, it indicates the time of the year, around about March, which is when you have some practice associated with the kūmara.

You can be the judge of whether this knowledge, which was indeed of use to the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori as well as to the early Māori themselves, should now also be deeply integrated into modern space exploration and the policy that guides it.

19 thoughts on “The indigenization of New Zealand’s Space Policy

  1. Most human cultures, past and present, have developed myths and stories about the stars. The International Astronomical Union has, belatedly, recognised the importance of recording these traditions as part of humanity’s rich cultural heritage. It also now draws on traditions outside ancient Greek and Roman mythology to name newly-discovered objects. But the IAU has not (as yet) suggested that these traditions should play any part in scientific astronomy.

  2. Sci Fi nerds may recall Isaac Asimov’s bon mot, ‘the solar system is Jupiter plus rubble’. Analogously, the NZ space industry equals Rocket Lab plus rubble plus government blathering. Rocket Lab, founded by local folk hero Peter Beck, had to expand to the USA a while ago [ see Wiki link below ], as is the case with the rest of the best NZ tech startups, eg Lanzatech.

    Rocket Lab’s first launch facility is at NZ’s Mahia peninsula, which has a high local Maori population. Therefore NZ media have tried to slap on some maori angle on Rocket Lab’s videos of their standard launch countdowns. Like Fox News, when no maori angle could be found for space launches the NZ media made it up. I have watched Rocket Lab’s videos of their launches and PR of their tech for years. They have taken a principled stand and have no obvious maori ‘design elements’ slapped on their products, which are named after science heroes eg the Rutherford or Newton engines, plus genuine science terms eg Neutron engines, and never a taniwha engine or a matariki this or that. Furthermore, their industry vacancies ads [ see link below ], as is the case with the high tech world, have no maori words whatsoever, no akaonga this or that. ( Right at the beginning a proof-of-concept suborbital rocket had a Maori name, but this was the main exception.)

    Videos of Rocket Lab workforce show a very high percentage of women, as is expected with NZ science graduates. There is no maori or pacific quota for ‘oppressed folk’ to get in with lower STEM exam results than Whites or Asians. This is why Rocket Lab staff have a high percentage of Asians. I have never overheard maori words levered into dialogue when the Rocket Lab videos cover staff at work ( with the exception of hapless PR staff trying to rustle up some maori angle for the nz news media.) I can attest to a couple of bright NZ Asians who enjoy working in the NZ aerospace sector in part because they can satisfy their aviation passions without having to slap on token maorification veneers in their everyday workforce interactions.

    Basically, everyone in the genuine NZ space / aerospace sector ignores government drivel about maorification. Why? Because if government money comes with Maori strings attached, the aerospace sector will tell government to go jump in the nearest indigenous lake. The bottom link is unrelated to space policy, but is to show how a quintessentially European-origin sector, western classical music, is forced to ‘adapt’ by slapping on ‘maori design elements’ and getting a [ White ] composer to rustle up a composition with the usual maori name, which the overseas White and Asian competitors have to play.

    1. Ramesh, I really find your posts about NZ very informative and presented with some discrete humour. Thank you.
      Top marks to the NZ Aerospace / Space sector. “Make it so Number One” to all that remains!

  3. Short of buying rockets from Musk or Bezos, I don’t think NZ has much likelihood of getting into space any time soon. Still, I do recall the move “Mouse on the Moon,” the sequel to “The Mouse That Roared.”

  4. I’m confused. That was a quite long official government statement, but I failed to see any Maori words.

    1. Hi Mr Lambert, I can understand your confusion. Here in NZ we talk in code, using words like partnership, inclusivity, & equity, when what we really mean is that “everyone is equal but some are more equal than others” when it comes to rights and affirmative action. The reason we do this is a) we don’t want to be called racist if we think certain things are absurd or just plain wrong and b) those who support some of us having additional rights & privileges don’t want to spell it out because then it would sound just plain absurd or wrong. And then the cat would be out of the bag.

  5. Dr Pauline Harris in her (presumably her) section about Maori and the stories writes ““collectively” about the Maori and “our” experiences etc. Is this descriptive practise a part of the whole Maori obsession? as I find with a name such as Pauline Harris, a very British name, the intimate connection somewhat strange although I suppose she could have Maori heritage somewhere in her past or is it just me who finds it odd? No doubt with my view there is a possibility of being accused of “ racism” or “colonialism” along the way.
    If I were writing about the Maori for an article such as this I would be writing subjectively not as she does.

  6. “…whakapapa (genealogical links to the beginning of the universe), wairuatanga (the spiritual connection between Earth and the universe, derived from Māori cosmology)…” These are religious beliefs. Those professing them need to provide evidence that they are true before they can be admitted as science. These claims make me think that what we have here is the Kiwi parallel to our Discovery Institute.

  7. Thanks for the link to the text of the treaty. It seems pretty straightforward: they give up their sovereignty; they get to keep their land; and they get the rights of British subjects. It’s hard to see in there any of the particular protections for Maori ways and practices that are claimed.

    P.S. If Perenara-O’Connell is quoted correctly, his text is a bit gibberish. “The importance of the moon” doesn’t seem to fit in the sentence.

    1. That would be the English version. The version signed by most Māori (over several months) was written in Māori and the key terms in the two versions vary in important ways. Arguably the Māori version should take precedence. It seems that the treaty was cobbled together in a bit of hurry and the whole event/s was a bit chaotic. And of course the interpretation of events tends to change over time.

  8. Maori culture has been actively and passively excepted in Aotearoa New Zealand it doesn’t take rocket science to notice that. MM will not displace modern science as no mythical creature or hailing past ancestors is going to propel ‘anything’ into space.
    I think most people including government minions know this. That has nothing to do with the Treaty of Waitangi and it’s underlying influence. Who cares if a rocket has a symbol etched to its body, think ‘Apollo’ missions to the moon, is that not a god? as long as we are in full agreement that that’s all it is.
    By the way Rocket Lab moved to the States because that’s where it’s commercial interest lies.. basically NASA. That is also a two way street as NASA has a low cost launch pad in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s “follow the money” not because Maori had any say about how it, Rocket Lab conducts it business. I would hazard a guess that the local Maori community are quite chuffed at having a connection to space. It’s just BS claims that we need to address.

    1. Maori culture has been actively and passively accepted and it doesn’t take rocket science to notice that.
      Asia’s cultures [ that is, my own ] have been passively accepted into NZ but NOT actively accepted into NZ and it doesn’t take rocket science to notice that either.

      As today marks the day that well-known ‘Republican’ Jacinda Ardern decided to accept the ‘honour’ of a Damehood ( while the nation still isn’t a republic ) I shall use her as Exhibit A for my claim :
      “Even in Jacinda Ardern’s speeches about the arts [ when she was Minister for the Arts and Culture ] she’ll often mention support for Maori and Pasifika, but nothing at all about Asians. We’re still invisible.” QED [ and that’s not, to put too feynman point on it, quantum electrodynamics.]

      1. The influx of Asian people from the pacific rim has been at a steady climb since the seventies so I’m not sure what you expect but I take it you are here for what NZ offers. Your rights are protected just like mine and I was born here. We have seen a rise in Asian community programmes such as the festivals in Auckland that are regarded as cultural significant events and well supported… rocket science it is not. The Asian community is relatively new as opposed to the UK influences but is now shifting. Not to discount the Chinese contribution which has been fairly stable since the gold fields. NZ is no different when it comes to newcomers to new lands, it will take time. The means to progress your views and influence are the same as any, have you had a look at the TOP party? This is not what the post was about and we digress.

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