In this article we have the usual suspects, professors who write tons of papers, all of this “research” consisting on trying to “decolonize Western science” and put Māori “ways of knowing” in its place (Mātauranga Māori). The problem, as usual, is that the article is full of lots of assertions about the need for and value of indigenous knowledge but only a single example. The example, below, is of “practical knowledge”, the one part of MM that does constitute something empirically true or useful. (The rest of MM, also scheduled to be shoved down children’s throats in science class, involves myth, religion, morality, and tradition—things manifestly unscientific.
I see article after article like this: long on ideological blather, victimization claims, and threats to dismantle “Western” science (an insulting misnomer: science belongs to the world), but short on example where MM actually contributes to MODERN science. It’s also full of Māori words, a kind of performative demonstration given that almost no New Zealanders, including the Māori themselves, can speak the language (1%, with 2.7% able to have a basic conversation). I’m starting to learn individual words, though, and will translate what I can below.
Click to read the piece on The Conversation:
Excerpts (translation in brackets are from me)
At the same time, Māori scientists have drawn on and advanced mātauranga and continue to make space for te reo [the Māori language] , tikanga [Māori practices] and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi [the Treaty of Waitangi, used to justify every attempt of the Māori to appropriate scientific power or money] in research.
Our recent publication explores pūtaiao – a way of conducting research grounded in kaupapa Māori. [As one scientist told me, “Pūtaiao is a word that was invented because Māori did not have a word for ‘science’. It was used to mean ‘science’, but as the article indicates, it now means something different].
In education, pūtaiao is often simplified to mean science taught in Māori-medium schools that includes mātauranga, or science taught in te reo more broadly. But science based on kaupapa Māori [Māori philosophy and values] is generally by Māori, for Māori and with Māori.
Our research extends kaupapa Māori and the important work of pūtaiao in schools into tertiary scientific research. We envision pūtaiao as a way of doing science that is led by Māori and firmly positioned in te ao Māori (including mātauranga, te reo and tikanga).
Note in the last two paragraphs that the Māori “ways of knowing” that will be incorporated in science aren’t offered to the world like the rest of science. Instead, these endeavors will be “by Māori, for Māori and with Māori” and “a way of doing science that is led by Māori and firmly positioned in te ao Māori (including mātauranga, te reo and tikanga).” It’s far from a universal endeavor.
Science that is practiced only by Māori, imbued with Māori values and ideology, and led only by Māori—is that science or ideology? If the practices produce scientific knowledge, it automatically becomes part of “modern science” (NOT “Western science”). So I’m not sure what they mean by “decolonizing science” except to either push modern science aside in favor of pūtaiao, which is not good, or incorporate Māori discoveries into the worldwide stream of science. The latter is what should ideally happen (and of course Māori should be given every opportunity to do science and become scientists), but it seems that that’s not the plan.
Instead, the plan involves power: taking over science and science education, and there are few scientists and academics in New Zealand who are brave enough to resist. As the scientist who sent this to me wrote:
Even the title is crazy. Why would we need to decolonise science to “respect” indigenous knowledge? Really, this is more about pūtea (money or funding) than pūtaiao. Effectively what’s going on is a scheme to use science funding to support Māori who want to learn and transmit mātauranga Māori. They started out by claiming that Māori were under-represented in science, which was true. They then said we needed to consider the environment provided for Māori science students so they didn’t feel alienated. This is largely nonsense of course, as the vast majority of Māori who attend university are middle-class. Now the project involves turning science into something else and claiming that it belongs to Māori. It doesn’t make any sense, but institutional leaders seem paralysed by fear over criticising any of this.
I don’t think we’ll make any progress in stopping this unless we can make institutional leaders realise that what they’re dealing with has nothing to do with indigenous knowledge and a lot to do with social justice ideology (especially CRT), political control and access to funding. It’s a progressive move to redefine science in a way that will privilege Māori.
Them’s strong words, but I think he’s right, and I don’t think that “stopping this” will happen. Science in New Zealand is circling the drain, and nobody beyond some scientists (who are afraid to speak up) seems to care.
But I mentioned that there is some real knowledge adumbrated in this paper. Here’s where it’s mentioned, embedded within the “dismantling” scheme (I’ve bolded the science bit):
Decolonising science is at the heart of pūtaiao. It challenges and critiques the academy and disciplines of Western science. Decolonising science requires a focus on histories, structures and institutions that act as barriers to mātauranga, te reo and tikanga.
We argue that decolonising science is a necessary step before we can Indigenise science.
. . . Captain Cook’s “scientific voyage” to Aotearoa is a great example of how colonisation occurred under the guise of science.
. . . Kaupapa Māori, as articulated by distinguished education scholar Graham Hingangaroa Smith, requires two approaches to decolonisation: structuralist and culturalist.
Culturalist approaches centre te reo, mātauranga and tikanga. The groundbreaking work led by professor of marine science and aquaculture Kura Paul-Burke, using mātauranga to enhance shellfish restoration, is an excellent example of a culturalist approach to decolonising science.
A structuralist approach means paying attention to and dismantling the structures within science which continue to exclude Māori knowledge and people. It encourages us to think about the colonial roots of science and how science has been used to justify colonial violence and oppression of Māori.
You can go to the paper at the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, and see that this is the kind of practical knowledge that MM yields:
The transdisciplinary project worked with a traditional Māori master weaver and kaumātua (tribal elders) to develop biodegradable taura kuku (green-lipped mussel spat settlement lines, hereafter taura kuku) made from traditional Māori plant biowaste and other natural materials. The taura kuku proved a successful tool for the recruitment and settlement of wild mussel spat assisting shellfish restoration and increasing marine biodiversity in the culturally and ecologically important mahinga kai (traditional food basket) of Ōhiwa harbour.
Here’s a photo with its caption from the paper:
And I wouldn’t for a minute say that this isn’t practical knowledge, nor that it didn’t require Māori knowledge to produce these biodegradable settlement lines. It’s very clever, and it is practical knowledge. But others have figured out that what really attracts mussels (an important “crop” in New Zealand) turns out to be chemical cues from algae. That was NOT done by MM or pūtaiao but by modern “Western” science done largely by researchers at the University of Auckland. And those cues are probably why these spat lines work.
You can guess where modern science would take this: first, identify the chemicals promoting settling (in the past, wild mussels were harvested from algae beds), and then impregnate the settling lines with either brown algae or the chemicals themselves. In other words, identifying why the settling lines work will enable further progress. This progress would be due to a combination of “practical knowledge” from Māori tradition and extended by modern science in the lab.
That is how fruitful collaborations work, and they don’t require dismantling of modern science, but rather an attempt by modern science to see why indigenous “ways of knowing” really work (viz. quinine and other drugs derived from indigenous medicine). This form of theory and hypothesis testing goes beyond practical knowledge, and is part of “modern science.”
What is sad is that these same few examples—all of practical knowledge, mostly about growing food—are trotted out again and again as an example of “breakthough” work used to justify the value of dismantling or decolonizing modern science and used to justify giving millions of dollars to indigenous research institutes or even dubious projects (e.g., giving $320,ooo to Priscilla Wehi to investigate completely unbelievable claim that Polynesians, the ancestors of Māori, discovered Antarctica in 650 A.D. (In reality, the Russians found it in 1820).
Practical knowledge like that shown above, is good, but millions of dollars are being funneled into labs that will be run by Māori, use Māori researchers and “ways of knowing”, and abjure modern science. That will be largely a waste of money, and New Zealand can’t afford to throw millions of research dollars down the rabbit hole. But that’s the result of the “decolonizing science” initiative.