A New Zealand geography teacher calls for giving Mātauranga Māori “equal status” in the classroom

December 5, 2022 • 9:15 am

Karen Finn, labeled below as a “PhD. candidate, University of Auckland,” is also identified in this short article as “a geography teacher and a teacher editor” who’s “researching decolonizing school geography in Aotearoa New Zealand for a Ph.D. in Education.” The short piece appears on Ipū Kirerū, the blog of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. And its message is a harbinger of things to come because Finn, who’s not Maori, advocates for Mātauranga Māori (MM), the “way of knowing”of New Zealand’s indigenous people, to be given “equal status” in the geography classroom. The NZ government, educators, and educational authorities apparently plan for MM to be given equal status in everything, including science, though Māori comprise about 16.5% of the population and Asians 15.1% (Europeans are 70.2%).

Recall that MM comprises far more than just empirical stuff—practical knowledge like growing plants and catching eels—but is also an elaborate system incorporating legend, fantasy, religion, a preoccupation with connection and ancestry, and morality. I’m not sure how much MM geography there really is (and author Finn doesn’t tell us), but she wants it to have equal status (presumably with “European geography”) in the classroom. Click to read, and then read the comment at the bottom from a Kiwi friend who discusses the drive to turn NZ education into half “Western stuff” and half MM:

A few quotes from Finn:

Current changes to The New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA call for equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori. I’m both excited and challenged by this prospect. As a Pākehā geography teacher, giving equal status to mātauranga Māori differs from my expertise and requires me to acquire new knowledge. In this blog post I offer some reflections on my learning so I can support mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori.

Equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori – is one of several key changes being made to NCEA and curricula. Mātauranga Māori is defined in Te Aka Māori Dictionary as “Māori knowledge – The body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, including the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices”. Sir Hirini Moko Mead argues that mātauranga Māori is knowledge of the past, present and future, and it continues to develop and emerge. Mead further explains the importance of mātauranga Māori in this way:

Put simply, the term refers to Māori knowledge. However, once efforts are made to understand what the term means in a wider context, it soon becomes evident that mātauranga Māori is a lot more complex.

It is a part of Māori culture, and, over time, much of the knowledge was lost. The reasons for the loss are well known. Several minds have worked to recover much of what was lost — to reconstruct it, to unravel it from other knowledge systems, to revive parts of the general kete or basket of knowledge, and to make use of it in the education of students of the land. Especially Māori students for whom this is a precious taonga, a treasure, a part of the legacy that is theirs to enjoy.”

Finn then makes the argument that I want to emphasize: that MM and other indigenous stuff are essential as coequal in the curriculum, for without that educational equity, students of Māori ancestry will be left cold—uninterested in “modern science” or modern anything. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, but I suppose via luring students in with MM and then hooking them with a dose of modernity.

Finn raises Te Teriti o Waitangi as an importation rationale. This is the treaty used to undergird all of this: the Treaty of Waitangi, first signed in 1840 as an agreement between European colonists and Māori, though not all Maori groups signed on. The third part of the treaty “gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects,” and that’s been interpreted as a requirement to give MM equal time in the classroom. There is very little debate about this in NZ, and most of those who take issue with this interpretation dare not voice their concerns lest they be demonized or even fired. Finn cites the treaty below but also asserts, importantly, that Māori students will not be successful unless half of their education deals with the indigenous “way of knowing”:

Bolding is mine:

Mead’s statement goes a step further than simply defining mātauranga Māori to explaining the urgency of mana orite o mātauranga Māori, particularly for schools. Giving mātauranga Māori equal status in education is important for honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and supporting ākonga Māori (Māori students) to achieve success as Māori. Mason Durie says that supporting ākonga Māori to achieve success as Māori requires schools to engage with te ao Māori, and this includes mātauranga Māori. Giving equal status for mātauranga Māori expects the education system to change to fit Māori students rather than the students change to fit the system. It shows ākonga, whānau and communities that their knowledges are valued in schools.

Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline.

. . . I’m not alone in this learning journey. Most teachers are learning, planning, and beginning to teach mātauranga Māori, according to NZCER’s National Survey of Secondary Schools. Despite most teachers having begun this journey, non-Māori lag behind Māori in working towards giving equal status to mātauranga Māori. Māori teachers also take more of the burden in supporting colleagues and schools to implement equal status for mātauranga Māori. The survey findings remind us that Māori teachers have varying levels of expertise in te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori and need support too. I need to approach my learning with humility and kindness, without making assumptions or demands of my Māori colleagues.

. . . Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline. These are some of the ways that I have begun learning:

Good luck teaching geography in that “holistic” way!

Finn then gives a list of six ways she’s “learning” how to integrate MM into geography, with a virtue-laden statement that sounds familiar to Americans:

3). I am continuing to reflect on my worldview, my privilege, and my ignorance. I am learning and practising humility. One day I hope to be what Georgina Stewart calls a White Ally to my Māori colleagues and ākonga.

As many of us agree, MM certainly deserves a place in the curriculum of NZ schools:  it’s an important part of the nation’s history and culture. That place should be in anthropology and sociology classes. But half of all the curriculum?  I don’t think that’s wise, especially in science, in which students will be confused between MM (even just the empirical bits) and modern science, which are certainly not coequals in helping us understand the world and Universe.

The idea that curricula must be tailored to the ethnicity of the student is pervasive, not just in New Zealand, but also in the U.S.  It has some merit in that students’ backgrounds have to be taken into account to teach them. But to teach everything through an identitarian lens, especially one that calls for coequal representation in the curriculum, is a recipe for not just divisiveness, but educational decline.

One take on this was provided by a Kiwi who’s sent me articles like the above calling for curricular “equity”. He/she wrote me the following (quoted with permission):

. . . it seems pretty clear to me that the whole [identitarian curriculuar] project is based around a self-reinforcing culturalist ideology whereby students are encouraged to believe that their “safety” depends on accessing curriculum through the lens of their own culture. I have no idea what proportion of Māori students think like this, but this proportion will only grow as they are trained to think that way. I think it’s both patronising and infantilising to think that Māori can only relate to science if it’s linked to cultural myths. Even if people accept that this approach is required, what does this then mean for all of the Kiwi students from other cultures? Clearly this is impossible.
There’s a recent piece by John McWhorter in the NYT that bears on this: McWhorter says:
“[T]oday’s left cherishes a form of tokenism.
Our theoretically enlightened idea these days is that using skin color as a major, and often decisive, factor in job hiring and school admissions is to be on the side of the angels. We euphemize this as being about the value of diverseness and people’s life experiences. This happened when we — by which I mean specifically but not exclusively Black people — shifted from demanding that we be allowed to show our best to demanding that the standards be changed for us.”


I think this is much closer to what’s actually going on in New Zealand.

Robyn Blumner on truth and humanism

December 3, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I didn’t know that the Center for Inquiry (CFI) magazine Free Inquiry was online, but it is. And reader Nicole sent me a link to this article by Robyn Blumner, CEO of the CFI—an institution with a long history of fighting for humanism and secularism—as well executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Each of those organizations is a rara avis: a liberal organization that has not caved in to the woke “progressives”. (I keep getting tsouris, in the form of chastising emails, for using the word “woke”.)  Here we see Robyn taking out after the tendency of some Leftists to efface or hide the truth, and explaining why humanists above all should care about the truth.

Click on the screenshot to read (there are footnotes and references in the original text):

I’ll give a few quotes, but realize that I’m not scratching Robyn’s back because she scratched mine. It’s a good piece, and counteracts the woke “progressive” excesses of organizations like the ACLU (which Robyn used to work for).  Excuse my blushing here.

But the truth is under a sustained assault right now, and secular humanists need to stand up for it, even when that is hard.

It was relatively easy for most of us to condemn the allergic-to-truth rantings of former President Donald Trump. His lies were so transparent and prodigious that anyone outside the MAGA-verse could easily see through them. Many of us collectively recoiled at the reality-distortions he spun and how they were lapped up with religious-like zeal by his followers.

There are plenty of examples of how America’s right wing is a danger to truth-seeking institutions and standards. That is not what I want to focus on.

Because there is also truth-slaying happening in progressive circles generally in the name of social justice. And because so many secular humanists lean toward liberalism, it is here that we need to shine a light and, frankly, stop the insanity.

Agreed. So don’t give me tsouris for calling out the Left! Read on, though I’ve redacted one word in the first sentence below.

I commend to everyone Jerry Coyne’s terrific blog website Why Evolution Is True (https://whyevolutionistrue.com/), which you can subscribe to for free. An emeritus biology professor at the University of Chicago and a classical liberal himself, Coyne has been closely following the excesses and illiberalism of the woke Left.

There is no more stark example than the ways science has been twisted to conform to a social justice agenda.

Coyne describes the controversy in New Zealand where there is an official government effort underway to equate the indigenous Maori system of knowledge called “Matauranga” with the scientific methods of conventional Western science and that this different way of knowing be taught in science classes.

An appalled biology colleague of Coyne’s in New Zealand described some of the god stories of the Matauranga: “Tane the god of the forest is said to be the creator of humans, and of all plants and creatures of the forest. Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears.”

There is some practical knowledge as part of the Matauranga, but much of its “science” is laden with superstitions, story-telling, and myths.

An obvious parallel is the teaching of creationism in science classes in the United States, which humanists reasonably decry as the injection of religion into a secular subject. As Richard Dawkins bluntly stated in a tweet on the issue: “Equally daft case for teaching Viking ‘ways of knowing’ in Norwegian science classes, Druid ‘ways of knowing’ in British science classes … Navajo, Kikuyu, Yanomamo ‘ways of knowing’ etc. All different. Truths about the universe don’t depend on which country you are in.”

Truth must be of higher value for secular humanists than acceding to equity demands from a minority group, no matter how sympathetic to them we may be.

Note that Richard will be visiting New Zealand last year, and the “other-ways-of-knowing” people are already sharpening their knives, for he enraged them by weighing in when the spineless Royal Society of New Zealand defended Matauranga Māori as being a valid “way of knowing”. Richard sent them an excoriating letter and also wrote to “New Zealand friends of science and reason.” It will be a magnificent clash between the eloquence of Dawkins and the determination of those who want to valorize an indigenous “way of knowing” that is largely legend, superstition, and religion.

But wait! There’s more from Robyn:

A prime [example] of science under siege by the social justice police—those who seek to impose their own view of social justice at the expense of free inquiry and the open-ended search for the truth—is in behavioral genetics. It’s a field that could not be more fraught. Any scientist who chooses to enter it risks being called a eugenicist or racist.

She goes on to praise Kathryn Paige Harden’s book on behavioral genetics, a book I praised in the WaPo for taking on the subject, but also criticized for not specifying how we can use genetics to achieve “equity”.

And one more bit. How often do you read stuff like this in the newsletter of a liberal humanist organization? I can’t think of any group, including the FFRF, that would say stuff like this (Blumner even goes after her old organization, the ACLU):

Then there is the current most radioactive subject of all: What medical interventions are appropriate for minors who may be suffering from gender dysphoria? This is a medical question with immense consequences, and the correct answer may depend on a range of individualized factors, making this highly politicized issue a medical quagmire.

Politics has elbowed in in disgraceful ways such as the order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott sending state investigators to inspect homes where minors are receiving gender affirming medical treatment, equating it with child abuse. As if these families aren’t facing challenges enough.

But the political Left has also gotten ahead of the science in ways that could be seriously harmful for children. For instance, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, promotes puberty blockers for children as a hormonal way to pause puberty while a minor is gaining clarity on their condition. He calls the intervention “completely safe and totally reversible.”

Unfortunately, that’s not a scientifically supportable statement. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom says there is not enough data to draw that conclusion. The NHS website on treatment for gender dysphoria says “little is known” of the long-term side effects of puberty blockers and it is “not known” whether puberty blockers “affect the development of the teenage brain or children’s bones.”

Legitimate questions have been raised not only about the appropriate age of medical interventions but whether young girls are at risk of being unduly influenced by social pressure to claim transgender status. This is not a big deal if all we are talking about is pronouns, but it is a very big deal once medical science is employed. Statistics from the United Kingdom indicate that 70 percent of those seeking to transition in the past decade are girls wanting to become boys, which is significantly different from the past when by large margins males wanted to transition to female.

These questions are about getting at the truth. Yet just raising them is enough to bring down the wrath of the political Left and get you labeled a transphobe.

A recent column by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who cofounded Heterodox Academy, said he warned back in 2016 that “the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.” Well, that time has come.

Indeed it has, indeed it has.

Oh, and Robyn recommends a book that deserves its encomiums:

Finally, I urge every secular humanist to read Jonathan Rauch’s important book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of TruthIn clear terms, Rauch explains the dangers to our social order of abandoning not only the truth but the objective rules we use to test whether a claim is valid.

The end:

. . .choking off dissent damages the essential underpinnings of a reality-based community. These actions, no matter how good the intentions, are helping to dismantle the knowledge-based world. The world that secular humanists are committed to supporting and protecting, and most importantly the world we need for all of us to continue to thrive.

I like that phrase: “reality-based community”. For that what secular humanists are, and what believers are not. I suppose you could call the religious (and many Republicans) “the fantasy-based community.”

A New Zealand teacher writes the government protesting a proposed curriculum asserting the equality of indigenous “ways of knowing” with science

December 1, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’ve often written about how New Zealand’s government and school authorities are determined to teach the indigenous way of knowing,”Mātauranga Māori (“MM”), which I’ve often discussed, as coequal to modern science in science classes.  While many (like me) maintain that MM should be taught in sociology or anthropology classes as an important part of national culture, I vehemently object to it being taught as coequal to modern science.

That’s because MM, though some of the entire system contains “practical knowledge” taken from observation and trial and error, also contains many things that aren’t science-y at all: ideology, morality, religion, legend and superstition. Teaching the two systems as coequal would not only confuse students about what science is, but also confer coequality where it isn’t warranted. Even if you just teach the parts of MM that encompass practical knowledge, it’s important to show how this differs from the systematic methods and tools used by modern science to find truth. The efforts of the NZ government and schools will, in the end, doom science in New Zealand. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is my worry

(I’ll add that MM advocates, when they claim empirical knowledge, often do so unscientifically. Their remedies are often untested, and, regarding history they have claimed, falsely, that the Polynesians, ancestors of the Māori were the discoverers of Antarctica in the 7th century AD. [see also here]. This is untrue, and based on both legend and a mistranslation; Antarctica was first seen by the Russians in 1820.)

Because equating MM with other “ways of knowing” like modern science is a way of valorizing the indigenous people, and because there’s no government more “progressive” (in the pejorative sense) than New Zealand’s, efforts by me and others to stop the impending dilution of science with MM are almost surely doomed. It’s even worse, for criticizing what the government is doing is seen as anti-Māori racism. It’s not: it’s just distinguishing between a real way of knowing and a dubious “way of knowing”. As preacher Mike Aus said after he publicly renounced his faith at an FFRF meeting,

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

Thus, critics of teaching indigenous ways of knowing in science class critics are forced to shut up, for raising one’s voice not only leads to pile-ons and petitions, but has actually cost teachers their jobs. Today I’m posting a letter written by a critical teacher who dares not give their name for fear of being fired, but who’s sufficiently courageous to let their views be known, including a letter they wrote about the MM/science controversy to various government ministers (all anonymously, of course, as this person wants to keep their job!). The teacher was disturbed at a government lesson plan to equate modern science with Māori empirical knowledge, and I also show a bit of that lesson plane.

So. . . .

A friend of mine in New Zealand got a letter from a secondary school teacher who went to a meeting in they were given proposed government curriculum for integrating modern science (which they call “Western science”, abbreviated “WS”) with the indigenous “way of knowing”.  The curriculum, which you can have by emailing me, is for “year 9” students, who are 13 years old.

The curriculum tries (but fails) to take the superstition out of MM, so that the part of MM that’s supposedly co-taught with “western science” is actually “Mātauranga Pūtaiao” (“MP”)—practical knowledge related to the natural world. The plan, an outline of the future curriculum from which I’ve taken excerpts, demands that we must consider MP equivalent to Western science (though they’re also claimed to be different in ways that aren’t explained).  As you’ll see, though, they haven’t managed to keep the numinous bits out of MP, and they don’t attempt to show what’s unique about MP as opposed to WS.

Everything below is reproduced with the permission of the principals, and, as I said, I will be glad to send you the whole curriculum plan—an 11-page pdf—if you want to see it.

Here’s what the teacher wrote to my friend, who then forwarded the teacher’s letter to me with permission to see it and reproduce it here.

I have attached a curriculum unit plan to this email that was distributed last week to school teachers in my region during a teacher-only day dedicated to the curriculum re-alignment. It illustrates how a typical school is attempting to integrate mātauranga Māori in the science curriculum. Rather distressingly, it is quite political in how it presents the relationship of science to mātauranga Māori.

I have also included a letter I have written to government ministers that illustrates the potential for confusion to occur when local schools are left to interpret the implications of such integration without authoritative guidance from the Ministry of Education. I have written this anonymously, both for the benefit of the school from which the document originates as well as for the sake of my own career as a teacher. Within the teaching profession, there is considerable confusion over what mātauranga Māori is and how it relates to science.

Finally, here’s the letter the teacher wrote to government ministers (bolding is the teacher’s). It’s quite eloquent and clear.

Good day,

I am a science teacher writing from a regional city on the South Island. This past week, my colleagues and I attended a government-funded day of professional development, the purpose of which was to discuss the re-alignment of the new NCEA science curriculum with other teachers from the region. Among the topics discussed were mātauranga Māori and its integration into the science curriculum. As part of this discussion, the host school that was facilitating the meeting distributed resources outlining how they were teaching (or intended to teach) mātauranga Māori and science. I have included a copy of the unit plan that was distributed during the meeting to illustrate the concerns I will outline below. Of particular interest is how the realignment of the curriculum could enable epistemic relativism to be introduced into what should be a world-leading system of publicly-funded education. The highly decentralized nature of the NZ education system, coupled with the vague wording of the proposed curriculum by the Ministry of Education, introduces the possibility that local schools will ultimately be left to devise science programs based on faulty premises and questionable interpretations of the relationship of mātauranga Māori to science. I have attached the unit plan presented by the host school of this meeting as evidence of this potential.

First among my concerns is the presentation of science in this school’s unit plan as a “western” knowledge system. This is peculiar (to say the least), given that science is a global endeavor drawing on a toolkit with contributors from many cultures and ages. To call science a “western” knowledge system is to ignore the contributions of many cultures from places such as India, the middle-east, China, and the Maori themselves. For example, Arabic and Indian scholars made fundamental contributions to the development of mathematics, which is the decision-making language of science. Labeling science as “western” makes as much sense as dividing mathematics into categories of “Arabic,” “Chinese,” or “Roman.” It may be true that over the past century many contributions to science have originated from a few countries in the so-called “west;” but that point has more to do with economic forces and the vagaries of historical chance, rather than cultural “ownership” over a methodology. Moreover, the Māori themselves used aspects of science (observation, pattern-seeking) as part of their exploration of Aotearoa [JAC: the Māori word for New Zealand]. Why can’t we simply celebrate the varied contributions of humanity to science and our knowledge of the natural world, rather than create an ideological division that does not exist in the first place?

The unit plan also makes the claim that both “knowledge systems” have equal authority. Again, this statement is based on a faulty premise and false dichotomy. To teach children that science is a “western” knowledge system is to undermine the idea of what science is. Ultimately, science is a collection of methodological tools and approaches that allow us to reliably distinguish and relate cause, effect, and chance. Put simply, science has predictive power in how humans relate to the natural world. In everyday life, no one practicing science (or using its products) cares about cultural attribution or the so-called “knowledge system” it arose from. If an idea or technique works in practice and has predictive power, it is accepted as part of our understanding of the natural world. To take an example from history: Polynesian, European, or Chinese sailors from centuries ago would no doubt have told us that there are two types of navigation: the sort that gets you where you are going and the sort that gets you dead. No one cared where your technique came from: if it worked, it was adopted. Categorically, scientific knowledge is either descriptive of our objective reality or it is not.

I would also draw your attention to the first lesson in the attached unit plan, whose focus is the subject of Maori gods and “their powers.” Now, I assume that this is a lesson on how people in the past have explained natural phenomena by appealing to supernatural explanations. As mātauranga Māori is a living knowledge system and is intended to be taught within the science curriculum, it no doubt has replaced such concepts with ideas based on naturalistic explanations. However, I cannot confirm this because the Ministry of Education has not provided teachers with an authoritative reference on how these two systems are similar or different. The document presented by our meeting facilitator claims that no one system has “authority.” If that is the case, science teachers need a clearly articulated vision of how these differences are to be taught in the classroom.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I am sending you this letter and the attached example from a local school’s curriculum to illustrate the potential for confusion that has arisen from the inclusion of mātauranga Maori in the science curriculum. Is the Ministry of Education intending to publish and distribute a detailed and authoritative guide on how schools should integrate mātauranga Maori in relation to science? As illustrated by the material presented at the meeting I recently attended, there is considerable potential for disagreement without ministry guidance.I would ask that you raise this issue with the Minister of Education as a matter of urgency given the proposed timeline for the implementation of the new curriculum. Both teachers and students deserve clarity and a set of authoritative guidelines on how mātauranga Maori and science are to be taught together. Without such guidelines, teachers will be left to interpret how these systems relate and how to teach them as a single subject (as illustrated by the example unit plan I have attached to this letter).

It is unfortunate that I must write to you anonymously. In the present climate, my intent could be misconstrued or mischaracterized if I were to put my name to this letter. Furthermore, my career as a teacher could suffer if I were to air these concerns publicly.

Kind regards,

A concerned teacher

Below are a few screenshots from the 11-page proposed document.

Here’s how the lesson starts: a “warm up activity” that teaches the 13 years old about “the Maori Gods and their powers”. Are they going to mention that there’s no evidence for the existence of these gods? If not, then they shouldn’t be mentioned, for this is not science but religion. But of course they won’t do that. Thus the confusion between MM and science starts at the outset of the course. Do they warm up the students by teaching about the “Western gods and their powers.” Of course not! Science is a godless activity, so get this stuff out of the curriculum!


Part of the level 3 assessment on page 10 says: “Understands that Māori have always been scientists, and that MP and WS are different.” Are Māori unique in this regard, i.e., did they alone among indigenous peoples came up with science, or does this apply to all indigenous people? The former is rather racist, while the second dilutes science to only that derived from observing the natural environment.

Note as well that they explain differences and similarities between science and the empirical bits of MM, but don’t say what those similarities and differences are. Further, they don’t explain “the importance of multiple perspectives.” Any perspective that is empirically correct is part of science.  And just as not all “westerners” aren’t scientists, so not all Māori are scientists. This is gobbledygook in the cause of inclusion.

Week 5 includes the story of Maui and Aoraki, although it looks like the Youtube video link no longer works. The tale of Maui and Aoraki is in fact the creation myth of the Māori , describing how two of the several gods created the North and South Islands. Why is this in the curriculum? Is the curriculum also going to describe the Western Biblical creation myth as outlined in Genesis, complete with God, Adam, Eve, and a talking serpent?

Whakapapa” is a numinous concept that relates to the connection of all things, both earthly and spiritual. That, too, doesn’t belong in a “science” curriculum, but in an anthropology class.

Below we see again the flat assertion—one that the teacher emphasizes above—that WS and MP, though not exactly the same (they don’t say how), are of equal “authority and status”. Can you imagine half of a 9th-form science class devoted to all of modern science, and the other half devoted to MP, which includes things like Polynesian navigation (not a Māori development) and when, exactly, the Maori pick their berries and catch their eels? Yes, the latter bits are “empirical knowledge” deriving from trial and error, but to give these things authority equal to all of modern physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics is a fool’s errand. But such is the government of New Zealand, heavily “progressive” and pressured by the Māori and their sympathizers to give local ways of knowing a status equal to what “Western” science has given us in the last four centuries. This includes the claim that untested remedies involving herbs and spiritual chanting are just as good as modern medicine (see here, here, and here). (I hate using the words “Western” science, as the term is meant to denigrate modern science by implying it’s a “colonialist” enterprise.)

Have a look. If you want the entire curriculum (and some of it is okay), email me.

I feel sorry for nearly everyone involved in this sad tale: the New Zealand government, in thrall to the indigenous people to the extent that it will destroy science education; the Māori themselves, who will be given not only a false view of science but an education that will hold them back; the teachers, forced to teach ludicrous propositions and must keep their mouths shut about it; and all the people of New Zealand, who will be shorted on science education. In the end, that will hold science back in one of the countries I love the most. And that is ineffably sad.

Shamanism makes comeback in New Zealand

November 9, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Yes, there are some sensible advocates of Māori knowledge, which of course becomes part of scientific knowledge in general. Here’s a quote from an article by three Māori who are able to separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of superstition ideology, undocumented tradition, morality, and religion:

“In short, uncritical acceptance of Māori knowledge is arguably just as patronising as its earlier blanket rejection.”

—Nā Dr Michael Stevens, Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson and Professor Te Maire Tau

Sadly, too many Māori as well as sympathetic descendants of Europeans can’t seem to grasp this simple distinction, which explains why in NZ, more than in any other country, “indigenous ways of knowing” are valorized.  In that country, there appears to be no stopping Mātauranga Māori—the gemisch of trial-and-error empirical fact, woo, and rules of conduct that constitutes the indigenous “way of knowing”—from snuggling in beside science, the only real way of knowing we have.

Now we have news of the convening of a conclave of tohunga, the Māori equivalent of the “medicine men” of indigenous North American tribal groups—or “priests” of religious groups:

It was the role of tohunga to ensure tikanga (customs) were observed. Tohunga guided the people and protected them from spiritual forces. They were healers of both physical and spiritual ailments, and they guided the appropriate rituals for horticulture, fishing, fowling and warfare. They lifted the tapu on newly built houses and waka (canoes), and lifted or placed tapu in death ceremonies.

I refer in this piece mainly to the role of tohunga in curing physical ailments, which, before science-based medicine arrived, was based largely on herbal medicine. Some may have even worked, but we don’t know as they were never tested, and they are powerless against ailments that can be cured by scientific innovations like antibiotics or antivirals.

But this traditional “way of healing” may be coming back.

Click to read this article from the NZ site, 1News:

The gist:

Some of the country’s top experts in mātauranga Māori, known as tohunga, have gathered in Whakatāne for a symposium on the present and future of its role.

Held at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, the event is being led by Tā Hirini Moko Mead and Tā Pou Temara, two leading mātauranga experts.

Sir Hirini said: “Tohunga were the experts who helped the people maintain a balance between the human world and the spiritual world.”

Sir Pou said: “[The tohunga] was not able to cure everything, but because they were the educated person of the tribe he or she knew where to send a person to get satisfaction for the affliction.”

The role of the tohunga was almost completely stamped out by laws like the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act, which was intended to stop traditional Māori practices.

Sir Pou said it was an attempt to wipe out an entire knowledge system. He said that in some areas it was driven underground, but in others, it ceased to exist entirely.

The penultimate line is a gross distortion bordering on a lie. First, the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act wasn’t designed to “stop traditional traditional Māori practices”, but rather to replace dangerous and ineffective Māori ways of healing (and unfounded prognostications) with scientific (called “Western” medicine). Here’s the Wikipedia description of the Act (which, by the way, was wholly repealed in 1962, so that now Māori can subject themselves at will to the dangerous ministrations of tohunga)

The Act contained only four clauses, the first of which simply gave the short title. The second clause stated that “Every person who gathers Maoris around him by practising on their superstition or credulity, or who misleads or attempts to mislead any Maori by professing or pretending to possess supernatural powers in the treatment or cure of any disease, or in the foretelling of future events, or otherwise” was liable for prosecution. The first offence could be subject to a fine of up to 25 pounds or up to six months imprisonment. Subsequent offences could lead to a prison term of up to a year. However, no prosecution under the Act could be commenced without the consent of the Minister of Native Affairs.

The third section enabled the Governor of New Zealand to gazette regulations to enable the intention of the Act to be carried out. The fourth section repealed subsection 5 of section 16 of the Maori Councils Act 1900, which allowed Maori Councils to license tohunga.

See also this paper recounting the history and intent of the Act, which was concentrated on healing.

More important, the Act was promoted not just by one Westerner, but by a whole passel of Māori advocates who wanted the benefits of modern medicine for their people (my emphasis):

It was introduced by James Carroll who expressed impatience with what he considered regressive Maori attitudes.  Officials had been concerned for years about the sometimes dangerous practices of tohunga. The Act was introduced in part to target Māori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist Rua Kenana, but it was never used against him.

It was praised by many influential Maori at the time, including Māui Pōmare and all four Maori MPs (Āpirana NgataHōne Heke NgāpuaTame Parata and Henare Kaihau). According to Willie Jackson, the prevailing concern raised by Ngata was the harm arising from improper medical practices, rather than the destruction of Matauranga Maori.

Particularly important here was Sir Māui Wiremu Pita Naera Pōmare, trained as a physician in the U.S. and then returning to NZ to improve Māori health and to serve as a member of Parliament and as Minister of Health.

For this article to imply that Westerners suppressed native culture when in fact this was largely a Māori initiative and was aimed at health and superstitious prognostication, not an entire culture, is the kind of distortion we’re used to in NZ reporting.

As I said, this Act is no longer in force, so healing can proceed on the basis of MM or other superstitions.

At any rate, the tohunga are making a comeback. From the article above:

[In] 1984, when Sir Pou credits Sir Hirini Moko Mead with beginning the revival of tohunga, when he arranged for tohunga to take part in the Te Māori exhibition.

. . . . Forty years on from those discussions, Sir Pou said Māori knowledge systems had come a long way.

“The tohunga who are now leading out and teaching their own cohorts of tohunga, these tohunga are beyond colonisation.”

“They’ve gone through that and they’re now reclaiming what is rightfully their heritage and their right to practice,” he said.

Right to practice woo, that is—and the right to deprive credulous people from the benefits of scientific medicine.

Now there’s one sentence implying that maybe the tohunga might learn something about modern medicine, but it’s misleading:

As well as upholding Māori knowledge systems, they now have access to the knowledge systems of the entire world, Sir Pou said.

Does that mean scientifically based medical knowledge? Not a chance. It means religion and philosophy. 

“They can draw upon Confucius, they can draw upon Buddha, they can draw upon the great philosophers of the world, of Greece.

“And then relocate it back into Aotearoa [the Māori word for “New Zealand”] into their Māori world, they marry that up with the mātauranga Māori that must be the bedrock of their tohunga knowledge,” he said.

Sir Pou Temara said he was pleased to see the students that he taught now teaching students of their own, a web of reclamation that continues to spread.

Yes, a spreading web of ignorance and credulity that will doom some Māori to illness or death. Applauding the spread of the tohunga is like applauding the spread of faith healing. Indeed, that’s much of what the tohunga do!

Richard Dawkins interviewed in NZ on Māori “ways of knowing”, is grossly misunderstood

November 1, 2022 • 2:20 pm

Here we have Richard Dawkins on an 11½-minute NZ television segment (the “AM”, show, I think), discussing Mātauranga Māori (MM), or the indigenous Māori “way of knowing.”  The two guests who comment on Richard’s interview are Ella Henry, Associate Professor of Int’l Business, Strategy & Entrepreneurship at Auckland University of Technology, as well as an advocate for Māori interests, and Bruce Weir (born in New Zealand), who is a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington.

Richard espouses the reasonable view that if there are “scientific” or empirical truths in MM, they can be taught worldwide, as they are part of science, a universal endeavor. He adds that there is a place for teaching MM in New Zealand, but as part of sociology or anthropology.

The interviewer deems these comments as “likely to be controversial”, for they will be in New Zealand, but they’re sensible. The reason they’re controversial is because many—both Māori and non-Māori—want MM taught wholly as science, a ludicrous but growing idea that will diminish science education in New Zealand.

The comments by Henry and Weir begin at 6:07. Here she and the interviewer misinterpret Dawkins, who’s just said that the empirically true part of MM can be taught as science: he’s not dismissing everything in Māori “ways of knowing” as mythology. Nevertheless, Henry dismisses Dawkins’s views as part of “the Western Eurocentric scientific juggernaut” that doesn’t want to hear about Māori empirical knowledge. She goes on to bring up Polynesian navigational abilities.

Weir, too, is asked about Dawkins’s desire to “keep Māori science secret”, which again is not Richard’s claim. But he is a booster of the Māori and of teaching MM, yet he seems to agree that insofar as Māori do produce accepted empirical science, it should be taught as science.

Henry chimes in again criticizing science that comes from the “northern hemisphere”, and implies that “indigenous science” (which doesn’t use “Western mathematical equations” [!]) is something distinct from modern science—that there is “more than one science.” She claims that it’s quite “elitist” to claim that there is only one science. Oy vey!

Richard says he’s going to NZ next year, and I wonder if he’ll face much pushback.

As one Kiwi wrote me who sent me this video: “The two people that respond just totally misunderstanding Dawkins’ points and this is the embarrassing crap that we have to swallow here in order to keep our jobs.” Well, I don’t think Weir really misunderstands Dawkins’s points, but he also misses the chance to clarify the issue: that scientific knowledge is knowledge no matter where it comes from, and should be taught widely.  But, as one should add, mythology is not knowledge. 

I suppose, since advocates of MM always call attention to the Māori’s careful “stewardship of the land”, I should mention this claim doesn’t comport with long-term history. As The Encyclopedia of New Zealand points out, the Māori engaged in considerable deforestation of the islands before Europeans arrived— nearly as much deforestation as created by the colonists themselves (see the interactive map).

Around 1000 CE, before humans arrived in New Zealand, forest covered more than 80% of the land. The only areas without tall forests were the upper slopes of high mountains and the driest regions of the South Island (which did have small pockets of tōtara). When Māori arrived, about 1250–1300 CE, they burnt large tracts of forest, mainly on the coasts and eastern sides of the two main islands. By the time European settlement began, around 1840, some 6.7 million hectares of forest had been destroyed and replaced by short grassland, shrubland and fern land. Between 1840 and 2000, another 8 million hectares was cleared, mostly lowland or easily accessible conifer–broadleaf forest.

No side is free of guilt from having despoiled these wonderful islands.


Below is an interview with Henry again, who maintains that MM is “equally valid and important” as is Western science, and so are other indigenous knowledge systems.  She accuses the West of having appropriated all Maori “wisdom” in some gigantic act of cultural theft. This, too, is untrue. The woman knows nothing about science or about the history of science. Further, she seems to completely ignore the mythical elements of MM, as well as its dependence on ideology, theology, word of mouth, and uncheckable and unlikely legend (e.g., the claim that Polynesians discovered Antarctica.  There’s science in MM, but it has to be separated from non-science.

Click to watch.

There’s also a long discussion of MM on reddit.


A sensible way to reconcile Mātauranga Māori and science

October 24, 2022 • 9:45 am

I won’t explain in detail the “way of knowing” of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand, the “traditional knowledge” of Mātauranga Māori (henceforth MM), as it’s defined in Wikipedia.  You can read all my posts about MM and its issues here (including one post yesterday).

Suffice it to say two things. MM is a mixture of real traditional knowledge (gained via trial and error) and legend, oral tradition, theology, superstition, and morality. Second, this mixture of empirical knowledge with legend, woo, and superstition is at war in New Zealand with advocates of modern science. Those who espouse MM often argue that this “way of knowing” is not only science, but should be taught as coequal to modern science in science class.

I oppose that claim, but the MM side appears to be winning. This is due largely to the willingness of the New Zealand government and universities to bow to the will of the indigenous people, who are seen as “oppressed” and therefore to be valorized, as well as to the spineless administration of The Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), which recently saw MM as coequal with science but also characterized “Western” science as “narrow and outmoded“.

Now, however, I’ve found a long and sensible article by three Māori academics that argues that the truth claims of MM must, to have any credibility in the world, be vetted by traditional methods of science. The article is at the site Te Rūnaga o Ngāi Tahu, a journal sponsored by the main Māori tribe (“iwi”) of the South Island. The authors are respected Māori scholars, and they pull no punches criticizing lax Māori scholarship as well as the RSNZ. Click to read:

First, a bit of background. In a paper published last year in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand seven Māori scholars headed by Priscilla Wehi defended the view that the ancestors of their people, the Polynesians who colonized new Zealand, discovered the continent of Antarctica in the 8th century AD. That’s a thousand years before the first established claim of the sighting of the continent—by Russians in 1820.  Three of the authors of the article above contributed to a rebuttal of the Wehi et al paper (Atholl et al. 2021), arguing that the legend was wrong and was due to credulous belief in traditional knowledge coupled with mistranslation of legends written down in the nineteenth century.  I discussed these two papers here and here.

Despite the palpable impossibility of the Wehi et al. claim, their paper was nevertheless published by the RSNZ and got a lot of publicity around the world, publicity that I documented in one of my posts. The rebuttal by Atholl et al. hardly got any notice (see below).

This conflict between fact and legend exemplifies the problems with seeing MM as “science”.  In the article above (click to read), Stevens et al. argue that MM cannot be seen as including science unless empirical claims are vetted using modern science. Under that view, the truth claims of MM can be part of science. To me, this is a refreshing point of view. Unfortunately, it seems to be the minority point of view among many NZ academics.

I’ll give some quotes from the Stevens et al. paper, who call out the original Wehi et al. paper as well as the Royal Society itself. They start by recounting the history of the “Antarctica” papers:

Written by a senior academic at the University of Otago, Priscilla Wehi, and six co-authors, this article advanced several spurious claims. Chief amongst them was that Polynesian explorers, beginning with a navigator named Hui te Rangiora, journeyed from Rarotonga into Antarctic waters ‘and perhaps even the continent likely in the early seventh century.’ The authors’ evidence? Their own inferences drawn from 1890s English translations by Percy Smith of Rarotongan narratives recorded in the 1860s. As we noted, with characteristic restraint, the authors presented this “traditional” material without nuance, qualification or critique, and based extraordinary claims upon it without commensurable evidence. For example, how the extreme practical difficulties of sailing a Polynesian waka (canoe) to and through subpolar westerlies might have been overcome.

Our view is that these Rarotongan traditions need to be critically evaluated, which is how we approached them. Having done so, we found the authors’ assertions debatable on key points of interpretation and plausibility. As Te Rangi Hīroa remarked nearly a century ago in 1926, ‘Sometimes we, or the Maori themselves, read into a tradition something that the original narrators of the tradition never attempted to convey.’

In summary, we think the Hui te Rangiora narrative is more mythic or legendary as an origin story, than historical as a voyaging narrative. Taking our methodological cue from Te Rangi Hīroa, we did not find any reference to Hui te Rangiora sailing to Antarctica. . .

You would think that settles the issue, but you’d be wrong.

The media ate up the Wehi et al. claim, and when Anderson et al. published a corrective (which the RSNZ was initially reluctant to publish), the corrective was ignored:

What was the nature and extent of the media coverage this article generated? It was, unfortunately, uncritical and celebratory. News outlets throughout New Zealand and around the world lauded the prowess of pre-modern Polynesian voyaging and the capacity of indigenous knowledge to survive colonial marginalisation and speak truth to patriarchal Western power on the dawn of the Anthropocene of its own making. A year later, the original article has been viewed nearly a whopping 19,000 times: a career-enhancing statistic by any measure.

How did the Royal Society respond to our request to publish a critical response to Wehi et al? To put it politely, utterly inconsistently with academic conventions, the principle of open debate, and the society’s stated aim of advancing and promoting the pursuit of knowledge. This attitude was unexpected, especially by Atholl and Tipene, a Fellow and Companion respectively of the Royal Society.

It was only our dogged determination that led to the eventual publication of our reply in September 2021. This has been viewed little more than 450 times, bringing to mind the quip of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, that ‘A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on.’

Fortunately, a companion article we submitted to an academic journal managed by the Scott Polar Research Institute and published by Cambridge University Press fared much better.

References and links to all three papers, including the one in Polar Record, are at the bottom.

Stevens et al. argue that while the “knowledge” bits of MM were ignored earlier because of racism, now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, so that MM is seen as valid scientific truth even if its claims can’t be verified. They describe the new Royal Society’s uncritical acceptance of Māori truth claims as “patronising”:

. . . the Royal Society has begun to unpack its role in the British colonisation of New Zealand and subjugation of Māori. This is laudable and sits behind the institution’s relatively new bicultural name.

The society has also attempted to ‘unlock the innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people’ and ‘blend’ mātauranga Māori and Western science, which are suspiciously treated as bounded. No matter how well-intentioned this all might be, were he alive today, Te Rangi Hīroa would likely have some difficulties with how institutional biculturalism and “cultural awareness” has unfolded within the Royal Society, and for that matter, New Zealand’s universities. In short, uncritical acceptance of Māori knowledge is arguably just as patronising as its earlier blanket rejection. Are there other options? What approach might Te Rangi Hīroa have preferred instead? Conceivably a model based on his passage Cross-Bearings on Tradition, which has much to like about it. Describing the Māori technique of using landmarks to generate cross-bearings and thereby record and re-locate fishing grounds,

In Polynesian research, we are trying to locate some of the things that happened in the past. Tradition gives us one line along which we may venture forth, but we are not sure how far we should go. We require another line from the traditions of another branch of the race or from another branch of science. By such metaphorical cross bearings, we hope to locate the fishing grounds of the past.

This shows that not only was Te Rangi Hīroa not opposed to confirmation of Polynesian tradition through reference to other kinds of knowledge, but he felt such external cross-referencing was often crucial to the authentication and validation of Polynesian tradition.

This repeated cross-checking of historical claims is science applied to history, something that’s been done by Western historians for a long time.  So, at the end, Stevens et al. urge “replication” of historical claims by independent sources before they can be seen as true. This would negate the risible claims of Wehi et al. about the Polynesians discovering Antarctica.

Sadly, Wehi, first author of the “discovery” paper (have a look at it) got a big pile of dosh for her work, and to fund further spurious “research” (see below).  But Stevens concludes that to protect the integrity of Māori traditions and culture, truth claims cannot be seen as genuinely true unless they are vetted by the methods of modern science.

Emphasis below is mine:

With that in mind, what repercussions befall Wehi et al? Well, in November 2021, the Marsden Fund – administered by the Royal Society – awarded her and the University of Otago $660,000 for a project entitled Kaitiakitanga and Antarctic narratives. This aims to bring ‘ancestral methodologies, from pūrakau (stories) through to traditional and contemporary visual and sensory transformations of Māori knowledge, to bear on the urgent need for future reimagining of human and planetary futures.’

What can we conclude from this? Above all else, that in 2022, as in 1991, the state continues to invest significant amounts of taxpayer money into Māori-themed scholarship of questionable quality. Now, as then, Ngāi Tahu cannot rely on the New Zealand Government, or its system of higher education, to help uphold our rights and interests. At great expense to us, we ourselves are still the only ones actively protecting the integrity of our traditions and culture. That is the raison d’être of Te Pae Kōrako and the Ngāi Tahu Archive which, as with Ngāi Tahu Whakapapa and Kōtahi Mano Kāika, we will always need. Without them, we cannot hope to be a self-determining people. ‘Our ultimate duty’ indeed.

Stevens, Anderson, and Tau are to be applauded, and should be encouraged by all Kiwis (including of course the Māori) who value truth. Maintaining superstitions, fictions, and legends as “truth” not only holds back science and science education in New Zealand, but also makes the Māori look credulous: and their “ways of knowing” more an unsupported religion than a melange of beliefs that contains some empirical truth.


Anderson, Atholl, Tipene O’Regan, Puamiria Parata-Goodall, Michael Stevens and Te Maire Tau. 2021 “A southern Māori perspective on stories of Polynesian polar voyaging.Polar Record 57: 1-3.

Anderson, Atholl, Sir Tipene O’Regan, Puamiria Parata-Goodall, Michael Stevens, and Te Maire Tau.  2021.  “On the improbability of pre-European Polynesian voyages to Antarctica: a response to Priscilla Wehi and colleagues.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1-7. [This link might work better for some readers. GCM]

Wehi, Priscilla M., Nigel J. Scott, Jacinta Beckwith, Rata Pryor Rodgers, Tasman Gillies, Vincent Van Uitregt, and Krushil Watene. 2021. “A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1-12.

Minnesota medical students take ideological oath including, among other things, to “honor all indigenous ways of healing”

October 14, 2022 • 9:30 am

In the last several decades, the “white coat ceremony” has become a tradition at medical schools, with the entering students receiving their doctor’s coats and then reciting the Hippocratic Oath. There are many variants of this ancient oath, and often students write their own version to supplement the traditional one.  As you can imagine, some of these go beyond the doctor’s pledge, adding pledges of social justice, ideological belief, and so on. I’ve seen several versions of these white coat oaths; the FIRE article below mentions them at HarvardColumbiaWashUPitt Med, and the Icahn School of Medicine. But perhaps the one most distressing to scientists and advocates of science-based medicine is this one, recited at the University of Minnesota’s white coat ceremony on August 19.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the speaker is Robert Englander, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education for the Medical School, who leads the students in what is both a pledge and a prayer. (Curiously, Englander’s university bio has disappeared from its website.)

Now this oath wasn’t written by the administration itself, but, according to FIRE and the agenda of the ceremony, by a committee of fifteen incoming medical students on the “Oath Writing Committee.”  These students may, of course, not represent the beliefs of their class as a whole; in fact, it’s likely that, as usual, it’s the activists who seek the loudest megaphone. Click on screenshot below to see the article, and I’ve put the video of the recitation below that.

Here’s the two-minute video of the oath:

Here’s the oath’s text reproduced from FIRE’s letter sent yesterday to the medical school deam (I’ve bolded the sentence that bothers me the most.)

With gratitude, we, the students of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Medical School Class of 2026, stand here today among our friends, families, peer, mentors, and communities who have supported us in reaching this milestone. Our institution is located on Dakota land. Today, many Indigenous people from throughout the state, including Dakota and Ojibwe (ooj-jib-way), call the Twin Cities home; we also recognize this acknowledgment is not enough.

We commit to uprooting the legacy and perpetuation of structural violence deeply embedded within the healthcare system. We recognize inequities built by past and present traumas rooted in white supremacy, colonialism, the gender binary, ableism, and all forms of oppression. As we enter this profession with opportunity for growth, we commit to promoting a culture of anti-racism, listening, and amplifying voices for positive change. We pledge to honor all Indigenous ways of healing that have been historically marginalized by Western medicine. Knowing that health is intimately connected to our environment, we commit to healing our planet and communities.

 We vow to embrace our role as community members and strive to embody cultural humility. We promise to continue restoring trust in the medical system and fulfilling our responsibilities as educators and advocates. We commit to collaborating with social, political, and additional systems to advance health equity. We will learn from the scientific innovations made before us and pledge to advance and share this knowledge with peers and neighbors. We recognize the importance of being in community with and advocating for those we serve.

There are the usual arguable claims, which should not be professed or vowed by the students or foisted on them by the dean and fifteen vocal students. The claims include these:

  1. The implication that the original owners of the school’s land was the Dakota people. (Note that the oath says that acknowledgement is “not enough,” but what else will they do for the Dakota people? Will they give the land back, or compensate the original owners? There is no vow to do either.)
  2. Inequities in medicine are not just rooted in past forms of oppression, but are ongoing, and reflect white supremacy as well as other forms of bigotry.
  3. There is “structural violence deeply embedded in the healthcare system”.  What, exactly, do they mean by “structural violence”?
  4. There is a “gender binary” that causes further traumas. I think they’re referring to the “sex binary”, which is real. Few people assert that there is a “gender” binary when “gender” is construed as a person’s sociosexual role.
  5. The students will “honor all Indigenous ways of healing that have been historically marginalized by Western medicine.”  ALL OF THEM?  There are a million of them if you count all forms of indigenous healing overtaken by Western medicine. Yes, a few of these treatments may be efficacious, but almost none have been subject to scientific testing using the gold standard of double-blind treatment.  “Honoring” a form of pre-scientific healing simply because it’s was practiced by indigenous people is ludicrous. Certainly you shouldn’t disparage the people themselves who use such healing, as the treatments were developed outside of science, but you shouldn’t honor all the ways of healing themselves. Most of them don’t accomplish anything; what kind of “honor” does that deserve?
  6. The rest of the oath is boilerplate social-justice jargon, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this is an ideological/political pledge, not a medical-school pledge. As FIRE notes in its article, this is a form of compelled speech that many of the students might not agree with, but are nevertheless force to give fealty to.

Now many of you can say—and this is likely true—that the social-justice aspects of this pledge are meaningless, and the students don’t have to live up to them.  Nor do the students have to consider shamanism, chanting, herbs, and so on as worthy of “honor.”  (These, by the way, were not historically “marginalized” by Western medicine, but were replaced by scientifically-based treatments because those treatments work.)

If, as the students also pledged, they will “restore trust in the medical system,” they can begin by refusing to honor traditional treatments that don’t work. It is no dishonor to indigenous people to reject methods they developed in the absence of science. I suspect it is the “progressiveness” of this oath that has led to widespread ridicule against it and perhaps to the disappearance of Robert Englander’s bio.

Now on to FIRE, which has legal objections to this oath. Their main objection is that this is not only compelled speech—making students swear to something that they disagree with and is not a requirement of the profession—but also that, in the future, students could be punished for failing to adhere to what they’ve sworn. This is not a fanciful scenario:

From the FIRE article:

FIRE respects students’ rights to express their views. But because only a small committee of all new students penned the statement, some of the other several-hundred students may have been compelled to express that handful of classmates’ opinions as their own. (It’s unclear whether any students dissented and, if so, whether they could opt out.)

We’re also concerned that these subjectively squishy commitments could become de facto professionalism requirements, and that students could be punished for failing to uphold them. For example, what must a medical student do to adequately practice “anti-racism”? And whatever that may be, if she does not (as UMMS understands that term), could she be dismissed for violating her oath? What if she refuses to take the oath in the first place?

FIRE has certainly seen administrators of professional programs in medicinedentistrylaw — even mortuary science — who deployed ambiguous “professionalism” standards to punish students for otherwise protected speech.

. . .More than 10% of the campus-related cases in which FIRE intervenes now concern requirements that students and faculty demonstrate their DEI commitments or contributions, or personally make land acknowledgements.

Again, while universities, students, and faculty are free to encourage or promote DEI-type values, forcing others to say they believe in these concepts is not only contrary to many universities’ legal obligations — but violates their moral obligations, too.

Consider: Even students or faculty who broadly agree with a university’s stance on DEI may believe, for example, that land acknowledgements are merely performative. Or a faculty member who studies race and gender may have highly nuanced views on DEI not reflected by the university’s stance. Students, likewise, may disagree with other aspects of a given DEI pledge.

Medical students possibly being made to read verbatim from ideological pledges if they wish to become physicians would be a new low.

I’d add that surely a lot of the students forced to say that they’ll honor all indigenous methods of healing “historically marginalized by Western medicine” certainly don’t believe that, but are nevertheless forces to vow it.  How many of those reciting students accept the curative powers of, say, shamanic rituals?

Here is the summary of the objections in the letter written by Zachary Greenberg, FIRE’s Senior Program Officer for Campus Rights Advocacy, went to Jakub Tolar, the Dean of the Medical School, as well as to the school’s President and General Counsel:

While UMMS may encourage students to adopt these views, the First Amendment bars the university from requiring them to do so. The First Amendment protects not only the right to speak, but the right to refrain from speaking. Requiring new students to “vow” or “commit” to contested political viewpoints violates students’ clear expressive rights, is inconsistent with the role of the university as a bastion of free inquiry, and cannot be enforced at a public institution.

UMMS can require students to adhere to established medical standards, but this authority cannot be abused to demand allegiance to prescribed ideological views—even ones that some students do indeed hold. Specifically, UMMS may not compel students to recite a land acknowledgment, commit to “uprooting the legacy and perpetuation of structural violence deeply embedded within the healthcare system,” or “promote[e] a culture of anti-racism.” Nor may it force students to express a commitment to “embody cultural humility,” or “advance health equity.” Even if written by a group of students, UMMS may not subsequently require all students adhere to these views.

Because students may reasonably perceive recitation of this oath as mandatory, FIRE calls on UMMS to make clear that students may refuse to say it without penalty, and that students will not have to affirm any political viewpoints as a condition of their continued education at the school.

We request receipt of a response to this letter no later than the close of business on October 20, 2022.

My prediction? UMMS will not reply. Will there then be a lawsuit? I don’t think so—unless they find medical students injured by professing what they don’t believe, and what medical student would be plaintiff to such a suit?  But I do think that in future years the school will refrain from such over-the-top vows.

An exposition of Māori “ways of knowing” in marine biology and conservation: a taxpayer-funded project riddled with theology, spirituality, and lore

September 23, 2022 • 12:00 pm

This set of eleven postcards (or “flashcards,” as I call them), come from the “Sustainable Seas Initiative“, a government-supported program designed to apply Mātauranga Māori (MM) or Māori ways of knowing, to marine biology, including both understanding the sea and conserving it and its inhabitants. Apparently, in contrast to the claims of the paper I discussed yesterday, you can indeed separate areas of empirical endeavor and discuss them separately, for here we are discussing marine biology. I have only looked over the 155-page report on what is to be done, but what I’ve seen isn’t heartening. But absent having read it carefully (yet), I’ll just stick to showing you the “summary” cards accompanying the report. These explain the various aspects of MM that are part of this endeavor.

You can download the 11 colorful cards here, and here’s why they’re supposed to be useful (their text indented)

These summary cards are introduction tools only, not universal definitions.

Iwi, hapū and whānau knowledge systems are place and people specific. We caution the use of quotes or analysis out of context, without respect for those ancestors who provided it, and in isolation of reference to existing tangata whenua (tangata moana) sources and authorities. These summaries are effectively ‘background reading’ in preparation for deeper discussions.

We hope these cards are useful to iwi, hapū and whānau in the pursuit of their own knowledge retention, expansion and transmission to future generations.

We also anticipate these summaries will be useful to marine related decision makers of all kinds and at all levels. We encourage people to read the Hui-te-ana-nui report as an opportunity to better understand a Mātauranga led way of working with the Tangaroa ecosystem.

. . .The report also:

  • Examines mātauranga associated with the marine environment
  • Indexes the reference sources of this varied mātauranga
  • Signposts where to go for further detail

Understanding, developing and retaining mātauranga and kaitiakitanga specific to the marine environment is a vital component of ecosystem-based management (EBM) for Aotearoa. For example, it is crucial for developing spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic practices, indicators and metrics that are relevant to our Aotearoa context.

Here’s a description of the cards. Noe the “metaphysical elements” that are included in a “system of knowledge”. It is this mixture of the natural with the supernatural, of practical knowledge with untestable assertions about gods and connections, that tells us that MM is not in the least equivalent to modern science.

The rest of the material below comes from the 11 cards. Click on any screenshot to enlarge it.

MM is like Buddhism in emphasizing that everything is interconnected—in MM, however, though the via common descent of everything from two creators (sky and earth). We are even related to rocks in this way!

The creation and a Whanaungatanga genealogy:

Note that Mātauranga, the knowledge itself, includes how it is known as well as what is known. This drags the metaphysical (gods), as well as lore and legend, into the realm of the empirical:

Here’s a list of what the Mātauranga includes. Note that besides language, it comprises “proverbs,” Spiritual and values”, and “stories and legends.” No, this is not “knowledge.” Note that there are other unspecified things included as well.

Included is Kaitiaki, or guardianship. There’s a substantial supernatural aspect here requiring propitiatory rituals:

And “taonga,” the values and practices to sustain the marine environment. Note the denigration of a “narrow physical view” at the end and the intrusion of the spiritual throughout:

Now I ask you, is this something that can be considered “knowledge about the ocean”: a plan of action and principles to conserve the ocean environment? Yes, there may be conservation practices here, but they’re mixed up with a ton of spiritual stuff that is totally unproven (and likely wrong)—things passed down from ancestors that would not be part of modern marine conservation at all.

Do I “respect” this practice? No more than I respect Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and any other way of life that contains spiritual elements that have no basis in fact. It is this mixture of the physical and the metaphysical that makes the teaching of MM in classrooms as a “way of knowing” equivalent to modern science such a ludicrous proposal.

Yes, the Māori can have their superstitions, gods, and creation myths, but what is happening here is that they are forcing them onto the New Zealand populace, who not only funds this stuff through taxes but is forced to adhere to its philosophy and practices for fear of being called racist. As Hitchens said, the religious (and yes, much of this is religion) can have their toys, but they can’t force the rest of us to play with their toys.

Is Mātauranga Māori really a “way of knowing”?

September 22, 2022 • 12:45 pm

As I’ve written many times, Mātauranga Māori (MM)considered the “way of knowing” of the indigenous Māori, who arrived in what is now New Zealand from Polynesia in the 13th century—has been the subject of some kerfuffle in NZ. That’s because there’s a movement, promoted not just by the Māori but by many white “allies”, to make MM equivalent to “modern science” (sometimes called “Western science”) in the school curriculum. And by “school” I include “kindergarten through college,” because that’s what MM proponents want. Because all things Māori are valorized in NZ, and more or less off limits to criticism within the country, only the brave will investigate MM further. Is it really science? Is it part science? And if the latter, what are those other parts?

But when you do investigate whether MM is equivalent to modern science, as I have, you find out that it’s not even close. There are bits of “practical knowledge” in it—stuff like when to harvest berries and catch eels—but it lacks a coherent methodological underpinning. Instead, MM is a mishmash of practical knowledge, traditional lore, theology, morality, codes of behavior, stories, myths, and so on.

I continue to read and write about it because nobody in New Zealand, with rare exceptions, has my freedom as a foreigner to analyze MM without being, well, canceled. Yet I know that there are many Kiwis opposed to accepting the equivalence of MM and modern science, much less teaching that equivalence in science classes. I know this because every week I get emails from disaffected Kiwi scientists who applaud me for criticizing the “equivalence” trope and telling me that they dare not question it themselves. Indeed, some who have questioned it have lost their jobs.

Wikipedia says this about MM:

Mātauranga Māori has only recently gained recognition in the scientific community for including some knowledge consistent with the scientific method; it was previously perceived by scientific institutions and researchers as entirely mythological lore, entirely superseded by modern science. In the 21st century, Mātauranga is often used by academics and government institutions when addressing particular environmental problems, with institutions or organisations partnering with iwi [roughly, Māori subunits equivalent to “tribes”], typically with government funding.

Note the weak tea here: “some knowledge consistent with the scientific method.” Yes, that’s true: there is a time to gather berries and a time to let berries ripen; a time to gather eels together and a time to refrain from gathering. But this is the “practical knowledge” of MM.  And no, it’s not entirely mythological lore, but MM surely includes a ton of mythology. As for imbuing government initiatives with MM, that is largely a form of obeisance to the Māori done largely from guilt.  (I am not denying here that many Māori were treated abysmally by immigrants from Europe, but rather questioning whether we need to absorb their traditional lore into modern science.)

After I read the paper below, published in 2015 in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand , as well as the MM “flash cards” that I’ll deal with in a forthcoming post, I realized two things:

1.)  MM is not a way of knowing but a way of life: it encompasses virtually all of Māori culture. While parts of it are “consistent with science”, most of it is not. This is explicit if you read the “flash cards” I’ll show tomorrow. A “way of knowing” implies a methodology, and MM has no methodology except, in the empirical bits, the use of trial and error. To assert that there are gods, that all things are connected through descent from earth and sky and divine creation, and so on, is not “knowledge” but belief. MM, then, is most often a form of belief, and comes close in many ways to a religion. Its assertions cannot be questioned, are regarded as sacred, there are divinities to be worshiped and propitiated, and so on. This religious aspect is part of the MM “way of life.”

2.) The promoters of MM have higher ambitions than I thought: they not only want MM seen as the indigenous science, but want reparations for the previous hegemony of Western science, part of the reparations consisting of having “respect” for the tenets of MM and of teaching MM in science class as a kind of science.

To fathom the hard-core advocates of Mātauranga Māori and their ambitions, I recommend your reading this short paper, which is online free (click on screenshot, pdf here). 

I will put the explanatory MM “flashcards” in a later post as including them might make this too long.

The paper’s abstract really shows that it is a big demand for incorporating MM into not just the science of NZ, but as an accepted part of Kiwi culture that cannot be criticized by non-Māori:

All peoples develop their own academic traditions: philosophies grounded in their experiences over successive generations, and theories for growing knowledge and wisdom. Mātauranga Māori (mātauranga) is the Indigenous knowledge system of these lands. It is dynamic, innovative and generative. The mātauranga continuum is the knowledge accumulated through this system. Government policies and systems have marginalised mātauranga and prioritised Western science, and the past 100 years have seen a slowing in the expansion of the mātauranga continuum. Unless the survival of mātauranga is prioritised, it will cease to flourish. Māori have discussed and written extensively about the ongoing impact of colonisation on mātauranga and tikanga Māori. This paper builds on those discussions, arguing for tino rangatiratanga, including Māori ownership of mātauranga, fulfilment of the government’s obligations to Māori, and the reinstitution of mātauranga as a primary knowledge system in Aotearoa. It explains why mātauranga revitalisation is important and outlines some of the steps towards this goal. We are calling for Western academics to support mātauranga revitalisation, with the vision of two functional knowledge systems operating that are unique to New Zealand.

Even seven years ago a paper in the J Roy Soc NZ was larded with untranslated Māori words (as we’ll see in a day or so, the language itself is considered part of the “way of knowing”.) Note that the second sentence is misleading, as MM is not an “indigenous knowledge system”. While it includes some knowledge, it is not a way of producing knowledge, which itself comes from trial and error rather than any widespread toolkit like that of modern science. Further, a lot of MM’s “spiritual knowledge” is dubious at best, and the divinities that oversee the whole system don’t exist.

To “reinstitute MM as a primary knowledge system in Aorearoa [the Māori word for ‘New Zealand’]” is to make a mockery of the very word “knowledge”. It’s as if one described Orthodox Judaism as a “knowledge system”. And of course to assert that the Māori “own” MM is the equivalent of saying that outsiders cannot criticize it. That’s why the seven Auckland University Professors who said that MM, while sociologically and anthropologically important, was not the same thing as science, were widely attacked, with two of them even investigated by the Royal Society of NZ.  No, science and MM are not “two functional knowledge systems.”. Science is, while MM is a way of life that includes many things that don’t count as knowledge.

I’ll give a few quotes from the paper, which I’ll indent:

Definition of MM:

In this paper, mātauranga refers to Māori knowledge and all that underpins it, as well as Māori ways of knowing. Mātauranga is in our stories, our environments, our kawa and our tikanga. Mātauranga includes ‘language, whakapapa, technology, systems of law and social control, systems of property and value exchange, forms of expression, and much more’ (Waitangi Tribunal 2011a, p. 22). It is passed between generations and developed through our arts and technologies. Rāwiri (2012, p. 20) describes it as a ‘theoretical and applied values and knowledge creative activity base’. Mātauranga has expanded in response to exploring, theorising and understanding at local whānau, hapū and iwi levels. As an experiential system, it emphasises relationship-based learning using whānau and hapū understandings in our own environments. It is a complete knowledge system that includes science.

Well, I won’t define all the terms, but you can already see that it’s more than a “system of knowledge”, but also “all that underpins it”, which means “Māori culture.”

It can’t be partitioned into science-y and non-sciency parts:

This paper refers to the currently dominant knowledge system as Western epistemology, and its science as Western science. Western science incorporates knowledge from non-Western epistemologies. However, the structures of Western science—such as the specific compartmentalisation into disciplines, the hierarchies organising knowledge within those disciplines, and the types of knowledge that are excluded or included—reflect Western philosophical traditions.

This part isn’t true. As we’ll see on the next MM post, MM can be partitioned into disciplines like marine biology. But let’s continue:

Pūtaiao, which refers both to Western science when taught in te reo Māori and to a subset of mātauranga most recognisable to Western science (Stewart 2007), is not discussed in this paper. Dividing mātauranga into science and non-science, or any of the compartments that Western knowledge systems use, is inappropriate. Mātauranga is its own system with its own organisation, and it is this system and organising that we want to prioritise.

It’s not clear whether they are “prioritising” it only in the paper’s discussion, or in NZ education, but what’s clear is that this is something that cannot be taught as coequal to “Western science”.

“Reparations” for MM:

Western knowledge has taken much from Indigenous knowledge systems (Kuokkanen 2007, p. 150). Western academics must consider how they will give back to mātauranga. The relationship between Western epistemologies and mātauranga is currently one of domination, power and control. Those who have benefited most from this unequal relationship should support mātauranga to develop equally and independently.

I would question whether Western knowledge has taken much from MM in particular, and I would argue that modern science has done a lot more for the health and progress of Kiwis, including Māori, than has MM. Scientific medicine is one example, and if it has “domination,” it’s because it works—in contrast to the chanting and herbal and spiritual treatments of Māori.  And those who have benefitted hugely from the “unequal relationship” are the Māori themselves, who certainly avail themselves constantly of the fruits of modern science (antibiotics, to mention just one item).  Western academics have virtually nothing to give back to mātauranga in terms of knowledge, but perhaps what the authors mean is “power and control.” That is, advocates of MM want it to become coequal with modern science. This is why the government (and many NZ academics) are pushing to have MM taught as science. The whole argument is about power, but in the end the fruits of science will show which “way of knowing” is more fruitful.

Cooperation is not the goal.  (my emphasis)

Although there will be opportunities to work together, that is not the goal of revitalising mātauranga. The goal is not partnership; it is tino rangatiratanga and reinstituting mātauranga as a primary and independent knowledge system. Future relationships will be between equals.

I’m sorry, but they are not equal. MM is not a knowledge system, and even its empirical bits do not make it “equal” to modern science. This undergirds the attempts to force MM to be taught as an “equal” to modern science—practice that will be a disaster for all the inhabitants of New Zealand, who will not only be confused about how to find out truth, but who will also fall behind the rest of the world in science education, as has been happening for some time.

Finally, some gobbledygook:

This approach has implications for innovation and generating new knowledge. Exposing all New Zealand academics to mātauranga will reveal the presuppositions underlying Western knowledge systems, and expand their thinking beyond those limits. This could inspire new conceptions of knowledge and approaches to creating knowledge. It will also assist in developing skills that promote conversation and learning from different knowledge systems. . . Teaching multiple knowledge systems gives us the ability to experience the world in different ways, to recognise how those systems affect our perception and understanding, and to extend our understandings (Kuokkanen 2007; Stewart 2007).

This sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s nonsense. As is usual in these discussions, not one example is showing how the infusion of MM into science will improve our understanding of the universe. Indeed, the infusion will degrade science, since we would be forced to take seriously creationism, gods, lizard spirits that control rivers, and so on.  Teaching “multiple knowledge systems” may be of anthropological and sociologcal value, but teaching MM is of no scientific value at all.

Another bizarre attempt to show that traditional “ways of knowing” in New Zealand are even better than modern science

September 5, 2022 • 9:30 am

I won’t dwell at length on this, but offer it up as an example of the craziness infecting New Zealand. Here is a Linked In comment by Karl Wixon, a self-employed education reformer but also holds a job that seems to be funded by the government:

Kaitohu Matua Māori / Chief Advisor – Māori (p/t contract)

Education New Zealand · ContractApr 2021 – Present · 1 yr 6 mos

The Chief Advisor Māori is the key cultural attaché for the Chief Executive and is responsible for providing specialist advice and counsel on all matters relating to ENZ’s responsiveness to Māori.

His job, then, is to do exactly what he’s doing below: showing that Mātauranga Māori (MM) or Māori “ways of knowing”,  should be embedded in New Zealand education. That’s fine if the “ways of knowing”— which include some practical knowledge but also theology, morality, word of mouth, and legend—are taught as sociology and anthropology. But that’s not how it works in New Zealand, as MM is supposed to be taught as “coequal” to modern science. That will hold back science education for everyone, as well as giving young people a false view of science.

Here Wixon asserts that the early Māori already knew about discoveries in astronomy and cosmology that we think are modern, and that these indigenous discoveries were sorely neglected. But his claim is based entirely on a few spirals carved by Māori!  As the person who sent me this noted:

“This sort of thing is bad for both mātauranga Māori and science, but in the current moral panic we’re unlikely to see any pushback.”
Well, I’ll give some pushback, but I don’t have to push hard because Wixon’s claim discredits itself.
Click on the screenshot to read, though I’ve embedded the whole screed below.

This is the writing of a delusional obsessive, but one who’s just doing his job. The craziness of his claim is evident in the way he forces ancient carvings of spirals (which of course are not unique to

That’s all the debunking this piece needs. But what’s nearly as bad are all the people who weigh in, agreeing with Wixon! Much of New Zealand (not the rational folks, of course) buy into this kid of stuff. There is only one comment that is even semi-critical, and that one simply says that modern science and indigenous knowledge need not be at odds. Here are a few more:

I don’t know how much of this comes from valorization of the indigenous people and how much from an anti-science attitude, but it hardly matters. What matters is that Kiwis should be aware of this stuff, and fight like hell to keep mythology from being represented not just as coequal to science, but superior to science.