New $750,000 project protects Māori mātauranga to decrease misappropriation

By Jessica Tyson

An international project between Waikato and New York researchers has received a $750,000 boost, to expand tools protecting indigenous communities' rights, over their own knowledge and data.

The new project called Enrich will benefit indigenous communities such as Māori, and first nations from the United States, Canada and Australia.

As part of the project, traditional knowledge and biocultural labels have been developed that can be digitally applied to datasets, confirming their origins and ensuring indigenous communities benefit from the use of the knowledge and genetic resources, often harnessed for commercial gain.

The project is led in New Zealand by the director of the University of Waikato Te Kotahi Research Institute, Maui Hudson, and in New York by NYU legal scholar Dr Jane Anderson.

Hudson says it is important to protect indigenous knowledge and data because in the future since the economy is going to be a digital one.

“It’s going to be made up of the sorts of items that can be essentially copied and digitised in different ways.

He says that could include anything important to Māori such as mātauranga, arts, waiata. “All of these things can now circulate in a digital environment.”

“People can create value from it and the people who should be creating value from it should be us, Māori and iwi taketake (indigenous people),” Hudson says.

Greater chance of misappropriation

An example of indigenous data being misuse was recently in the United States when photographs were being collected by Smithsonian museums.

“We know that happens in a number of places like museums and archives where they’ve collected the material over long periods of time but they’re all entering these digitisation projects and as soon as that material is put into that form it becomes available to anyone around the world to access, Hudson says.

“When that happens there’s a greater chance of misappropriation and there’s a greater chance that someone misuses it in a way that affects the wairua of our nations.”

In New Zealand, the group has been supporting digital repatriation of material from Ngā Taonga, the National Sound and Film Archive, to the people of Whakatōhea, through funding from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

They are also working with Ngāti Maru in Taranaki and Te Roroa in Hokianga as part of a Te Puni Kōkiri-funded project to recognise iwi rights to mātauranga Māori, and genetic resources through the use of the labels alongside institutions like the MetService, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and the University of Waikato.

The project is supported by strategic design partners Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa (IDIA).