Resignation over uni letter claiming mātauranga Māori is 'not science’

By Will Trafford

A University of Auckland professor has resigned following a letter he and six other academics penned dismissing the role of Mātauranga Māori in science.

 Psychology Professor Douglas Elliffe is departing his role as acting dean of the psychology faculty after the letter published in the New Zealand Listener was widely rebuffed by fellow academics and university leaders.

The letter was in opposition to proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum that would ‘ensure parity for mātauranga Māori with other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA’.

The group took issue with proposed changes, arguing mātauranga Māori shouldn’t be accepted as an equivalent to science. “It may help but it is not science,” the group said.

The scientists also opposed a course that the ministry says would promote ‘“discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of eurocentric views (including its use as a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge.)”

The group claimed science is "universal" and "not especially western".

Western thinking

Those views were condemned in a response by other scientists, including prominent epidemiologist Professor Siouxise Wiles.

Wiles’ group argued the claim that “science itself does not colonise” and is “universal” ignores colonisation, racism, misogyny, and eugenics,  all ideas which have been championed by scientists in the past.

Associate Professor Ocean Mercier whose work focuses on how mātauranga and science interrelate says the incident is an example of how modern-day scientific thinking is dominated by western frameworks and thinking.

“I think if there is one thing this particular incident reminds us of is that there is a need to decolonise first, to decolonise the science systems before we can create a safe space for mātauranga and indigenous knowledge. This is a reminder that this space is not completely safe,” she said.

University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater has issued a response condemning the stance of the seven academics saying “While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.”