Scientists encouraged to be open to mātauranga Māori

By Jessica Tyson

Scientists are being encouraged to work alongside indigenous communities in a review into the relationship between indigenous knowledge and scientific research.

The new review, published in a European Geosciences Union’s journal Earth Surface Dynamics, offers a roadmap for weaving together indigenous knowledge with modern research.

The lead author is Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha, University of Canterbury PhD student Clare Wilkinson.  

“One goal is to encourage scientists to consider how their project might be of interest or relevance to indigenous communities and to make conducting research with such groups more accessible,” she says.

Wilkinson advises scientists to be open-minded and to not rule indigenous knowledge out.

“As people become more open and they listen, they’ll realise that the knowledge that is codified in these stories, often as metaphors, is really reflective of the landscape around us.”

Knowledge in stories and waiata

Wilkinson has also worked with co-author Dr Dan Hikuroa, of Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui and Te Arawa; Agnes McFarland, of Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Awa and Matthew Hughes to write the review.

“Hikuroa has done a lot of work to show that pūrākau and other Māori stories and the knowledge captured in waiata can be accurate and can be precise and so we believe that scientists are becoming more open to including Māori knowledge because it is rigorous and it’s based on centuries of observations of living with the land and it is a valid knowledge space.”

She says one of the best examples of weaving indigenous knowledge with western science is the New Zealand Palaeotsunami Database.

“The data used to compile that data source is from both westernised techniques looking for tsunami deposits but also pūrākau and other stories held by indigenous groups around the country about tsunami that occurred before European documentation of them.”

Wilkinson says the database is an open-access resource.

“So any land user can go to the database and see where the historical tsunamis have been and can take that into account as they make decisions.”

In the review, the authors also talk about frameworks developed by Māori researchers in other fields to appropriately weave indigenous knowledge and western science.