Blending Māori knowledge with research for better results

  • Fern. Image - Richard Gordon

    Fern. Image - Richard Gordon

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Kaumātua (elder) led research that puts Māori methods and mātauranga (knowledge) first is a key part of restoring Aotearoa New Zealand’s land and freshwater ecosystems.

This is the fundamental concept behind a BioHeritage project led by Lincoln University’s Dr James Ataria and Challenge Director Māori Melanie Mark-Shadbolt.

The team is co-designing a research approach between kaumātua (Māori knowledge-holders) and potential users that has at its heart a Māori philosophy. The project contributes towards BioHeritage’s goal of empowering New Zealanders so they feel inspired to protect our environment.

“We want the application of this approach to, firstly, restore and future-proof the pre-colonial transfer of mātauranga Māori. Secondly, to contribute to achieving BioHeritage’s mission of reversing the decline of Aotearoa’s biological heritage,” Jamie says.

Central to the research is the formation of He Putunga Kōrero-He Puna Mātauranga – a rōpū (group) of respected and knowledgeable kaumātua who are examining knowledge management issues and advising on the development of best practices and wellbeing indicators.

Operating within a Kaupapa Māori (Māori approach) framework demands a collaborative research process that prioritises ethics informed by tikanga (Māori customs and practices).

The collaboration has been underway since 2017 and a number of themes are coming through in feedback from kaumātua, including:

  • There is an increasing physical disconnection and erosion when it comes to applying cultural environmental knowledge
  • The western science system and practitioners do not prioritise Māori environmental knowledge
  • There is increasing misappropriation of Māori knowledge, especially in Aotearoa science policy
    Mātauranga Māori has a role in reversing the decline of Aotearoa’s biological heritage but does not get the opportunity to participate
  • There is a lack of understanding about what underpins 'healthy' knowledge and kaumātua well-being.

Ultimately, the project aims to establish a process that provides a safe environment to discuss and debate issues and where engagement occurs in a way that kaumātua and knowledge holders are comfortable.

“We want to implement culturally safe practices and agreements that protect a person’s inherited authority and the common good, plus intellectual property will be protected via knowledge agreements,” Jamie says.

“When combined, these factors will create trust and a culturally safe environment for researchers where appropriate Māori cultural practices, and the use of the Māori language are normalised.”

This project is led by Lincoln University's Dr James Ataria (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) who is recognised as an expert in kaupapa Māori research, mātauranga Māori and community engagement. Dr Ataria will lead the engagement, community research and outreach aspects of the project, while Dr Simon Lambert (Tūhoe, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana) mentors and leads the methodological development, international stretch & comparison.

Key Researchers

Melanie Mark-Shadbolt, BioHeritage Challenge Director Māori

Dr James Ataria, Cawthron Institute

International Collaborators

Ruth Bone, Kew Gardens, Millennium Seed Bank

Dr Mariella Marzano, Forest  Research Scotland

Additional team members will be brought in to meet specific needs such as Te Reo expertise, community engagement and whakawhanaungatanga.

Māori Leadership

Jamie Ataria, Transforming Biodiversity Conference 2017