Mātauranga Māori

  • New Zealand dotterel egg. Image - James Reardon

    New Zealand dotterel egg. Image - James Reardon

Mātauranga Māori for biological heritage: Whakamanahia ngā mātauranga o nehe hai oranga tangata, oranga taiao

Indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) has evolved over thousands of years of community associations with their respective local environments. Ecology and culture are inseparable − one is defined by the other. Collectively this corpus of knowledge is intimately and spiritually entwined with indigenous communities through frameworks of familial relationships. Such knowledge has an important role to play in creating contemporary solutions that address many global threats such as climate change and invasive species.

However, the role of IEK in the conservation of biodiversity has yet to be fully explored and utilised. Fragmentation of Māori culture resulting from colonial processes has impacted the intergenerational transmission and succession of Mātauranga Māori. This is important because stewardship and restoration of the biological heritage of Aotearoa are inseparable from this body of knowledge. This is a problem faced by indigenous peoples all over the world.

Holders of Mātauranga Māori and kaitiaki (guardians) are aware of and concerned about the vulnerability of their knowledge. Accordingly, kaitiaki are committed to ensuring it is adequately protected and transmitted to future generations to avoid the risk of demographic concentration of knowledge among the elderly. This process requires restorative development and implementation of an approach that acknowledges Mātauranga Māori, its origins and potential in local, regional and national contexts.

Restoration of Mātauranga Māori processes will require the creation of an environment where Māori cultural processes predominate and the wellbeing of the knowledge holders and the knowledge can be assured: Nā te Māori, mai te Māori mā te Māori − From Māori, by Māori, for Māori.

The Mātauranga Māori for biological heritage project team is co-developing a methodology for Mātauranga Māori holders and potential contemporary and future users that facilitates the application of knowledge to restore and futureproof Mātauranga Māori processes and frameworks. The team has formed a rōpū of respected and knowledgeable kaumātua, who will examine issues relating to the management of indigenous knowledge, and offer advice on the development of best practices and wellbeing indicators.

In January 2018 the team travelled to Northland and interviewed a number of kaumātua, before holding a wānanga in Motatau with this project’s knowledge holder rōpū. Despite rain, flooding and mudslides, the researchers and knowledge holders spent two days in the ngahere (forest) disconnected from the trappings of modern life (power and mobile service) but connected to the taiao (nature). The kōrero (discussions) that naturally fl owed when surrounded by nature included: how we explain the interrelationship Māori have with trees and trees have with other species; who can hold knowledge; depth of knowledge; and the best times to transmit knowledge. The team also began to develop indicators for identifying knowledge holders and for assessing the health of the environment.

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