A concept rooted in Māori spiritual belief – mauri – is widely used in environmental research, monitoring, and restoration work in New Zealand. It has been absorbed within university studies, too, and mātauranga Māori is being taught in science courses.
Victoria University of Wellington “encourages” its staff and students to teach, research and learn about mātauranga Māori as part of their studies.
Faculty of Science staff have not been exempted from this institutional acculturation. They
” … have been actively participating in the University’s Te Hāpai professional development programme, which helps them to learn more about Te Reo Māori, tikanga Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi. We have found that as people learn more about the Māori culture they become more comfortable and confident about teaching Māori material.”
A report prepared by Landcare Research for Waikato University in 2014 gives a brief review, summary, and synopsis of mātauranga Māori frameworks, approaches, and “culturally appropriate monitoring tools” intended to be used for freshwater monitoring and management.
The report says mātauranga Māori, or Māori knowledge systems, are specific to indigenous Māori people, and the term has its origins in Aotearoa–New Zealand.
The term has many definitions that cover belief systems, epistemologies, values, and knowledge both in a traditional and contemporary sense.
Important Māori values derived from the belief system based on mātauranga Māori include
tikanga (customary practice, values, protocols),
whakapapa (ancestral lineage, genealogical connections, relationships, links to ecosystems),
mana whenua (authority over land and resources),
whānaungatanga (family connections),
kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship),
manaakitanga (acts of giving and caring for),
whakakotahitanga (consensus, respect for individual differences and participatory inclusion for decision-making),
arohatanga (the notion of care, respect, love, compassion), and
wairuatanga (a spiritual dimension).
Among key concepts are mauri, defined in the report as
… an internal energy or life force derived from whakapapa, an essential essence or element sustaining all forms of life.
Mauri provides life and energy to all living things, and is the binding force that links the physical to the spiritual worlds (e.g. wairua). It denotes a health and spirit that permeate all living and non-living things. All plants, animals, water, and soil possess mauri. Damage or contamination to the environment is therefore damage to or loss of mauri.
The report notes that mauri is now widely used in environmental research, monitoring, and restoration work in New Zealand, although
… it requires in-depth understanding to be used appropriately and within the context of mātauranga Māori. Mātauranga Māori is dynamic and locally specific, based on long-standing interactions through time and space between people and their surrounding environment. A necessary first step therefore is to determine the cultural values (tangible and metaphysical), activities (food gathering), and uses associated with specific waters. Limits and standards can be used to support cultural values (metaphysical and tangible), activities, and uses within a defined area, such as a region, tribal area or catchment.
In a recent RNZ Morning Report item, a Māori student complained that “Maori knowledge” was not being adequately or properly taught in science classes at Victoria University of Wellington.
Point of Order’s Bob Edlin drew this to the attention of VUW’s media staff.
He noted that “Māori knowledge”, incorporating concepts which are a matter of Maori belief, may well be taught in anthropology classes,or philosophy classes, or in Maori studies.
But could it comfortably be taught in a science class – at least, not without changing the meaning of science?
Answers to a series of questions were provided by VUW’s Rawinia Higgins, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori)
To ensure clarity, she explained…
“Mātauranga Māori is Māori knowledge including the body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices.
In response to specific requests for information, these were the replies:
- When was mātauranga Māori first taught at Victoria University of Wellington and in which courses?
It would be near impossible to pinpoint the first time anyone at the University taught anything to do with Māori cultural practices or perspectives. The subject of ‘Māori Studies’ has been officially taught here for approximately 50 years, however, whether other courses included mātauranga Māori as part of their curricula earlier than that would be difficult to ascertain. The University Calendars, including those from 1900 onwards, are available here – there is a link to the historical Calendars.
- Why was it introduced?
At Victoria University of Wellington, we recognise mātauranga Māori as one of our distinctive qualities in our Strategic Plan (see p.7 here) and we encourage our staff and students to teach, research and learn about mātauranga Māori as part of their studies.
There is an expectation that mātauranga Māori is incorporated when and where possible across all faculties. Our Learning and Teaching Strategy is available (here) on our website.
3. In which faculties and courses is it now taught?
Aspects of mātauranga Māori are taught across all eight faculties at Victoria. The university offers over 2500 courses and it is not possible to say how many of those include mātauranga Māori.
- What percentage of total courses includes a mātauranga Māori component?
See above. We do not currently collect this data from faculties.
- Is successfully studying mātauranga Māori a pre-requisite for a degree?
There are no prerequisite requirements that specifically state that students must successfully study mātauranga Māori. Information about pre-requisites for all of the qualifications offered at the University can be found here.
- If mātauranga Māori is now included in science courses, in which classes is it included?
Please see the answer to questions 3 and 4. One example is SCIS301: Historical Issues in Science in Society (see here).
- What is the justification for including it in science?
Science students at Victoria learn about mātauranga Māori as part of their place-based education programme, which values what they are learning and where they are learning it. General introductory information about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, though not specific to the university, can be found on this external site.
- Are all science staff relaxed about it being taught in their classes?
We have no way of measuring how ‘relaxed’ staff feel about mātauranga Māori being taught but we can confirm that staff in the Faculty of Science have been actively participating in the University’s Te Hāpai professional development programme, which helps them to learn more about Te Reo Māori, tikanga Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi. We have found that as people learn more about the Māori culture they become more comfortable and confident about teaching Māori material.