Academics announce new Centre of Indigenous Science – and now (it seems) they will find out what they should be teaching

Any notion that “the science is settled” is (or should be) anathema to good scientists.

There is always more to learn

“… because the scientific method never provides absolute conclusions. It’s always possible that the next observation will contradict the current consensus.”

 But in this country the fundamental matter of defining science and determining what should be taught to science studies in our universities has become more unsettling than unsettled.

“Indigenous knowledge” has become “indigenous science”, overriding the conventional view that science is colour blind and culturally neutral – that science is science is science.

And the heads of our most highly esteemed academic institutions do not resist the push to have “indigenous science” incorporated within their science faculties rather than – let’s say – Māori Studies or anthropological departments.

And so last week the Otago Daily Times reported:  

The rise of Matariki has brought with it the launch of a new department at the University of Otago — the Centre of Indigenous Science.”

It officially opens on January 1 next year, but over the next six months, Māori academic Associate Prof Anne-Marie Jackson will be leading the development of its teaching and research aspirations.

The first challenge is trying to understand what is intended, because the champions of indigenous science are disinclined to stick to language and concepts which English speakers – the great majority of New Zealanders – understand.

“The Centre of Indigenous Science will be one of the first of its kind in Aotearoa, so this is an opportunity to continue to grow an academic department and scholarship based on nga kaupapa Māori in sciences,” she said.

Then there’s the challenge of determining what “indigenous science” studies entail – or what they will entail at the University of Otago.

“We will take this time to reach out to our whanau, hapu, iwi, to our communities and networks and bring together the philosophical understanding and underpinnings of Indigenous Science.”

A Stuff report puts it a bit differently:

In a statement to media, Jackson said for the rest of the year, she and colleagues would speak with iwi and wider networks to settle on a shared understanding of what indigenous science looked like.

This suggests the academics who will be in charge of the new study centre aren’t too sure what they should be teaching.

They will take time out to find out.

More than that, they are telling us there is disagreement about what indigenous science looks like.

They will be attempting to establish some sort of consensus.

The Otago Daily Times report proceeds to suggest that indigenous science is much the same – if not entirely the same – as mātauranga Māori,

University of Otago law lecturer and former Nga Pae o te Maramatanga co-director Prof Jacinta Ruru said the creation of the centre was exciting, especially for future students and the modern New Zealand workforce.

“Otago will be soon graduating students who have a deeper understanding of mātauranga Māori. They will be of enormous service to iwi, hapu and whanau, and to our nation.”

And then the ODT says the centre will be located within the division of sciences.

This is a provocative decision.  Mātauranga Māori, a mix of Māori knowledge and Māori beliefs, has been a matter of heated controversy among New Zealand academics and within the country’s science community.  See (for example) here and here.

A New Zealand Herald report on the new Centre of Indigenous Science noted that Matariki was a time to look forward and celebrate the tenth year of Te Koronga, the University of Otago’s “Indigenous Science Research Theme and Māori postgraduate research excellence”.

It was established in 2013 by Jackson and Dr Hauiti Hakopa.

The Herald report says Te Koronga has grown a strong graduate and research platform open to both Māori and non-Māori researchers

“… involved in indigenous research focused on mauri ora.”

Hmm.  Let’s find out what that focus implies:  

Mauri refers to the life force or the essence of life that binds together the body and spirit of a being or a thing. Mauri flows through all things, land, trees, birds, rivers, mountains, space and time, through to people – individually and collectively. Mauri is present in the relationships between living and natural things. The way mauri is expressed can impact on other people, and likewise their mauri can impact on you.

Ora means to be alive, well and safe. When our ora is protected and safe, our mauri will flourish. Mauri ora means that our life essence and our wairua flourishes with potential, ideas, and connections. Wellbeing for Māori is connected to two important aspects – mauri ora, and a secure connection to cultural heritage and cultural identity. A secure cultural identity increases our ability to cope with challenges in life, and to find the resources within ourselves, our whānau, and our community. Within a Māori worldview, we can strengthen our wellbeing through making our cultural beliefs part of our everyday practice.

A co-director of Te Koronga , Dr Chanel Phillips, was Te Koronga’s first doctoral graduate.

The Herald report says she and Dr Jeremy Hapeta will continue to build Te Koronga’s focus of research and teaching excellence underpinned by “a kaupapa Māori” ethos.

“The kaupapa of Te Koronga describes the ardent yearning and striving for esoteric knowledge as we seek to explore the breadth and depth of mātauranga for flourishing wellness, both for our people and our environments,” Phillips says.

Knowing the meaning of “esoteric” helps enlighten us about this line of research and study.

Esoteric most commonly means obscure and only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special (and perhaps secret) knowledge. It’s often used to describe knowledge that’s only intended to be revealed to people who have been initiated into a certain group.

Does this gel with demands for greater diversification?

A week earlier, the Te Arawa Lakes Trust announced the inaugural Te Tūkohu Ngāwhā Science and Design Fair will run from 30 June to 2 July.

It has five categories – water quality, biosecurity, biodiversity, mātauranga Māori, and sustainability.

The press statement says it is inspiring young people

“…to blend mātauranga Māori and western science to tackle some of the pressing environmental issues facing Aotearoa.”

Again, a grasp of te reo is helpful.

From restoring native species, through to pest control and measuring and creating habitats to improve biodiversity, the fair will showcase the creativity, scientific research and experimentation of Year 5 to 13 tamariki and rangatahi from across the Te Arawa rohe.

A joint kaupapa between Te Arawa Lakes Trust and Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the mātauranga Māori science fair is believed to be the first of its kind, specifically targeting environmental issues through a te ao Māori lens.

Te Arawa Lakes Trust Operations Manager – Biosecurity and Jobs for Nature, William Anaru, says the fair will be open to the public,

“… providing a unique opportunity for the community to see mātauranga Māori and western science as different, but equal, types of knowledge.”

Whether they should be treated equally – if Point of Order remembers correctly – is what the Listener letter controversy was all about.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council obviously does not need to further debate the matter.

3 thoughts on “Academics announce new Centre of Indigenous Science – and now (it seems) they will find out what they should be teaching

  1. Different but equal sounds to me suspiciously like something someone said in Alabama about separate and equal. The U of Otago used to be a reputable university.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mauri ora is a return to pagan spirits. They led when NZ was full of cannibal tribes. We have passed 1835. Maori had to plead for their life to the English Crown.
    Mahuta & tribe are seeking to take us back and the land and water with it. Whereever did that woman get her hold on the PM and power?

    Liked by 1 person

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