How the Treaty of Waitangi is determining the direction in which state-funded science will be taken (or dragged back?)

Buzz from the Beehive

We have come – or gone – a long way, in the past two decades. In which direction is open to discussion.  

Writing for The Independent Business Weekly on 22 January 2003, I noted how a localised Māori belief in a taniwha had obliged Transit New Zealand to stop work on a stretch of new expressway near Meremere for several weeks.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority was consulting people about ways to incorporate Māori spiritual values in a revised policy. The authority (according to newspaper reports at the time) might regard Māori spiritual concerns as sufficient reason for rejecting research applications for genetic research approvals, even if there was no physical biological risk.

A Biosecurity Council discussion document had set out a biosecurity strategy which called for the protection of land-based industries and the facilitation of exports and tourism as well as

… maintaining the relationship between Māori and their culture and traditions with ancestral lands, waters, sites, wahi tapu and taonga.

Responsiveness to Māori should recognise “the special nature of taonga,” the document explained, and it noted that Māori believed native plants and animals possessed spiritual qualities.

The public science funding agency at that time was the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FoRST), which had required research on Māori issues “to a large extent” to be initiated, implemented, monitored and assessed by Māori and done “from a Māori perspective.”

This was being changed: under a target set by the FoRST board, 5%-10% of $280 million of research funding in 2002/03 was to be devoted to projects involving Māori, Māori-centred or kaupapa Māori research.

A Māori power of veto over research projects involving native species raised further questions. Canterbury University zoology head Frank Sin had abandoned his research into paua and lobster because Ngai Tahu would not approve it.  Tribal spokesman Whiti Reia explained that consultation with Māori was required because “the public in general do not trust scientists”. 

The government’s dilemma was trying to reconcile its commitment to science and economic development with its commitments to Māori economic development and the enhancement of Māori culture.

My editorial for The Independent said:  

Trouble is, the spiritual elements of Māori culture are animist and animists believe everything shares an interconnected life force.

As Ngai Tahu’s Mark Solomon said when explaining why scientists must consult with his tribe, Māori look at things “in a slightly different way.” They believe everything has a life force, a gift from the creator and when life forces are mixed, the outcome is “not natural.”

I made two observations:  the government was increasingly insinuating Māori beliefs into public policy and institutional practices while brandishing the Treaty of Waitangi and sloganeering about the “treaty partnership.”

And it was talking of “Māori advancement” while enthusing about the development of a “knowledge-based society.”

But its undermining of ethnically neutral science and sponsorship of the rise of Māori spiritual influences threaten to hurtle us back to 1840, when the treaty was signed, and entomb us there.  

 A measure of the steps taken since then (but in which direction?) can be gleaned from one of the latest ministerial press statements:

Reform of science system to build better future for New Zealand

The Government has set the direction for a future-focused science system says Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

Our research, science and innovation system will be geared towards tackling New Zealand’s big challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation and the complex health and problems that undermine wellbeing.

To address these challenges, Verrall said, we will need to shift from a system with multiple small entities and strategies to one in which efforts are focussed on “nationally significant priorities.”

Further down, the press release reveals:

“We will embed Te Tiriti and be more responsive to Māori and Pacific Peoples to improve the wealth and resilience of those communities.”

The prompt for Verrall’s statement was the release of a White Paper, following an earlier Green Paper which received “a wide-range of feedback” from over 800 submissions and a further 27 workshops held during the consultation process. 

“It is important we get these changes right. We are committed to working with all parts of the research, science and innovation sector, and in partnership with Māori and Pacific peoples as we bring the reforms to life,” Dr Verrall said.

The White Paper (see here) gives us a good idea of the influence this partnership is likely to have on our science institutions, their funding and the work they will undertake:  

The RSI system needs to embed Te Tiriti and be more responsive to Māori and Pacific Peoples to improve the wealth and resilience of those communities. This means appropriate representation at all levels, and creating opportunities for Māori to pursue their own priorities and aspirations.


Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways acknowledges and responds to a strong call from across the sector by ‘Embedding Te Tiriti’ in the design of the RSI system.

The key policy directions in this objective are to:

    • Advance Māori aspirations in the RSI system by removing barriers to entry and promote Māori participation at all levels.
    • Address the low proportion of funding that directly supports Māori researchers, including through Māori-led National Research Priorities.
    • Invest in mātauranga Māori by partnering with Māori to explore development of a dedicated mātauranga Māori platform and through appropriate recognition of existing regional knowledge platforms such as marae and whare wānanga.
    • Have the Crown lead by example as a partner to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, including through an RSI Te Tiriti o Waitangi statement. This will signal to the RSI sector how we can honour our Tiriti obligations and opportunities in the context of Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways.

But the Treaty-based thrust of the White Paper is not what drew criticism from the Nats.

National’s Research, Science, Innovation, AI and Technology spokesperson Judith Collins said Labour has been working on these reforms for over a year

“.. but the lack of understanding of the importance of commercialisation, the outstanding resource available in our universities, and the lack of any detail regarding implementation is astounding.”

One positive from the paper was that it supports setting national priorities for research, Collins said.

“With a country of our size, and with limited human and financial capital, priorities are important. Sadly the lack of any detail as to how those priorities will be set, or who will set them is disappointing.

“In a word, the white paper is underwhelming and with the reforms not being implemented until 2024, it is too little too late from a Labour Government that cannot deliver.”

Other ministers meanwhile were announcing:

Community voices amplified in fight against alcohol harm

Alcohol licensing hearings will become more accessible and less adversarial as the Government removes barriers preventing community voices from being heard, Justice Minister Kiri Allan said today.

GOVT to provide further funding to Ruapehu Alpine Lifts

The Government has decided to advance a further $6 million bridging funding to allow time for MBIE through Kanoa-RDU to support the development of an alternative commercial solution.

This means the government will be throwing public money at a failed tourism venture which is dependent on snow to attract skiers to an area that – by the looks of things – has become adversely affected by climate warming.  Correction:  it is lending the money …  

Government delivers safer roads for Waimakariri

Associate Minister of Transport Kieran McAnulty was in Waimakariri this morning to mark the beginning of work on a $41 million programme to improve road safety in the Waimakariri district.  

And there’s lots more money where that came from. 

International tourists bring over $1b into economy

The release of the International Visitor Survey (IVS) July-September 2022, shows spend from all international visitors totalled $1.03 billion in the three months to September 30, 2022 with $626 million of that coming from Australian visitors.

But not enough of them turned up on Mt Ruapehu to give the flagging ski company a lift.

Launch of Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways

It is a privilege to be here to participate in this year’s Science New Zealand Awards. I am thrilled to be able to meet the awardees, and to hear about their exciting accomplishments.

This is the speech which Verrall delivered during the function to announce this year’s Science New Zealand Awards.  

She acknowledged the Chair of Science New Zealand, David Hughes, the Crown Research Institute and Callaghan Innovation Board members and Chief Executives, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr Juliet Gerrard, and guests who included Kevin O’Connell Deputy Head of Mission from the European Union and Eric Soulier from the Embassy of France in New Zealand.

Te Rohe o Rongokako Joint Redress Bill Third Reading I Te Pānuitanga Tuatoru o te Pire mō te Puretumu Ngātahi mō Te Rohe o Rongokako

I te rā nei, i Pāremata, ka oti te tuatoru me te whakamutunga o ngā pānuitanga o te Pire mō te Puretumu Ngātahi mō te Rohe o Rongokako.


3 thoughts on “How the Treaty of Waitangi is determining the direction in which state-funded science will be taken (or dragged back?)

  1. Return to the Stone Age world view, and a resurrection of the witch doctors.

    Forget the enlightenment, the renaissance, penicillin, splitting the atom, flight, internal combustion engine, electrical generation and reticulation, gas and oil for industry, steel, public health, polymers, vaccines, antibiotics etc etc

    but we will be world leaders in astral navigation and wheeless transport!!!!

    Oh Brave new world!!!!!


    1. Don’t worry, as soon as Maori can ensure they have contract l over who makes the money, all the research will start back up.


  2. We simply have to be firmer in telling Maori that they are not alone on the planet as they spent so many years believing. Many of us believe in the life force in all all living things, which is not at all incompatible with learning about all that ‘science’ discovers to add to this belief – these things are not NOT incompatible – It’s yes – AND, people! My mind can easily encompass at one sitting a taniwha in a stream, Red Riding Hood and DNA – and more. This stupid confrontation has to stop.


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