National | Mātauranga

Native Affairs - Valuing Māori Knowledge

Three leading Māori academics have hit back at a newspaper column criticising mātauranga Māori or Māori knowledge.

Scientist Bob Brockie wrote the column for the Catalyst science page in The Dominion Post in early October, and it was shared across other Fairfax publications. Brockie slammed government funding of nearly $3 million for a new Massey University project that aims to meld mātauranga Māori with the latest geographic mapping systems.

In his column, Brockie called the He Tātai Whenua: A Te Ao Māori landscape classification project ‘a bad joke’ amongst other things.

“This is preposterous; a bad joke. Māori relations with the land are rooted in the supernatural. Our mountains are personified as Gods and a spiritual life force (mauri) supposedly enlivens all lakes, rivers, the ocean, plants, animals and people,” he said.

“Science long ago dismissed the supernatural and the life force as pure fiction, making Western science and the religion of Stone Age vitalism incompatible.”

Massey University’s Hone Morris responded to Brockie’s statement by saying, “effectively what he is saying is only Western concepts are accepted and my own history isn’t. That’s preposterous.”

“Mātauranga Māori expands a person’s understanding and empathy to their environment.”

Maramataka Māori expert Rereata Makiha says western science is shortsighted as it doesn’t recognise the connection between all life forms. “It doesn’t realise that when one life form is damaged so too is another,” he said.

“That’s where mātauranga Māori is superior to science.”

But many New Zealanders including Māori don’t value mātauranga Māori according to mātauranga hauora (health) expert, Dr Ihirangi Heke. “In general the population of Aotearoa are uneducated about what Mātauranga Māori means, what its intent is,” he said.

“People often ask me this one about which is better? My diplomatic response to that one is one isn’t better than the other they both just exist, but for me personally mātauranga Māori is definitely better.”

Native Affairs sought an interview with Bob Brockie but he never responded. Instead, we received this response from Fairfax Acting Editor Kamala Hayman defending Brockie:

As a columnist, the views he expresses are those of his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors of those newspapers.

It is an important aspect of a free press that a multitude of voices are reflected. The Press and the Dominion Post publish opinion pieces and cartoons every day from contributors whose views may not chime with those of the editors. However, we strongly defend the rights of those contributors to offer their views.

Today, we hear that an investigative journalist and blogger in Malta, Daphne Galizia, was killed when a bomb blew up her car. There were many who sought to silence her through threats, legal action, and now finally, through violence.

While we absolutey cannot compare Bob Brockie to Daphne Galizia, the principle of free speech, enshrined in our Bill of Rights, applies to Mr Brockie as much as it does to Ms Galizia. People must be free to express their views, even when those views are not mainstream, or are even offensive to a great many others.

We silence those voices at our peril.