Last week, the prominent topic of discussion was the open letter signed by seven University of Auckland professors and professors emeritus, criticising the inclusion of mātauranga Māori in NCEA science education.
In a week where we celebrated the release of our first ever issue for Māori and Pasifika contributors (Taumata Rau, pick it up if you haven’t already!), and the University being gifted a new Māori name by Ngāti Whātua Orākei, it undoubtedly serves to undermine the efforts we all make in embracing tikanga and kaupapa Māori. The letter, titled ‘In Defence of Science’, goes as far as to say “to accept mātauranga Māori as the equivalent of science is to patronise and fail indigenous populations.”
Firstly, as the signatories justify academia as a space for free speech, let’s start with exercising the pleasure of a rebuttal, to quell some mistruths. Globally, science has evolved from indigenous knowledge—the letter itself recognises this. From here, inequities have risen due to colonisation. For instance, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Māori have a lower life expectancy than non-Māori. And, according to Stats NZ, a lower proportion of Māori and Pasifika students have school qualifications compared to the national average. This gap significantly widens among adults. The truth of the matter is that science neglects cultural equity. This week, Mairātea Mohi details the response to the letter in her article “In Defence of Mātauranga Māori”.
Putting the need to argue aside, why is the mere presence of such a discussion disturbing? Well, the University’s strategic plan is framed around Te Ao Māori principles, and the fact this is a guiding policy for long-term growth means there is harm in throwing around contention of such topics callously, even under the guise of free speech. It is obvious in this instance that we all need to apply pressure on the University; how can they maintain commitment to Te Tiriti if mātauranga Māori is being dismissed as merely a cultural placard at the highest echelons of academia?
Just like science, free speech does not exist in a vacuum, but floats in a space of social experiences. One of the consequences of this is the mamae that such defences of colonialism cause to tangata whenua; something that is by no means a new experience. Indigenous folk deserve better than to constantly have their identity, practices, and beliefs dismissed, denied, and appropriated.
You may agree with what we are saying but once confronted by your great uncle who hosts the AM show, the thought of rationalising seems exhausting. It is. You’d rather say “ök, boomer” and never talk to them again. But with the understanding that everyone is a product of their own environment, and for us a deeply colonised one, these discussions can be exercised with compassion and mutual understanding.
The whole thing is understandably a slap in the face for the University, and suggests disconnection between outward actions and internal intentions. It’s like sending a team to the Olympics, and then realising you had to send them home because you fucked up the registration (this did actually happen to the Polish swim team btw, big RIP).
As Chinese Tauiwi, we strive to be the best allies we can be and find that deeply held racism among the people who are closest to us are the most difficult to deal with. But these discussions are essential as microaggressions are just the seed to more dangerous sentiments. Next time a friend from Med School complains about MAPAS, help them see the bigger picture.
Kia kaha mātauranga Māori!
Brian Gu (he/him) & Eda Tang (she/her)
Co-Editors of Craccum, 2021