Now that mātauranga Māori is gaining recognition and becoming profitable, how do we keep it safe from the acquisitiveness and ambitions of the Crown and universities? Here’s Kim Mcbreen.
I came to mātauranga with all the overconfidence and acquisitiveness that I’d learned from my many years in the Pākehā education system, where “knowledge belongs to everyone” is a mantra.
Like so many Māori kids, I was adopted at birth and grew up in my Pākehā family knowing nothing about where I came from. I was 33 when I found my birth father and discovered my whakapapa to Ngāi Tahu.
When I was growing up in Whangārei, Ngāi Tahu was an iwi I knew almost nothing about. I’d visited Te Waipounamu a few times, but I’d never been further south than Ōtepoti (Dunedin). So, to find out that my whānau belong to Rakiura and Bluff was a revelation.
I knew nothing. I didn’t know where or how to start. I googled everything and found all the books. But all I got was information. I’m a reader. I’d gone from school to university and never left. Books are the safest, least vulnerable way for me to learn.
But what was the point of all that information? I wasn’t studying for an exam. I could learn about some of the people or events, but that’s not how you connect.
If anything, it made me feel worse. It didn’t tell me anything about what it meant to be an Anglem or a Pōtiki — my dad’s whānau — and it didn’t give me any of the relationships or experiences that would make it meaningful.
I knew I had to meet my whānau, learn from them — and try to connect and build relationships.
I was learning te reo at the time, and a friend suggested I try Te Wānanga o Raukawa, where I’d have to connect and learn from whānau. It felt more legitimate, easier somehow, to frame my attempts to connect as course requirements, rather than my own hopes for belonging.
Te Wānanga o Raukawa was established in 1981 in Ōtaki to contribute to the survival of Māori as a people, by reclaiming, nurturing and expanding mātauranga. It’s been a champion of mātauranga Māori long before that was cool or lucrative.
The wānanga came out of Whakatupuranga Rua Mano, a 25-year experiment in iwi development by Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Raukawa (the ART Confederation). The experiment had four principles:
Our people are our wealth. (Develop and retain.)
Te reo is a taonga. (Halt the decline and revive.)
The marae is our principal home. (Maintain and respect.)
Self-determination. (Advance our aspirations).
All their courses require students to learn te reo and undertake iwi and hapū studies. This means going home and talking with our whānau, talking with the people at our marae, and learning from our own kaumātua before we get into the wider history or future development.
This gives us the best chance to strengthen or re-ignite our connections so that we might build them — and to find where we can contribute. Because our survival as a people is why Te Wānanga o Raukawa exists. It’s about developing people, and strengthening our connections to our home, our language and our collective aspirations for our people.
Te Wānanga o Raukawa began with no support from the state, on the backs of people who believed that the survival of their iwi as a people was worth it. And, from all over the motu, people donated their time and expertise.
Eventually, Te Wānanga o Raukawa was recognised and supported by the state. It continues to receive funding and accreditation from the state for its courses, but, through its philosophy and structures, the wānanga is clear that it’s accountable to its three founding iwi — not to the state.
In my years there, I learned that you can’t simply learn about mātauranga or whakapapa, just like I couldn’t learn about my whānau. It’s meaningless without the connection and lived experience. It takes community. No course, and no amount of research, was going to give me relationships and belonging.
For people like me — who aren’t already connected, who don’t already have a lived experience of te ao Māori, who are looking for a way in — that can be devastating. We have to make a choice.
Mātauranga thrives where we have systems that keep us safe — ngā pakeke hei kaiārahi mō tātou. And where whakapapa makes us inescapably accountable. It’s tied to tino rangatiratanga. Whoever we are, if we use mātauranga without working towards tino rangatiratanga, we are appropriating it.
Mātauranga isn’t research. It’s ourselves. It’s our lives and the communities we choose. And, if it’s not, it isn’t for us.
I’ve been fortunate to learn this within the safe korowai of Te Wānanga o Raukawa. The wānanga has changed my life, as it has for so many other students.
Stepping outside that korowai, I’m surprised at how casually mātauranga is used and exploited. Mātauranga has been nurtured and grown in Māori communities — and in rōpū from those communities, led by Māori, committed to Māori.
After attacking mātauranga and its systems for decades, the Crown now recognises its potential. We need different explanations and solutions to problems created by colonisation and consumerism, so why not“unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge”? But which systems and communities are they supporting to re-grow capacity?
Spoiler alert. It’s not Māori systems and communities. It’s universities and government departments. Large, conservative systems that are invested in each other’s success.
And now that mātauranga is receiving long overdue resourcing, institutions that have contributed to, supported and benefited from stealing and suppressing mātauranga and its systems, are now promoting themselves as the experts on mātauranga. Rebranding, renaming, repositioning themselves as if they’ve supported Māori (and Pasifika too) since mai rānō.
Where is their accountability? Where is their commitment to our communities, our systems, our tino rangatiratanga?
Like me, universities and the Crown are reaching for mātauranga with overconfidence and acquisitiveness. Universities have fought for a monopoly on the definition, production, prestige and funding of knowledge. Why shouldn’t they just incorporate mātauranga into their enormous grasp?
Unlike me, they have the power to corrupt our systems, to redefine what is tika and pono, and to continue to starve the communities who protect and grow mātauranga without access to political power or pūtea. And universities and the Crown have a debt to be honoured. They have thrived on stolen whenua, knowledge and authority. Where is the humility? The accountability? The putting right?
Individuals within those institutions — and I’m one of them — might have our own tikanga for protecting mātauranga, and for keeping ourselves and our communities safe. But the institutions themselves haven’t yet developed necessary systems to honour those relationships. They don’t seem to understand that they are kāwanatanga.
I was kept safe, and contained, under the korowai of Te Wānanga o Raukawa while I learned. It seems to me that universities and the Crown also need a korowai to contain them and keep them safe. Safe from causing more harm, exploiting and damaging relationships, and inserting themselves between mātauranga and the communities from whom it has grown.
As things are, there isn’t a korowai powerful enough to curb their ambitions. Instead of using their wealth to build facades of indigeneity, they could be looking at why that is.
How have they attacked and undermined rangatiratanga? How have they harmed tāngata whenua and local systems? What is their appropriate relationship with mātauranga?
Do they have the humility for that? To me, that seems like a good place to start on a journey towards mātauranga. Slowly and respectfully. Supporting and protecting mātauranga and its systems, as and when tāngata whenua ask.
Mātauranga is from our tūpuna — for us and for future generations. It thrives where it’s grown, in communities and in systems where Māori have control. Supporting those communities is the path I see to support mātauranga.
Kim Mcbreen is Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu and Pākehā. She has studied and worked in universities and wānanga for over 30 years. She lives with her partner and two children in a small coastal town.
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