He Kete Mātauranga

Earth Systems Scientist Dr Dan Hikuroa sat down with our Senior Māori Advisor Cornell Tukiri to talk about weaving mātauranga Māori with climate science to empower Māori communities.

Changes to our climate have always been observed, recorded and understood by Māori, says Dr Dan Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Whanaunga).  

Dan Hikuroa is an Earth Systems Scientist and Senior Lecturer in Māori studies at the University of Auckland. He integrates mātauranga Māori and science to support Māori communities to become resilient to the impacts of climate change. His expertise is sought by everyone, from individual marae protecting their urupā against sea level rise, to policy makers. Additionally, he can often be seen and heard in the media advocating for Māori methodologies and knowledge. 

“Things are in a constant state of change; so our knowledge system anticipates these changes and we set up our observation systems so that we notice that change when it occurs and account for it,” Dan Hikuroa says. 

“Any practitioners of maramataka will understand its process and its rigour. Ultimately, the maramataka is a reliable method for testing that knowledge. In that way it’s exactly the same as science. However, pūrākau like that of Tāwhirimātea and Tāne, I would argue that’s one of the differences between mātauranga and science, where we invoke aspects of our atua to explain phenomena.” 

Here, he is referring to the story of Tāne separating his parents Ranginui and Papatūānuku, and the furious response from Tāwhirimātea, the atua of wind and weather. 

“As Tāwhirimatea was whipping up the waves of Tangaroa, ngā uri o Ikatere, the lizards and the fish began to panic. The lizards ran into the forest and the fish went deeper into the ocean. When the storm abated, Tangaroa said, ‘You children of Ikatere, the reptiles, please come back down into the ocean.’ They refused and stayed on land. Tangaroa was therefore upset with his sibling Tāne for not sending them back down. Where we see coastal erosion, where Tangaroa is clawing at the land, it’s understood as him trying to get his uri back,” Dan Hikuroa says. 

Other examples include using taniwha to identify areas where weather events or significant tidal forces manifested as a danger to humans, so that we can anticipate the impact of increased storm frequency and sea level rise in those places. 

In his work, Dan Hikuroa is tasked with weaving the threads of mātauranga that already exist within a community with all other available resources. 

“The key things people are asking me are ‘Is our marae safe?’, and 'Is our food security there?"” 

“Those are fundamental questions, and as someone who wants to ensure our communities are safe, it’s incumbent on me to draw from all the knowledge that’s available to us. Mātauranga is of that place, and it’s been passed down through generations. No one outside of that area knows it better. But I don’t want to disregard technology and the other things science can bring to it, because our people deserve the best,” Dan Hikuora says. 

Mauri, the vital essence of all things, plays a big part in both framing the challenges and understanding them. He says often communities are inundated with information and technical reports, but believes that there is no wisdom for them to derive meaning from, and make decisions based on that.” 

Dan Hikuroa says mauri is far from being merely esoteric and everyone understands it on some level.  

“One example of where the mauri has been severely impacted: cast your mind back to when the Rena ran aground on Ōtāiti, on Astrolabe Reef. You may recall seeing images of birds covered in oil, a lot of wildlife perished. If you felt anything emotional, that is real, we just have a word for it. What you felt was the mauri of those birds and of that place. Although it’s a Māori word, I think it’s a universal concept, he says. 

Dan Hikuroa remembers a wānanga with indigenous groups from all over the world where they settled on “being a good ancestor” as a definition of what it means to be indigenous. He says this applies to climate response too.  

“Often people say, let’s fight climate change, the battle against climate change. That’s really adversarial. The common theme amongst the dominant capitalist system and the justice system; it’s combative. The Māori view is that we’re part of nature not apart from nature.” ”Those forces are actually our ancestors saying you need to pull your head in and get your act together.” 

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