In Indigenous Knowledge, Innovative Solutions

Some interesting examples:

Nearly two decades ago, when the New Zealand highway authority was planning the Waikato Expressway, people from the Māori tribe Ngāti Naho objected. The highway would encroach on an area that, in Māori tradition, was governed by a water-dwelling creature, a taniwha.

The authorities took those concerns into account and rerouted the road to circumvent the area in question. As a result, a year later, when the area was hit by a major flood, the road was unharmed.

“I’m still waiting for the headline, ‘Mythical Creature Saves the Taxpayer Millions,’” said Dan Hikuroa, a senior lecturer in Māori studies at the University of Auckland and member of the Ngāti Maniapoto tribe. He has often wondered if, once the flood hit, the technical team later said, “Why didn’t you just say it’s a flood risk area?”

Like many Indigenous peoples around the world, the Māori have developed their understanding of their environment through close observation of the landscape and its behaviors over the course of many generations. Now the New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency regularly looks for ways to integrate traditional Māori knowledge, or mātauranga, into its decision-making. Mr. Hikuroa has been appointed the culture commissioner for UNESCO New Zealand, a role he said is centered on integrating Māori knowledge into UNESCO’s work.

Western-trained researchers and governments are increasingly recognizing the wealth of knowledge that Indigenous communities have amassed to coexist with and protect their environments over hundreds or even thousands of years. Peer-reviewed scientific journals have published studies demonstrating that around the world, Indigenous-managed lands have far more biodiversity intact than other lands, even those set aside for conservation.

Embracing Indigenous knowledge, as New Zealand is trying to do, can improve how federal governments manage ecosystems and natural resources. It can also deepen Western scientists’ understanding of their own research, potentially, by providing alternative perspectives and approaches to understanding their field of work. This is ever more urgent, particularly as the climate crisis unfolds. “It is Indigenous resilience and worldview that every government, country and community can learn from, so that we manage our lands, waters and resources not just across budget years, but across generations,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and America’s first Native American cabinet secretary, said in remarks to the United Nations.

Indigenous scholars warn, though, that while traditional knowledge can be used to benefit the world, it can also be mishandled or exploited. Dominique David Chavez, a descendant of the Arawak Taíno in the Caribbean, and a research fellow at the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona and the National Science Foundation, says that, as Western scientists, “we are trained to go into communities, get that knowledge and go back to our institutions and disseminate it in academic journals.” That can be disruptive to traditional knowledge sharing, from one generation to another, she says, which should be the priority — ensuring that Indigenous knowledge systems are preserved in and supportive of the communities that developed them. In Puerto Rico, known by its Indigenous people as Borikén, Ms. Chavez is studying ways to restore the connections and traditional knowledge transmission patterns between elders and youth.

Bridging Indigenous and Western science also means respecting the ecosystem of values in which the knowledge systems are embedded. For instance, the practice of planting a diversity of crops and building healthy soil for water retention — today known as “regenerative agriculture” — has existed in Indigenous communities around the world throughout history. Yet the growing push to adopt regenerative agriculture practices elsewhere is often selective, using industrial pesticides, for example, or leaving out the well-being of people who farm the land.

“In Indigenous sciences, it’s not possible to separate the knowledge from the ethics of the responsibility for that knowledge — whereas in Western science, we do that all the time,” said Robin Wall Kimmerer, the director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York in Syracuse and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The scientific method is designed to be indifferent to morals or values, she adds. “Indigenous knowledge puts them back in.”

Ideally, the shared use of Indigenous knowledge can help mend broken relationships between Indigenous and Western communities.

In upstate New York, Ms. Kimmerer points to sweetgrass, a native plant used for traditional basketry. She was approached by a tribe concerned about the decline of the plant and looking for a solution.

Government regulations had already restricted its harvest. “One thing people often think about is, is it being overharvested?” Ms. Kimmerer said. She helped to conduct studies that ultimately showed that harvesting sweetgrass, following Indigenous protocols, is the very thing that will help it to thrive. “If you just leave it alone, it starts to decline.”

For her, that speaks to a core flaw in Western approaches to land management: the belief that human interaction is necessarily harmful to ecosystems. “That’s one of the reasons Native people were systematically removed from what are today’s national parks, because of this idea that people and nature can’t coexist in a good way.” But Indigenous knowledge, Ms. Kimmerer said, is really all about, ‘Oh yes we can, and we cultivate practices for how that is possible,’” she said.

While combating wildfires last year, Australian authorities turned to Aboriginal practices. While researchers have connected the severity of the fires to climate change, Ms. Kimmerer added that how Australia’s land has been managed in the modern era may have also played a role. Aboriginal people had “been managing that land in a fire landscape for millenniums, ” she said. “The fact that Indigenous science has been ignored is a contributing factor to the fires there.”

As the world increasingly recognizes the accomplishments of many Indigenous communities that successfully coexist with ecosystems, there is much for Western society to learn.

“We have this notion that Western science is the pathway to truth. We don’t really even entertain the possibility that it could come from somewhere else,” said Ms. Kimmerer. “Resource managers, land managers need to understand that there are multiple ways of knowing.”


New Zealand’s migrant boom is good news for Māori. It empowers us

In many ways, the Maori have played a similar role to French Canada forcing recognition that there is not one monolithic identity and the need for compromise, however imperfect, between different groups.

While in general there does not appear to be much tension in Canada between Indigenous peoples and newcomers, there is a need for greater understanding among newcomers (and indeed among all Canadians) regarding Indigenous peoples and the issues.

I would expect, should the newly re-elected Liberal government get around to it, the replacement to the citizenship guide, Discover Canada, will be far richer in its account of Indigenous peoples:

In April 2003, the year New Zealand’s population hit 4 million, statisticians were predicting the country would hit at 4.8 million people in 2046. As in Europe and North America the country’s birth rate was falling, and no one quite knew whether mass immigration would – or even could – continue at pace. Instead, the pressing concern at the time was how to reverse the brain drain.

In the mid-2000s almost 40,000 New Zealanders were upping sticks each year. Miners and truck drivers were packing their bags for Queensland’s mining boom. Bankers and lawyers were taking up plum jobs in London. Teachers, nurses, and other public servants were comparing what they made in Wellington with what they might make in Washington or Ottawa.

And in that very brief moment it felt as if New Zealandwas topping out. In 2008, the aspiring prime minister John Key took a camera crew to the capital city’s 35,000-seat stadium to illustrate just how big mass emigration was. The implication? We were, to repurpose a dangerous phrase, sending our best – to the US and beyond.

But the consensus among the commentariat was that Key’s stadium stunt was just that – a stunt – and even if he and his party came to power there was precious little they could do to reverse what was the natural order of things: a stronger Australian economy, its gravitational pull drawing in more and more New Zealanders.

Of course the commentators were right. The Australian economy remains stronger on most measures, and mass emigration was still a problem in the Key government’s early years. But one thing no one was anticipating was just how quickly the government would compensate for the brain drain with mass immigration.

In 2017, the Key government’s final year in power, net migration (the difference between those coming in or immigrating, including returning New Zealanders, and those going out or emigrating) was at a record 72,300. In 2015, net migration was at 58,000 and in 2013 it was a little shy of 50,000.

These are small numbers for countries such as Australia or the UK, sure, but for this country it was momentous. In the 20 years to 2014, average net migration to New Zealand was only 13,300.

And this year the country will reach another population landmark: 5 million people. It took more than 20 years to grow from 2 million to 3 million. It took 30 years for it to grow from 3 to 4 million. It took only 16 years to reach 5 million. And we are, because of that growth, a country transformed.

Population growth and the capital that comes with it aretransforming the Auckland skyline. Tradespeople from Asia, the Philippines especially, are in good part responsible for rebuilding Christchurch after the devastating earthquake in 2011. Tourism and dairy, New Zealand’s leading export industries, are thriving off the back of migrant labour.

You can spot the transformation in schools, workplaces and universities, and the streets as well. Māori make up 16.5% of the population, up from 15% in 2013. We’re present in every part of the country’s private and public life, and in a way that was unthinkable half a century ago.

Māori make up 23% of MPs – a disproportionate share – and Māori lead or co-lead every sitting parliamentary party, bar Jacinda Ardern’s Labour. It’s fashionable to imagine New Zealand as a 1950s Britain – the temperate climate, a buttoned-down national character, and the things that were best about Britain like a cradle-to-grave welfare system – but in reality this is a Māori country.

For a very brief moment in the 80s that fact was at the heart of New Zealand’s constitution. The government understood the country as “bicultural”. Two peoples were in partnership, Māori and the European settlers who came after, and we’d run the show as equals. Sure, there was a gap – sometimes even a chasm – between promise and practice, but the aspiration was there.

The problem, though, is mass immigration from the 90s onwards quickly made biculturalism unworkable. In 2019, Asian peoples make up 15% of the population and Pacific peoples another 8%. In this new country only one kind of culturalism works: multi.

For people who oppose Māori reasserting their claim on political powerthis is great news. Māori are just one minority among many, the opponents insist, claiming they’re not even indigenous. But for the small number of Māori who tie their political claims to their demographic power it’s quite terrible. On current trends Asian peoples will overtake Māori as the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand. This is an “ethnic-cultural tension point”, as the country’s leading demographer put it, confirming that in every settler colony, population politics is toxic.

Except when it isn’t. The truth is immigration isn’t diminishing Māori claims on political power. It’s strengthening those claims, pushing each one forward. At Ihumātaohundreds of land protectors are occupying the historic site and reclaiming it for the local tribes. Among the occupiers are groups such as “Asians for Tino Rangatiratanga” meaning Asians for Māori political power. Visitors to the land and supporters of the occupation include west African Islamic scholars, Cook Islands royalty, and indigenous Taiwanese people.

This is what sets New Zealand apart – and maybe above – other countries in the Anglosphere. Māori rights aren’t contingent on their status as a (growing) minority. Population power doesn’t secure our rights. The Treaty of Waitangi does. The country’s founding document reaffirms Māori political power (in the treaty’s own words it reaffirms our “tino rangatiratanga”). And equally so the treaty protects migrants, guaranteeing that New Zealand is their place to stand as well. The only thing the treaty expects of them is to recognise and respect Māori political power. The bargain is that simple and, if Ihumātao is any guide, it’s one that migrants are more than willing to make. This is the reason I’m so happy about New Zealand at 5 million.

Source: New Zealand’s migrant boom is good news for Māori. It empowers us

Racism, citizenship and schooling: why we still have some way to go

Interesting article on the Australian and New Zealand experience with education approaches for Indigenous peoples. Spoiler alert, the better model is New Zealand with the Maori (I was always impressed when my New Zealand diplomatic counterparts would be both in English and Maori):

At a Senate Estimates hearing in May, LNP Senator Ian MacDonald saidhe found it difficult to find any but “very rare” cases of racism in Australia. Though, he did concede perhaps this view had developed “living in a bubble”. Bubbles are dangerous places from which to make public policy.

MacDonald may not have had personal experiences of racism, but 20% of Australians have experienced racism in the past 12 months due to the colour of their skin, ethnic origin or religion.

Racism means people experience citizenship differently. It means opportunities and capacities are not equally available to every citizen and egalitarian justice, the idea of a “fair go” for everyone, doesn’t work as it’s intended.

Racism divides societies and fractures the idea of common nationhood. It helps explain why some people don’t get a fair go at school, for example.

Racism and school policy

Schools operate outside MacDonald’s bubble. But they aren’t ideologically neutral.

Historically, education policy was explicit. Schools were not meant to work for Indigenous people. In the 1890s, inferior curriculums were officially circulated for Indigenous people.

By 1937, the idea of inherent Indigenous intellectual inferiority remained. A parliamentary committee heard and ignored arguments for better schooling:

I say that a full-blood can be educated just as well as a half-caste or non-Aboriginal…I say they must have qualified teachers…At present they are not qualified…

Indigenous people could be excluded from New South Wales public schools until 1972.

Separate schools for Indigenous peoples were established to meet the requirement for education set out by the Aboriginal Protection Acts. But education was usually for domestic service or labouring, and often marked by physical and sexual abuse.

Exclusion is the lived experience of some of the parents of Indigenous people who are in school now. As well as being a denial of equal human worth, the experience of racism at school directly predicts lower test scores.

Racism also occurs at other levels of the education system. For example, in 2017, an Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association member survey found 60% of Indigenous doctors and medical students had experienced racism and/or bullying during training.

Education and culture are universal human rights. But when some people can bring their knowledge, experiences and worldviews to school and others can’t, it produces systemic discrimination. It means different people get different levels of access to education.

Who decides what knowledge counts

Canadian multicultural political theorist Will Kymlicka argues:

the state unavoidably promotes certain cultural identities and thereby disadvantages others. This may be true, but the state can also intentionally promote some cultural identities at the exclusion of others.

In 2008, Julia Gillard insisted bilingual schooling discontinue in the Northern Territory. It was an ideological position that undervalued the relationships between language, cultural identity and intellectual development. Nor did it consider that there are broader and more important contributors to school effectiveness such as teacher quality.

The question of who decides what knowledge counts for Indigenous people is also important. Can Indigenous people really be equal citizens if they can’t contribute to these decisions?

Again in 2008, a Northern Territory government submission to an inquiry into the Northern Territory Intervention made it clear even the citizen’s right to go to school was conditioned by systematic racism.

According to a government submission, policy measures to combat truancy were problematic because if they worked, the system would not be able to cope with the anticipated increase in school attendance. The failure of this policy was expected and accepted for Indigenous citizens.

Where are we now?

In Australia and elsewhere in 2018, policy rhetoric allows Indigenous peoples to pursue higher aspirations. It insists on fundamental human equality and aims to shift MacDonald’s observation from the naive to the prophetic. Eliminating racism from public policy means positive difference is a reasonable expectation of citizenship.

Everybody should enjoy the same political capacities to influence what happens at school, why and for whose benefit. The claim for influence, as a capacity of citizenship, inspires the contemporary call for a guaranteed Indigenous voice to parliament.

But diminishing racism and the policy failure that it causes requires Indigenous voice at all levels of public policy-making and implementation. Culture counts not just in classroom practices, but also in policy evaluation.

There are, for example, important arguments of equal citizenship for Indigenous policy makers to examine the apparent contradiction between low Indigenous achievement in NAPLAN and the only Closing the Gap target on track to be met – halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020. Policy failure can be reduced by replicating examples of success.

What does work?

In 2016, a National Health and Medical Research Council forum proposed establishing an Aboriginal community-controlled education sector. This would parallel the 143 existing community-controlled health organisations and contribute to a citizenship of influence.

The Indigenous Stronger Smarter Institute’s educational principlesreflect an expectation that schools must work equally well for everybody; that education should occur on principles of equal citizenship. This includes acknowledging and embracing a positive sense of identity, Indigenous leadership in schools and school communities, and having high expectations for Indigenous staff and students.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership provides examples of these principles working in practice to improve Indigenous achievement. But the institute’s listed instances of “what works” are not generally measures that have been trialled, evaluated and replicated across whole school systems.

All New Zealand schools are evaluated explicitly and publicly on Maori achievement and their efforts to improve it. Many have raised Maori achievement with reference to an Effective Teaching Profile developed by the Maori led Te Kotahitanga research and teacher professional development project. Its six presumptions are that:

  • teachers care for their students as culturally located human beings above all else
  • teachers care for the performance of their students
  • teachers are able to create a secure, well-managed learning environment
  • teachers are able to engage in effective teaching interactions with Māori students as Māori
  • teachers can use strategies that promote effective teaching interactions and relationships with their learners
  • teachers promote, monitor and reflect on outcomes that in turn lead to improvements in educational achievement for Māori students.

Te Kotahitanga and its successor professional development programmes are widely implemented and the Coalition Government Agreementbetween the Labour and New Zealand First parties commits to further investment in the project.

The contrast between Australia and New Zealand is ultimately one of expectations about what it means to be an Indigenous citizen entitled to a “fair go” as racism’s opposite.

Source: Racism, citizenship and schooling: why we still have some way to go