I have been busy writing an essay on Māori centred approaches to research and it has been fascinating. It is an area I hadn’t really considered too deeply before – just taken it for granted - but after studying it, I realise how out of touch I have been. These are just some random, slightly muddled thoughts on the topic that are running around in my head. I realise that research today is more aware of the issues, but I still think we have a wee way to go to get there.
Māori have criticised much past research and for good reason – mostly research has been done by non-Māori with reputations built and maintained by being the expert – on Māori. The research has been developed and implemented with very little consideration of Māori people or culture. It is amazing to consider the arrogance of believing you can study a culture without recognising and incorporating the cultural values of the group being studied. It is disturbing to think about how disempowered Māori have been in this area and we are talking about research about Māori, so surely Māori should have a say in the research – it seems a minimum requirement to me. But others are the gatekeepers, they set the parameters of the research and they determine the methodologies, and they do the research, evaluate it and present it.
This research structure does not fit within a Māori worldview and is valueless for Māori and therefore our society. Research which describes what Māori already know is worthless and research too often does that and also focuses on comparing Māori with others. This comparing seems to me to be a subtle assimilation tactic because it accentuates the ‘otherness’ of Māori, often in a negative way. The gaps, always the gaps – which show Māori below others but what actually does this research, this measuring do? Sadly as I mentioned above – it does nothing. The next question should be - how can we create something that does make a difference? The answer is there, within Te Āo Māori.
Various models to create Māori centred approaches to research have been developed and they have some attributes in common. The lessons from the past show that knowledge must be actively attained and it must be for the collective good. Research is valuable when it enhances the lives of the people, when it makes a positive difference. Consultation with, and accountability to, the group are explicit within the histories of Tane and Maui and they are the models to follow. This can only occur when Māori values are incorporated within the research structure from top to bottom. Part of this is the defining the purposes of research which should relate to gains for Māori, as Māori. And part is the practise of research - how the research is conducted, the accountability and responsibilities, the ownership and analysis of the research as well as the way Māori interact and participate in the research. As Durie says “Māori people are seeking to control research processes that directly affect them.”
There is ongoing debate around the role of researcher. For many, that person should be Māori - a qualified Māori researcher able to navigate competencies in research and Māori knowledge whilst operating within Māori society. The exchange culture of Māori realises obligation, reciprocity and responsibility as intrinsic for all participants of a research project. Spiritual aspects of tapu, wairua and mana are embedded within the transmission of knowledge: it is sacred and closely guarded and must be deserved. This is in contrast to the western academic view where knowledge is apparently available to all, as of right.
A Māori centred approach to research puts Māori at the centre and is empowering because it allows Māori to be Māori and benefits accrue to Māori people. It provides an integration of the holistic Māori view of everything and highlights the multiple interconnections that influence all aspects of wellbeing. Māori control over research is Mana Māori and repositions Māori from passive researched into active, empowered participants.
To move forward in true partnership between Māori and the Crown requires an acceptance and recognition of a different way of looking at things. We will have to revise the dominant euro-centric approach and realise that other cultures have something to offer. Māori do not accept that they are objects to study - Māori insist on empowerment, on control, and to my mind it is not an outrageous request – it is basic human rights.