In 2002, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga was funded as New Zealand’s first Māori centre of research excellence. Twenty years on, it’s a home for Indigenous knowledge and research to create flourishing futures for Māori communities and Aotearoa.
This story was created in paid partnership with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.
Whāia ngā pae o te māramatanga
Ko te pae tawhiti, whāia kia tata
Ko te pae tata, whakamaua kia tinā
E puta ai ki te whaiao, ki te ao mārama!
Search in the innermost recesses of the intellect
To seek new knowledge as yet unexplored
As the past is purchased by the present
And the future is the goal of tomorrow.
In 2019, in a two-part special issue of New Zealand Science Review, guest editors Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) and associate professor Anne-Marie Jackson (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Kahu) dedicated the entire journal to covering the increasing integration of mātauranga Māori and western science in Aotearoa. The special issue created a space to share the experiences of researchers “working with mātauranga alongside New Zealand science”.
In their introduction, the editors succinctly captured what mātauranga is and the growing recognition of its value to the research, science and innovation sector in New Zealand: “Increasingly mātauranga Māori – encompassing Māori knowledge, Māori methods of knowledge creation and Māori ways of knowing – is being consulted, aligned with or brought into conversation with science.”
But 20 years earlier, the environment was not as welcoming of mātauranga Māori. In the early 2000s a group of Māori academics came together out of concern for the way mātauranga Māori was largely hidden in back rooms and niche projects – often cast off as a pseudoscience. They were concerned that Māori scholars were largely isolated within the world of academia. Isolated within disciplines. Isolated within research projects. Isolated within institutions. They wanted to create a collective vision and strategy for the future of Māori research guided by mātauranga.
Out of that vision, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga was born in 2002. An academic conglomerate of 21 research partners, Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga is a communal home for research-led and conducted by Māori, for Māori. After 20 years, the impact of the work by its researchers reverberates across Aotearoa and the world.
Those involved in its foundational work were dedicated to the idea of building a community of Māori scholars who could make a real difference through the unique value of Indigenous approaches to research. Graham Smith (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kahungunu) was an instrumental figure in bringing the grand collective concept of a Māori research centre into being. In 2000, when Smith was pro vice-chancellor at the University of Auckland, government funding was announced for the establishment of Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) ,“inter-institutional research networks” intended to break down the boundaries between tertiary institutions and grow the capability and capacity to contribute to New Zealand’s development.
Alongside his administrator Te Tuhi Robust, Smith began the groundwork on the concept of a Māori CoRE – floating the idea past the existing Māori senate at the University of Auckland, and getting buy-in from senior staff across the university. Smith says “when we first started out with the idea, inside the university, and across the country, people didn’t even conceive that it was possible that Māori might actually put up something and that it might be really great”.
In the early days of the new millennium, those who crafted Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga were firmly aware of the political context and it became part of their strategy. From the shadow of Rogernomics – which wreaked havoc on Māori communities, especially those centred on single industries like coal, forestry, and freezing works – emerged the knowledge economy. The downturn in primary industries was met with a desire for new export markets.
The narrative put forward in the bidding process for funding was composed by “a motley bunch of Māori academics and PhD students” on the floor of Smith’s office. While most other bids had employed external consultants, and had university backing, this wholly Māori bid had no support, no money and very few resources. “So it was on hands and knees, shifting around big pieces of paper, discussing and working out what our kaupapa was,” Smith says.
The bid developed into a plan to build integration and cooperation between institutions across Aotearoa. And perhaps even more importantly, a collaboration of key Māori academics.
The group chose two key themes to put forward as their kaupapa for the CoRE funding. The first was based around science and mātauranga Māori. It rested on an understanding that the melding of these two knowledge systems had the potential to produce new knowledge; knowledge that could make a real difference to Māori. The second kaupapa revolved around the social sciences, with a particular focus on improving the socio-economic conditions of Māori.
In March 2002 it was announced that Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga was one of five new CoRE to be established from the government’s new $60m fund. It was chosen from 45 original applicants, and a final 11-centre shortlist, by an independent selection panel established by the Royal Society of New Zealand.
In tandem with these kaupapa, was a continuation of the Māori and Indigenous programme, MAI, which at the time was already running across the University of Auckland. The announcement of the MAI programme’s initial goal, to produce 500 Māori PhDs in five years, made the front page of the New Zealand Herald. It was an ambitious objective – when Smith graduated, in 1997, there were only a handful of Māori PhDs running across the country.
Incorporating the MAI programme into the structure of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga would see the programme flourish, as it extended beyond the University of Auckland and became a national programme. This PhD development became a key part of the work of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga in addressing disparities when it came to Māori participation and success within tertiary education and research training. Between 2002 and 2019, according to the Tertiary Education Commission, 741 Māori PhDs were completed.
In many ways the creation of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga was part of the movement for greater Māori self determination. At the time, Māori education academics were looking at what made the kura kaupapa and kōhanga movements successful in nurturing and reinforcing te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. Its establishment coincided with the language revitalisation movement and, says Smith, built on a specific “mindset shift” that emerged out of the kaupapa Māori struggle. This gave Māori “the confidence to self enact our own transformation” and as a result, “take more control and responsibility for our own education and learning”.
Both Graham Smith and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou), the first co-director with Professor Michael Walker, along with others at the centre of Ngā Pae, had been involved in the politics of the establishment of kura kaupapa, as well as activist group Ngā Tamatoa. “So we had blisters on our hands, ringa raupa,” says Graham Smith.
The group understood that like schools, academia was a site of struggle where they needed to gather more space for themselves, especially for those Māori academics determined to use Māori methodologies and do work that benefited Māori communities. That meant space to participate within the university sector as researchers in a way that better aligned with their shared aspirations.
“It was an opportunity to express ourselves around the politics of our time,” says Smith.
The name Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga was given to the organisation by prominent anthropologist, historian, writer and commentator Sir Hirini Moko Mead (Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s father). It means “horizons of insight”, a reference to Ngā Pae’s whakataukī about the pursuit of horizons of understanding so we may emerge into the world of light. The philosophy endorses the idea that excellence isn’t fixed, and is instead about expanding knowledge and moving beyond the perceived horizons.
As the group established itself within the traditional colonial academic framework, that initial expansion of perception about what Māori researchers could achieve took a lot of effort from the group that launched Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.
Tuhiwai Smith would shape the first iteration of the centre with founding joint director Professor Michael Walker (Whakatōhea). Their respective academic backgrounds were a reflection of the twin themes of the CoRE: Tuhiwai Smith brought with her a social sciences and administrative background and Walker, a background in science.
After attending an initial meeting about the idea for establishing a Māori science conglomerate in August 2001, Walker hadn’t paid much attention to the progress of the CoRE programme. That was until he learned Graham Smith had put his name on the initial expression of interest for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.
As the group went through the funding application, Walker remembers there was little belief they would be successful. They were told there wouldn’t be any room for them at the University of Auckland city campus and they would have to rent their own space. And when they were successful, there was considerable resistance to the group.
“It took us longer to get on top of it than others, because there were pre existing systems where a series of science operations would come together and it was simply an integration. Whereas we were creating something from scratch,” Walker said in an interview at the end of his directorship in 2008.
“Everything we were doing we were doing for the first time. We had to recruit people to build the organisation.”
The first 12 months continued to be incredibly difficult for the newly formed Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. They encountered constraints from above, and felt a noticeable lack of support from the university.
“I just believe they didn’t think Māori could do it,” Tuhiwai Smith says. “They didn’t believe that we could form a centre of research excellence. The early days were purely based on this idealism we had that we could build something really exciting”.
As a collective, they were conscious of trying to model a different way of doing things, a different concept of excellence, and a different concept of research.
“We didn’t really want it to conform to this idea of elite researchers, working away by themselves with a few stakeholders in mind,” Tuhiwai Smith says.
They knew that approach wouldn’t work with Māori communities. Instead they built a research model “that was inclusive, that supported the idea of trying to build a community.”
The collective breadth of the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga whānau has allowed it to create this community. From 2007-2010, and then again between 2014-2017, Professor Tracey McIntosh (Ngāi Tuhoe) held directorship roles at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. A sociologist and criminologist, she found herself working alongside academics from mathematics, biology, education, law, Māori studies and English.
She had crucial involvement in the initial proposal and sat on the inaugural research committee. Her experience on that committee with academics from across the disciplinary spectrum reflects the role Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has played in challenging the traditional boundaries of the university system.
“It was the most astonishing research committee. It really showed, right from the start, the transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary nature of Ngā Pae’s work,” she says.
“It’s been normal for us to sit across disciplines with biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, geneticists on the same project.”
While transdisciplinarity is becoming more commonplace in universities, it was a feature of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga from the beginning. McIntosh credits Walker with initially investing in the creation of that cross-sector community that has defined the organisation’s work.
“Because of Michael’s contribution we had this incredible breadth. It’s been important that it’s shown Māori researchers can have breadth and depth in expertise. I think that the Māori science community feels that Ngā Pae has something to offer and say to them. That’s because of Michael,” McIntosh said as part of the interview in 2008 at the end of her co-directorship with Walker.
This cross-disciplinary research was strengthened in part by the cohort effect of Māori scholars completing their PhDs together who have been interacting across disciplines from the beginning stages of their career. For many of these students, that’s been facilitated by the MAI PhD programme.
“The one discipline we all shared was the discipline of Māoriness, a discipline of love for our culture, and our communities,” says Tuhiwai Smith.
It has also meant an ongoing fight for survival. The people making decisions about the funding of Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga were from backgrounds that saw science as falling into specific specialties and were unfamiliar with the idea that research could be captured by a cultural framework, says Tā Tipene O’Regan, the longest serving Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga board chair who served for 12 years before his retirement at the end of 2018.
“Ngā Pae is expected to not only cover a whole culture and research and studies in connection with it, but also a bicultural world. It has a huge potential curriculum,” says O’Regan. “Which usually made a significant problem when it came to the funding rounds because there would be a panel appointed made up usually of a whole collection of people from the Royal Society, who were nearly all science based. They had a fairly narrow concept of a CoRE.”
O’Regan’s experience as chairman of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board, leading the iwi before the Waitangi Tribunal in what became the Ngāi Tahu Settlement, was essential for the political mana of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. As the major architect and negotiator of the Treaty of Waitangi fisheries settlements of 1989 and 1992, he was accustomed to advocating for Māori cultural outcomes within colonial frameworks.
“We were dealing with a whole culture, historically and aspirationally. Whereas the people who were reviewing us were unaccustomed to the process. They weren’t equipped to deal with a whole cultural bloc in one box. So that made a lot of the negotiation very challenging. But it was an environment I was used to battling.”
A constant hustle
Within this western framework, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has had to constantly fight to prove its value and justify its existence. And in 2014, the years of work establishing the infrastructure, networks and research of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga was nearly dismantled by those who couldn’t appreciate its value and potential. The centre was initially not shortlisted by the Royal Society of New Zealand for further CoRE funding from the Tertiary Education Commission. Without that funding Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga had no way to continue its work and no way to survive.
The decision was met with dismay nationally and internationally. Speaking at a Value of Māori Research hui in March 2014, Dr Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, director from 2009 to 2014, expressed “disquiet and protest” about the verdict and its implications for Māori research. If Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga ceased to exist, Royal feared the progress it had made, but more importantly the potential of the communities it worked for would be abandoned.
“The decision not to shortlist Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is incredibly short sighted. Ultimately the cost comes down upon our communities for whom we conduct research and where the benefits of our work go. And that is the most saddening thing for me, that this profoundly important capability… is endangered with this decision,” he said.
“We cannot let that capability, this opportunity, these relationships, this momentum, this energy, this way of thinking about life merely go by the by, simply because of the decision by six people in Wellington.”
Advocates for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga described the decision as failure to understand the potential of Māori communities and the power of Māori research and knowledge to allow them to find that potential. In a statement on the decision Linda Tuhiwai Smith wrote “what tumbles down is a national infrastructure that could support Māori development across a range of dimensions that simply can not be provided for by existing institutions.”
Royal feared it would undermine decades of work to have Māori voices and perspectives prioritised when research and decisions are being made about Māori communities.
“We have fought very hard to stop looking at Māori issues merely as a bunch of needs. They ought to be put through the lens of the potential of a community, not their problems,” Royal said in his 2014 speech.
“This is what social transformation and equity is about. It’s about the positive transformation of ourselves as a people going forward in a way that is meaningful to us, so we don’t consider ourselves through the lens of a bunch of external agencies as a bunch of needs and problems. We are people replete with potential and actual contribution, we have goals we wish to transform ourselves, and along the way address some of the needs we do have. I’m pretty much describing what Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga does.”
Months of political manoeuvring, community advocac and media coverage – including the close involvement of the Māori Party, who had a confidence and supply agreement with the National government – saw an announcement for five years of funding for a Māori CoRE in the 2014 budget. However, this meant Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga had to prepare a new funding bid for the second year in a row – a hugely demanding process that this time put Māori researchers in direct opposition to each other. To lead the centre through the process, associate professor Tracey McIntosh was again appointed as director of the centre (after previously holding the co-director role from 2007-2009).
In early 2015, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga were notified they were one of three bids; in May it was awarded funding for a further five years (although reduced funding). How close the centre came to being wound up, and how hard it has to constantly fight to stay alive shows the hostile environment mātauranga Māori is always working within, says O’Regan.
“I went to Pita Sharples, and we both went together to see Bill English, we came back reduced but alive. We were alive and living and could function. We owe a debt to English – who saw the argument – and Pita who used his political position at the time to secure his boss’s attention and we got it,” he says.
“That was real hustle, but it was the kind of hustle I had done for my own Ngāi Tahu people for nearly 60 years now. We had to know where the levers were and we made it happen.”
The campaign to secure the future Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga saw the community of Māori academics galvanise around the centre. It led to a greater understanding of the potential of a centre for Māori academics across the country and cemented Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga as the national home of Māori research.
Ngā Pae 4.0
While the research subject areas are diverse, they share a kaupapa and focus on creating transformative change within institutionalised and community settings. At the same time as engaging in their particular disciplines, Māori researchers are drawing on mātauranga Māori. It’s “in those liminal spaces where the disciplines have to work hard to speak to each other,” Mccintosh says, “where you get some really incredibly innovative knowledge generation.”
The work Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has helped establish is a new type of research that works across boundaries, involves communities and importantly, puts collective usefulness ahead of personal interest. This has allowed different fields to combine their knowledge and collaborate to solve real problems, says Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora (Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāi Tūhoe) who has held the co-director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga role since 2017.
As Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has matured, it’s introduced a new set of research themes, significantly different to its previous programmes, which shape the nature of the research they nurture: Whai Rawa: Māori Economies, Te Tai Ao: The Natural Environment, and Mauri Ora: Human Flourishing. These research themes are upheld by a central pou, te reo me ngā tikanga Māori – Māori language and protocols. Te reo me ngā tikanga Māori are essential expressions of Māori philosophy, knowledge, practice and identities, embedded into the fabric of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and woven into each of the research themes.
“What you end up with is a people who are able to fuse, they create fusions of knowledge in order to actually solve problems,” says Nikora.
Over the last 20 years, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has played a critical role in increasing the capacity, capability and mātauranga of Māori researchers, says Professor Tahu Kukutai (Ngāti Tīpā, Ngāti Mahanga, Ngāti Kinohaku, Te Aupōuri), who was appointed as co-director in July. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, she says is “an unapologetically Māori presence in the research landscape – that really wouldn’t have been possible without collectivism and leadership”.
Though the research sector as a whole has slowly shifted to prioritise real world outcomes, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has been focused on impact since its inception. It represented a contrast to the tendency within the academic world of doing research for research sake.
“In many ways, we were ahead of our time in terms of focusing not just on narrow metrics of excellence and world leading journals, but actually what makes a difference,” says Kukutai.
The MAI programme has facilitated this development by producing Māori academics with a relentless consciousness about working for Māori.
“Our researchers are motivated as kairangahau Māori. When you come from a group of people who have been marginalised on your own whenua, you can’t help but be motivated by an ethic for contribution and trying to make things better,” says Kukutai.
Professor Jacinta Ruru (Raukawa, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Maniapoto) was an early-career academic when Ngā Pae came into being. As a lonely Māori law academic in her own faculty at the University of Otago, she watched its development intently. Following the growth of Ngā Pae gave her confidence as a Māori person within New Zealand’s research environment.
“It’s critical, it gives us the confidence as Māori to be who we can be, it helps make us be the best that we can be as academics,” she says.
In 2016, Ruru became Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga co-director alongside Tracey McIntosh. She believes Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga provides profound empowerment by giving Māori academics from across the country a place to be able to sit together through their academic journeys, from PhD and into their careers.
“It gives us the ability to be able to have conversations with Māori who are experts from different disciplines, from different iwi, different lived experiences of being Māori and have all those really incredibly rich conversations,” she says.
The cycle of funding reapplication is a constant challenge for Ngā Pae that creates uncertainty for the organisation. In 2020, Ngā Pae secured eight years of funding. Their previous in 2016, only gave them five years of security.
“We’ve not had a funding increase for at least 10 years,” says Nikora. “And because of that, we’re actually running on less dollars than what we were running on 10 years ago.”
Many of those who have played a role in building Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga would like to see the government give the organisation a permanent place in the academic landscape of Aotearoa, through long term funding. Freeing the centre from the ongoing and highly competitive re-bid process would allow the freedom to plan for the future.
“It’s a treasure for this country, it’s a taonga that’s been cared for and loved by Māori students and Māori staff for nearly 20 years,” she says.
Ruru believes that through Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, that the tertiary sector, the crown and the country as a whole can begin to truly meet Te Tiriti expectations. Especially as the calls to acknowledge mātauranga, te reo Māori and tikanga grow louder and become more widespread.
“Ngā Pae ought to be recognised as a shining light as to the way forward to be able to do that,” she says.
The government has found the means to prioritise research in the science sector, for example, Crown Research Institutes and entities like the New Zealand Law Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. These entities give the government independent advice on legal reform and the environment. Ruru believes there’s no reason the government couldn’t prioritise the need for Māori-led research in the same way through “something as unique, and important, and prominent as Ngā Pae”.
Mātauranga Māori – and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga – should have a much more prominent role in informing and influencing decisions made by the central government, says current co-director Tahu Kukutai. Decision makers, she says, tend to “have their own very narrow view of what constitutes science and knowledge and evidence”. While those decisions are often framed as evidence based, too often they’re not taking into account Māori research. There’s space there for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga to connect more of their research to policy and decision making to ensure Māori communities are not simply acted upon – but instead have mana motuhake.
“A very clear example of this is the government’s pandemic response. Had they taken seriously the advice given by our Māori health experts and community leaders, much of what we see playing out now might have been averted,” says Kukutai.
Disregarding Māori research and knowledge isn’t just to the detriment of Māori, but to Aotearoa as a whole, she says. She points to the country’s unique demographics – one of the most diverse populations in the world, high rates of immigration and a large Indigenous population – that requires a bespoke approach informed by Indigenous knowledge. “We have all these elements in Aotearoa that you don’t see replicated anywhere else – so we actually need a fit for purpose approach,” Kukutai says.
Whether it’s research or beyond, “everything Māori is political”, says Mccintosh. This politically charged quality is just one reason she believes Māori scholarship and knowledge should be informing the most important debates nationally and globally. When it comes to contemporary issues, whether they’re on a global scale like the climate crises or the Covid-19 pandemic, or specific local challenges such as health inequity or the criminal justice system, it’s essential that we draw on a broad range of knowledge traditions. Complex, difficult problems, need to be met with evidence informed solutions. And these solutions, McIntosh says, need to be culturally informed too.
Beyond Aotearoa, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has made a significant contribution in helping to establish a global Indigenous community within academia. Relationships have been forged between its directors and researchers, and Indigenous researchers in Australia, Asia, the Pacific, Europe and the Americas. In its tuakana-like role, the pursuits and achievements of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga have influenced Indigenous scholarship across the world.
The MAI PhD programme was adopted in Canada as the SAGE programme, across three provinces. Conferences hosted by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga are renowned for attracting leading Indigenous scholars and research contributions. Now Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga have established AlterNative, a leading international Indigenous journal that draws on Indigenous scholarship from across the globe.
“I think the spread and influence has been quite considerable. I think one of the big positives for Ngā Pae has been its influence as a model,” says Tā Tipene O’Regan.
“When we bring those people from overseas to the Ngā Pae conference, we are spreading that notion and enhancing that idea that people who live on an island need not themselves be insular. I think that is an important concept.”
Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has made vital space for the emergence of Māori knowledge, and its validity and legitimacy within the world of academia. Carrying on this legacy that others have built helps inform Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga’s vision for the future of the CoRE.
“This is Ngā Pae 4.0,” says Kukutai. “It’s about appreciating the whakapapa of where it’s come from.”
The power of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is in the foundational work that was done to establish it, and the courage it took to demand an investment in Māori cultural ways of doing things as being valid and legitimate. Part of this is acknowledging that while other centres of research excellence come from disciplines “that have hundreds of years of institutional support and acknowledgement” – a fact that is easily taken for granted – Ngā Pae has had to build that same infrastructure and legitimacy almost from scratch.
But not entirely from scratch, Kukutai adds. The foundations of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga are great Māori thought leaders, whose knowledge was informed by centuries of mātauranga. Today, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is an expression of the collective aspirations of Māori scholars across disciplines, institutions and Aotearoa. There is significant knowledge to be found within this 20-year history for those carrying this vision into the future, beyond the current horizon.