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Combining indigenous and western scientific knowledge a pathway to greater understanding - study

While western scientific method has traditionally dismissed how indigenous cultures express their knowledge of how the world works, bridging the two could create a pathway to greater understanding, according to a new study released today.

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Co-authors Clare Wilkinson and Dan Hikuroa joined Breakfast to discuss their study, released today. Source: Breakfast

One of the study's co-authors, the University of Auckland's Dan Hikuroa, said while there has been a long-held view in science that indigenous knowledge can be dismissed due to it being passed along in story form, the knowledge is still well-informed. 

"We've demonstrably proven that the knowledge can be accurate, it can be precise and it's entirely empirical in its nature," Mr Hikuroa told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning. 

Co-author Clare Wilkinson, from the University of Canterbury, said she got the idea to carry out research into landscapes and earth surface processes, informed by indigenous knowledge, after being "just really struck by the Māori culture and ... the stories and the songs and felt like there was so much information captured in those media."

She said while her research is still in its early stages, she noted how Māori knowledge runs parallel to how western scientists may look at the world.

"I've had a lot of conversations about how landscapes change through time, how rivers will occupy a certain area and then move and come back, and so there's so many different topics in Māori stories that are parallel to the way that scientists or geomorphologists think about river systems and landscapes," she said.  

Mr Hikuroa said some of his past research has looked at stories of rivers being described as taniwha in the form of lizards, with its tail residing in cliffs.

"It's said 'beware the flicking tail of the lizard,' and the lizard resided in these cliffs, and where the tail flicked back and forth - which is where every time the river flooded, it would jump its banks ... through time, it behaved as if it's the flicking tail of a lizard."

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Co-authors Clare Wilkinson and Dan Hikuroa joined Breakfast to discuss their study, released today. Source: Breakfast

He said it has been "quite a battle" to get people to process the story as genuine information, however. 

Ms Wilkinson said the study has also provided information on how to approach indigenous knowledge, including getting in touch with people at research institutes and universities who "know the appropriate engagement protocol for the local indigenous people."

She added that after engaging with indigenous groups, people can co-design the research project and the approaches and values involved in conducting it.