Protecting Mātauranga Māori within an open knowledge platform

Translate This Post

Written by Worldsgreatestmum, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand.

When I first made a Wikimedia account in late 2023, I created it intending to make articles centred around Māori history. I wanted to do this for multiple reasons, firstly, it was an area in which I was comfortable researching in and creating content for, and I wanted to produce something informative and well-researched, something that I could be proud of. My second motivation was loftier and more emotional, and it is that I wanted history significant to me, my family, and my wider community, to be shared and understood. I wanted people from across the world to learn, and connect, and appreciate the history of Māori people. I wanted to do my small bit in demystifying Indigenous history. I wanted others to know what I knew. I wanted to connect.

The first article I created was for the nineteenth-century chief Tara Te Irirangi, a man based in the East Auckland region and a significant leader across the Auckland landscape during his life. I descend from Tara Te Irirangi. If I were to chart my family tree I believe he would be my great-great-great-great grandfather, with maybe a couple more greats added in. I was excited to begin researching, I wanted to create a good article that would reflect his importance to not only Māori history but New Zealand history more broadly. As I started researching, digging through government reports and transcribed oral submissions, I discovered detailed recollections of histories passed down through generations, minute details about day-to-day occurrences, personality quirks and treasured stories. The stories I found were rich and beautiful, full of strength, sorrow, and joy. As I read, I thought about the information I was reading, and how precious it was. This was not my information to share. Within Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), whakapapa (genealogy) and mātauranga (knowledge) are taonga (treasures), and considered tapu (spiritually and culturally sacred). In accordance with Māori frameworks of knowledge-sharing, each whānau (family), hapū (sub-tribe) and iwi (tribe) has the unalienable right to the protection of these taonga, and therefore this information is not required to be shared, or be open knowledge and accessible to all.

This truth around Māori taonga is in direct conflict with Wikimedia’s mission of developing educational content under a free license, to be disseminated globally and effectively. This truth also directly contradicts the traditions of anthropologists and ethnologists for centuries, where culture, particularly indigenous culture, was something to be dissected and splayed out to view, detailed and sterile. I found myself feeling complicated, frustrated, and uncomfortable. Why did Wikipedia feel entitled to this information? Why would my article be considered less worthy if I withheld these taonga? Why does Wikipedia not understand the cultural context which I am working within? On one level I knew exactly why Wikipedia did not understand my cultural context, as its origins can be traced back to middle-class white-American men of the early 2000s with a passion for technology and a bank account to support it. These origins do not diminish the value of Wikipedia, but understanding the context of its creation was an irritating necessity for me to understand my specific frustrations with it.

Wikimedia as a whole, and Wikipedia specifically, has created the perfect conditions for knowledge-hungry individuals with minimal cultural competency to insert, share, and link as they please, regardless of the desires of the people who are attached to that knowledge. Education is a right, and accessible information is a beautiful and valuable thing, but conversations must be had, and considerations must be made. When writing an article on Wikipedia, or uploading an image on Wikimedia Commons, extra care and thought must be given to not only Māori but all Indigenous items. With pure intentions harm can still be caused, please do not perpetuate the colonial brutality of ethnologists and settlers accidentally. As Wikipedia continues to grow and develop, in not only knowledge, but also inclusivity and representation, Indigenous models of knowledge holding and sharing must be more deeply considered. I hope that he devoted editors of Wikipedia can support this, and as a community and a movement, we can not only share, but treasure and protect the knowledge that is so valuable to us.

Further reading on the topic of Indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty:


Can you help us translate this article?

In order for this article to reach as many people as possible we would like your help. Can you translate this article to get the message out?