7. Re-Claim knowing - Kia mau ki ngā mohiotanga

This section on re-claiming knowing is one of three sections that play on words that mean something in their own right (e.g., claim), but when the prefix of 're-' is added to them imply that we're doing something again, possibly because we need to emphasise our claim, our assertion, or our membership. These last three sections deal with the hopes and aspirations we hold for research being able to add to Māori knowledge and what it means to be Māori. The words are a mirror or lens that we can hold up to ourselves and our research as we ask ourselves whether we have done research work that supports our kaupapa (agenda) 

In this section we look at the role of Kaupapa Māori research in re-claiming knowing. When I think about claiming I think about laying claim to some territory or object. Claiming knowing is about naming and claiming a reality. We start first with some dictionary definitions of these terms before moving into more a discussion of what their use within a research context is about.


Mau is defined by the Māori Dictionary online as '1. (stative) be caught, confirmed, made fast, held, seized, established, captured, taken, overtaken, comprehended, understood, caught out' and '2. (stative) be fixed, firm, secure, hold firm, continuing, lasting, retained'.

Claim is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as 'to take as the rightful owner'. It's also an assertion that something is true, or a demand for what is deserved or due.

Reclaim is defined by Dictionary.com as 'to claim again' and 'to claim or demand the return or restoration of, as a right, possession, etc.' It's also 'to bring back to a preferable manner of living, sound principles, ideas, etc.'


There are many differing opinions about what 'reality' is, with these views informed by power and privilege, by history and context, by ethnicity, sexuality, religion, disability, age and gender and many other characteristics of groups of people (Mertens & Wilson, 2012). Ontology is the term used to describe theory about the nature of reality. Shawn Wilson (2008) writes that ontology is about asking the question, "What is real?"

'Once a set of beliefs is established regarding just what is "real", research then follows these beliefs in an attempt to discover more about this agreed upon reality' (Wilson, 2008, p. 33).

A challenge for Kaupapa Māori research is that Māori knowing is not often viewed within mainstream, colonised society as valid and legitimate. Cindy Blackstock (2009, p. 3) writes about the ontological differences between First Nations people in Canada and mainstream Canadian society. Similar differences exist between Maori ontology and western ontology.

  1. First Nations believe their ancestors were right about most things, and westerners believe their ancestors were either wrong or their ideas could be substantially improved upon.
  2. First Nations believe in an indivisible reality, whereas westerners believe in a reductionist and deterministic reality.
  3. First Nations knowledge is situated within more expansive concepts of space, dimensions of reality, and time.
  4. First Nations ontology and science are constructed as part of the natural world, whereas western culture largely views human experience as separate from the natural world.
  5. First Nations believe in multiple dimensions of reality, whereas western culture tends to focus on only the observable dimension of reality.
  6. First Nations believe there are sufficient resources to meet everyone’s needs, whereas westerners focus on a scarcity of resources primarily driven by a conflation of want and need. 

For Kaupapa Māori research to inform a Māori ontological theory it must expand on what is real for Māori, and assert this knowing so as to re-claim a Māori theory of reality. Linda Smith (1999, p. 37) writes that

'Research is linked in all disciplines to theory, Research added to, is generated from, creates or broadens our theoretical understandings'.

Writing our own theory about the nature of reality, of existence, is our attempt as Kaupapa Māori researchers "to explain our existence in contemporary society" (Linda Smith, 1999, p. 38). In this way we re-claim our own concerns, our own priorities, and our own solutions.

'[Theory] gives us space to plan, to strategies, to take greater control over our resistances. The language of a theory can also be used as a way of organizing and determining action. It helps us to interpret what is being told to us, and to predict the consequences of what is being promised. Theory can also protect us because it contains within it a way of putting reality into perspective. If it is a good theory it also allows for new ideas and ways of looking at things to be incorporated constantly without the need to search constantly for new theories" (Linda Smith, 1999, p. 38).

This might seem like a tall order - to create a theory of reality. But recall Linda's last words - we should be testing the existing Māori reality or theory of reality and adding to it through our research. We should be testing the assumptions that are made and adding in new voices, especially the voices of those who are marginalised and isolated within Māori society. So the assumptions we test can be either mainstream assumptions about Māori and/or Māori assumptions about Māori reality.

In thinking about re-claiming knowing we should ask ourselves whether our research has, even if only in a small way, added to our understanding of Māori reality. This might be through the two tasks of Kaupapa Māori research; namely, giving voice to Māori realities, and providing an analysis of the structural barriers to this reality being seen as 'normal', valid and legitimate within Aotearoa New Zealand (Graham Smith, 2012).


Blackstock, C. (2009). Why addressing the over-representation of First Nations children in care requires new theoretical approaches based on First Nations ontology. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 6(3), 1-18. 

Mertens, D. M., & Wilson, A. T. (2012). Program evaluation theory and practice. A comprehensive guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Smith, G.H. (2012). Kaupapa Māori: The dangers of domestication (Interview with Te Kawehau Hoskins & Alison Jones). New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 47(2), 10-20.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York & Dunedin: Zed Books & Otago University Press.

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony. Indigenous research methods. Black Point, Nova Scotia, Canada: Fernwood Publishing.

Linking to Other Pages

8. Re-Assert knowledge - Kia Māori ngā mātauranga

9. Re-Member people - Kia maumahara ngā tangata


From: Cram, F. (2013). He Rangahau Kaupapa Māori: A guide to undertaking a Kaupapa Māori research project. Auckland: Katoa Ltd. Available from www.katoa.net.nz.