Māori scholars say their work isn't getting fair recognition due to racism, unconscious bias

By Te Aorewa Rolleston of RNZ

Māori scholars say their work is not getting fair recognition because of racism and unconscious bias within the world of publishing.

The tertiary sector, particularly the publishing and peer review process, was not inclusive of work from indigenous academics, they say.

Jacinta Ruru, the first-ever Māori Professor of Law, said Tangata Whenua have had to resort to creating their own journals in order to have their voices heard.

"To succeed as a scholar you must be published, that is a requirement of our job."

Global publishers were a big part of the problem, she said.

"Māori don't feel that the mainstream publishing journals are very welcoming of us.

"As a scholar, as an academic, you're wanting to get your journal articles into those journals where there is high readership and that's those mainstream journals and for the most part, that is not where indigenous peoples are publishing.

"Our Māori academics and our indigenous scholars around the world are not getting their work published in those realms and that is of major concern."

'So much excellent indigenous scholarly work'

Carwyn Jones, an associate professor at the faculty of law from Victoria University of Wellington, Te Herenga Waka, said the lack of Māori and other indigenous academics within scholarly publishing was not related to academic ability.

"There's so much excellent indigenous scholarly work and it really is a question of some of the issues around the publication process."

The issues around peer-reviewing and the lack of indigenous and Māori peer-reviewings had to do with the lack of indigenous scholars in university institutions, he said.

This fell on the institutions themselves to address and recruit more indigenous faculty members, said Dr Jones.

"One of the real difficulties often is finding a reviewer who isn't already burdened with many other requests for reviews or the other work that goes along with being an academic and an indigenous academic in particular.

Carwyn Jones.
Carwyn Jones. Photo credit: Chevron Hassett/The Wireless via RNZ

"When you look at the way in which the peer review process works, it does tend to reinforce a number of the existing institutional biases that exist in academia - the value that is placed on indigenous scholarship is affected by the sometimes explicit, sometimes unconscious racism of the reviewers."

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, an independent researcher formally at the University of Waikato, said the publishing world was as discriminatory as the academic world.

The power especially lay upon the editorial board of journal publications, editors, and those within publishing houses who made academic decisions, she said.

"There's a whole system of power inside publishing and each of those areas in publishing has a lack of representation by not just indigenous but by people of colour more broadly.

"What a journal does is define a field of what counts as knowledge, so what's happening for Māori and indigenous when we can't get published is those journals are telling us that the work we do, the language we use, the focus that we have as researchers is not valid," she said.

Peer reviewing was always a problem for Māori and indigenous academics, said Prof Smith.

"It's an anonymous process often and behind that cloud of anonymity, a lot of reviewers are very racist, they're very mean, they're very sexist, they're not helpful and they dismiss indigenous knowledge."

RNZ spoke to the Royal Society of New Zealand's Te Apārangi's Ahorangi chief executive Dame Cindy Kiro about the issue of under-representation of Māori and indigenous perspectives in academia.

The publication was an independent not-for-profit that published scholarly journals covering areas of science, technology, and humanities. It also included engineering, applied science, and social sciences. There was an under-representation of Māori academics within scholarly publishing and this was linked to the way in which the academic publishing system has been set up, Dame Cindy said.

"There is a problem and it's to do with the way in which [the] system prioritises certain relationships and kinds of knowledge over others."

"You need peers who are prepared to mentor you into international peer-reviewed journals, you need to be known, you need to collaborate with people who already have pre-publication or publication histories who are known to the people on the editorial boards," she said.

The ability to influence international journals was much more constrained due to the editorial boards being situated overseas in places like the UK and the US, said Dame Cindy.

But The Royal Society was trying to address the place of Māori within academic research with the induction of 27 new fellows, Ngā Ahurei, of which 15 were Māori.

The New Zealand Medical Association and New Zealand Medical Journal declined to be interviewed.