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Census inadequate: Māori development requires rethink

Monday 5th March 2018

Census inadequate: Māori development requires rethink

The National Census provides an opportunity to reflect on Māori participation within New Zealand policy making and the extent to which tools like the Census provide for positive Māori development, highlights policy and politics lecturer John-James Carberry from Te Pūtahi a Toi, Massey University’s School of Māori Knowledge. This includes the extent to which the constructs within the Census are conducive with Māori aspirations, providing data that is relevant and effective for the projective planning of future Māori development pathways, he claims.

“Given the relationship between the Census, policy design and resource distribution it is important that Māori constructs are included to enable the mining of data that is of vital importance to iwi and hapū” says Mr Carberry. “For example, the fact that hapū are unable to access Census data specific to their respective populations limits their ability to strategise long term. This has ongoing costs for Māori and wider Aotearoa in terms of lost opportunities and is something that we should be seeking to remedy”.

In 1857 the first official attempt to enumerate the Māori population was undertaken via a separate census. By the turn of the 20th century, a government focus on Māori assimilation saw Māori identity within the Census being defined on the basis of blood quantum, a practice that continued until the passing of the Māori Affairs Amendment Act in 1974. The use of a separate Māori census continued until 1951, where from this point statistical information on Māori became a by-product of the national Census. While there has been some positive developments, such as the abandoning of Māori identity based on blood quantum, in terms of data collection tools there is further work to be done, Mr Carberry claims.

“Historically characteristics measured in the Census were essentially designed in the interests of European colonists. In terms of Māori aspirations, data produced by the Census has been accessible in as much as it has aligned with the interests of the cultural majority. As with other state systems and processes in Aotearoa such as education and health, there is a need to further develop data collection tools that can remedy the governments exclusion of Māori cultural values, philosophies and world views” states Mr Carberry.

One of the positive developments over the last few years has been the notion of ‘indigenous data sovereignty’, or the need for greater Māori authority in the design, collection, interpretation and access of Māori specific data produced by governments through tools like the Census. There is greater potential, suggests Mr Carberry, in further shifting the focus from government resources and policy to what might advance hapū and iwi autonomous development.

“Māori independence is undermined when we conform to the production of data that justifies our access to government resources on the basis of need. This has created a reliance and preoccupation with state policy instruments and resources, which restricts what development could and is understood to be at the hapū level. Hence, our human and environmental treasures are typically framed in terms of high unemployment and under-utilised Māori land as opposed to vast, untapped potential”.

“While there has been much focus on iwi development, hapū represent a powerful unit for realising Māori aspirations at the grassroots, community level. Better data collection at the hapū level would further our capacity for positive Māori development on a national scale and provide an environment more conducive to aims of Māori independence. Whether or not the Census or another avenue is the most appropriate for this purpose is something we should explore” concludes Mr Carberry.


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