Kaupapa Māori Research

The Māori research as described on this page is research that is done by Māori within a Kaupapa Māori Research paradigm.

Photograph: Katoa Ltd©

Kaupapa Māori

Kaupapa Māori is literally ‘a Māori way’. Graham Smith describes Kaupapa Māori as:
  • Related to ‘being Maori’,
  • Connected to Maori philosophy and principles,
  • Taking for granted the validity and legitimacy of Maori,
  • Taking for granted the importance of Maori language and culture, and
  • Concerned with the ‘struggle for autonomy over our own cultural well-being’.

In other words, the core of Kaupapa Māori is the catch-cry: ‘to be Māori is the norm’. As an analytical approach Kaupapa Māori is about thinking critically, including developing a critique of Pākehā (non-Māori) constructions and definitions of Māori and affirming the importance of Māori self-definitions and self-valuations. (Also see a related commentary post.)

The potential of Kaupapa Māori as an intervention strategy for the transformation of Māori is based upon six intervention elements or principles:

Tino Rangatiratanga - the self-determination principle

The principle of tino rangatiratanga has been discussed in terms of mana motuhake, sovereignty and self-determination. Tino rangatiratanga is about having meaningful control over one’s own life and cultural well-being. This principle is embedded in the Treaty of Waitangi. In signing this Treaty in 1840 the sovereign chiefs of Aotearoa New Zealand sought to protect their taken-for-granted, sovereign rights into the future.

Taonga tuku iho - the cultural aspirations principle

Kaupapa Māori theory asserts a position that to be Māori is normal and taken for granted. Te reo Māori (the Māori language), matauranga Māori (Maori knowledge), tikanga Māori (Māori custom) and ahuatanga Māori (Māori characteristics) are actively legitimated and validated. This principle acknowledges the strong emotional and spiritual factor in Kaupapa Māori. Kaupapa Māori knowledge has its origins in a metaphysical base that is distinctly Māori. As Nepe stated, this base influences the way Māori people think, understand, interact and interpret the world.

Ako  - the culturally preferred pedagogy principle

This principle promotes teaching and learning practices that are unique to tikanga Māori (custom). There is also an acknowledgment of ‘borrowed’ pedagogies in that Māori are able to choose their own preferred pedagogies. Rangimarie Rose Pere writes in some depth on key elements in Māori pedagogy. In her publication Ako she provides expansive discussion regarding tïkanga Māori concepts and their application to Māori pedagogies.

Kia piki ake i nga raruraru o te kāinga - the socio-economic mediation principle

This principle addresses the issue of Māori socio-economic disadvantage and the negative pressures this brings to bear on whānau (Maori families) and their children. This principle acknowledges that despite these difficulties, Kaupapa Māori mediation practices and values are able to intervene successfully for the well-being of the whānau. The collective responsibility of the Māori community and whānau comes to the foreground.

Whānau - the extended family structure principle

The whānau and the practice of whanaungatanga (family connectedness) is an integral part of Māori identity and culture. The cultural values, customs and practices that organise around the whānau and collective responsibility are a necessary part of Māori survival and achievement. There are many examples where the principle of whānau and whānaungatanga come to the foreground as a necessary ingredient for Māori education, Māori health, Māori justice and Māori prosperity.

Kaupapa - the collective philosophy principle

Kaupapa Māori initiatives are held together by a collective vision and commitment. In Māori education, for example, ‘Te Aho Matua’ is a formal charter that has collectively been articulated by Māori working in Kaupapa Māori initiatives. This vision connects Māori aspirations to political, social, economic and cultural well-being. Likewise in Māori health, a healthy Māori would have be healthy politically, culturally, socially and economically.

Kaupapa Māori Research Paradigm

In a Kaupapa Māori Research paradigm research is undertaken by Māori, for Māori, with Māori. An important aspect of Kaupapa Māori Research is that it seeks to understand and represent Māori, as Māori. This includes a structural analysis of the historical, political, social and economic determinants (enablers and barriers) of Maori wellbeing. As I've previously written, Kaupapa Māori researchers have two roles (Cram, 2006, p. 34).

First, researchers need to affirm the importance of Māori self-definitions and self-valuations. Second, researchers need to critique Pākehā/colonial constructions and definitions of Māori and articulate solutions to Māori concerns in terms of Māori knowledge. These dual agendas are intertwined; for example, the critique of Pākehā commonsense makes space for the expression of an alternate, Māori commonsense.

Kaupapa Māori research is about reclaiming power. In the first instance this is power over how we are represented within research. Secondly it is power over Māori knowledge and Māori resources. However such research is not done in a vacuum – in the past non-Māori researchers have committed many transgressions against Maori. This has led to suspicion and a lack of trust of research within Maori communities. The participation of Māori, as with other Indigenous peoples throughout the world, in the entire research process is essential if the confidence of whānau, hapū and Iwi in research is to be recovered.

Kaupapa Māori within research practice dictates that Māori tikanga and processes are followed throughout the research, from inception to the dissemination of results to the ongoing relationship formed between the researcher(s) and the research participant(s). We engage with our community and involve them in the research. 

A Kaupapa Māori Research Paradigm does not exclude the use of a wide range of research methods. The research tools that we use are often very contemporary, scientific ones; for example, epidemiology, focus groups, evaluation research, etc. There is also the ongoing development and/or reclamation of Māori methods. Any research method is first interrogated for its cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural reliability, useful outcomes for Māori, and other such measures. 

Kaupapa Māori Research is undertaken in a number of fields (e.g., education, health, environmental studies), and a number of different methods are used (e.g., quantitative, qualitative).

  • The 'Researching with Māori Collectives' project looked at a number of different methods and asked whether or not they would be suitable for use within Kaupapa Māori research with whānau (Māori families).
  • Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora Māori a Eru Pomare are specialists in Kaupapa Māori epidemiology.
  • There is a growing field of Kaupapa Māori evaluation.
  • The Whānau Ora initiative is exploring the links between Whānau Ora, Kaupapa Māori and Action Research.

Research that is by Māori, for Māori, and with Māori is a political endeavour as it is working for social transformation and thereby some re-distribution of resources. It is therefore likely that the research will encounter resistance by those with the power to carry out this redistribution. It is for this reason that we need to be draw on the strength of our community and also the strength of our research training to gain the best of both worlds.

If you are relatively new to research and want to know more about how to ask research questions and explore knowledge from within a Kaupapa Māori research paradigm then follow the learning-by-doing process outlined in 'Research for Beginners'.

Other information available on this website includes:

Kaupapa Māori Research Ethics

Kaupapa Māori research ethics guide the way in which we engage in research: from how research ideas are developed, the methods that are selection, how participants are involved and treated, to the way data is analysed and reported on, and the impact of our research. Read more here.

Recommended Reading

Cram, F. (2005). An ode to Pink Floyd: Chasing the magic of Māori and Iwi providers. Earlier version published in J.S. Te Rio (Series Ed.), Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga - Research and policy seminar series. Turnball House, Wellington, February 2005. Auckland: Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

Pihama, L., Cram, F. & Walker, S. (IRI, in conjunction with Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare) (2002). Kaupapa Māori principles and practices: A literature review. Report to Te Puni Kōkiri. Auckland: IRI.

Smith, Graham (2004). Mai i te maramatanga, ki te putanga mai o te tahuritanga: From conscientization to transformationEducational Perspectives. Indigenous Education37(1), 46-52. 

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. 2nd edition. New York: Zed Books & Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

Smith, L. T. (2005). On tricky ground - Researching the native in the age of uncertainty. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 1-12). Thousand Oaks, California.

More information about Kaupapa Māori is available at www.kaupapamaori.com and www.rangahau.co.nz.


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