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Getting Specific about Kaupapa Māori

posted 22 Dec 2012, 20:44 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 18 Feb 2016, 23:16 ]

In the 1990s Kaupapa Māori was new in the sense that we, as Māori researchers and practitioners in the academy, acquired this term (thanks to Linda and Graham Smith) to spearhead our push for 'by Māori for Māori with Māori' initiatives, including research. Kaupapa Māori allows us to look within the Māori world and treat the knowledge and expertise we find there as normal, valid and legitimate. Kaupapa Māori also facilitates the structural analysis of power relations within our society so that we can understand how Māori are positioned within mainstream systems such as health and education. Through this analysis 'Māori educational failure', for example, becomes the failure of the education system to support and facilitate Māori success. Kaupapa Māori emboldens us to consider racism and sovereignty as ways of making sense of our world.

Within Kaupapa Māori research an analysis of Māori disparities is important as it is in these health, education, justice, etc. disparities that we are able to locate the denial of citizenship to Māori and to challenge current governance models. The production of the Hauora analysis of health statistics by my colleagues at Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora Māori a Eru Pōmare is a key example of this sort of disparities analysis. In the fourth volume of Hauora published in 2007 Bridget Robson and Papaarangi Reid provide an introduction to understanding Māori health disparities and locating them within the colonial context of this country.

Kaupapa Māori research is about seeking matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) - from the traditional to the contemporary. It is within this aspect of Kaupapa Māori that we assert rangatiratanga (sovereignty) through the assertion of our understandings of what it means to be Māori, to be whānau (family), and to be well and connected with our world.

When we talked with Māori around the country about Kaupapa Māori, we were challenged in the 1990s to think more specifically about Kaupapa Iwi (tribe), or Kaupapa Hapū (sub-tribe grouping). We resisted this as it was important to socialise Kaupapa Māori so that it, as a term, might enter into the terminology of government. I believe this aim has been achieved.

My colleague, Hazel Phillips, talks about the need to sometimes essentialize Māori culture as a way uniting people. Linda Smith, in her book 'Decolonizing Methodologies', writes about key cultural concepts that are a way for Maori to come together.

"For Māori a purposeful dream has been conceptualised partially around key cultural concepts such as tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), whānau, hapū, iwi (extended family, sub-tribal groupings and tribe), te reo (Māori language), and tikanga Māori (Māori cultural customs). Thee concepts, which are embedded in the Māori language and world view, provided a way of coming together on Māori terms. (Smith, 2012, p.113, 2nd Edn)

Kaupapa Māori has become a key cultural concept. It was provided a password for those wanting to advocate for and deliver initiatives that are by Māori, for Māori, with Māori, for the purpose of Māori being Māori. While not everyone uses this term, its use is widespread and well understood. Policies and plans have embraced Kaupapa Māori, just as they now include Whānau Ora (Māori family wellness).

It is perhaps now timely to connect Kaupapa Māori more strongly to local issues, priorities, and aspirations. This could happen through a re-naming of Kaupapa Māori to reflect location, or perhaps through discussion and debate about the nuances of local interpretations and implementations of Kaupapa Māori. Whatever happens next, it cannot be denied that this is an exciting time as our understandings, knowledge and ways of practicing our craft (be it policy, research or the provision of services) are set to expand, as we reach further toward the reclamation of Aotearoa, Te Waipounamu me Wharekauri (New Zealand) for our tamariki (children), mokopuna (grandchildren), and the generations to come.