Tahu Kukutai is an associate professor at the University of Waikato.
As a specialist in demography, she’s often in the news commenting on the changes and trends in New Zealand’s population.
Here she is talking with Dale — and, this time, she’s emphasising the need for Māori to have a real say in Aotearoa’s immigration policy.
Kia ora, Tahu. I’ve just been looking at the chapter that you and Arama Rata wrote in Fair Borders? That’s a book where you and a number of other writers have zeroed in on New Zealand immigration. And your chapter paints a picture of Māori having no say in who we invite into our country — despite the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga in 1840.
It’s not as if that’s a minor issue, either, because immigration plays such a big part in shaping our country. In fact, you point out that Aotearoa has a much higher proportion of foreign-born people than the US or the UK — and that more than 40 percent of Aucklanders are migrants.
Well, immigration is absolutely key to understanding our population — now and in the future. And I’ve been troubled by the absence of a Māori voice in research around immigration. It’s almost as if Māori development is seen as something that’s independent of, or irrelevant to, immigration.
But, of course, the two are interconnected. And there’s a big place for Māori in making the decisions that affect immigration.
Tell us about your colleague who worked on the chapter with you.
Arama is one of our new research officers at N.I.D.E.A. That’s the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis. She’s from Maniapoto and Ngāruahine and has a background in psychology and statistics. She has a strong interest in immigration and in anti-racism. And she brings a really thoughtful analysis to this intersection of te ao Māori and immigration. She’s wonderful. So, I’m fortunate to have her to work with.
In your chapter, you refer to the “swamping” of the tangata whenua once the Treaty was signed. The figures, if I recall them correctly, are that in 1840 the ratio of Pākehā to Māori was about 1 to 40. Twenty years later it was 50:50. And, by 1874, it was 10 to 1 in favour of Pākehā. The imbalance wasn’t just from immigration though. There was also a much higher rate of Māori mortality as our people were exposed to diseases introduced by the new arrivals.
You would’ve thought, though, that all through those years — and since then too — Māori would’ve had a say, and a significant say, in who comes here, and when they come.
That’s true. But, although we’ve been Treaty partners, we’ve had almost no pathways to influence immigration decisions. And, when Māori have voiced concerns — as when Tariana Turia did, or Margaret Mutu, or Ranginui Walker — the reaction has often been vilification, which isn’t a very constructive way to address legitimate Māori concerns, or to respond to a Māori willingness to contribute.
Actually, there’s a real opportunity for New Zealand to benefit from a robust Māori input into immigration and our vision for this country. There are some big questions to be answered. Like what role does immigration have? And what role do Māori have in relation to migrants?
But we haven’t had those conversations. Māori are soon going to be 20 percent of the population. We’re very significant, demographically and politically. And there’s also rapid ethnic diversification through immigration. So we can’t afford to ignore what happens when those two things come together. And it’s vital that we have multiple Māori voices and meaningful Māori input.
One reason is that we have a lot of value to add because our focus is nearly always long-term and intergenerational. Thinking about the long-term for the whenua and for our mokopuna. That vision is needed in immigration.
Governments, however, have tended to bring a reactive, ad hoc approach to immigration rather than a vision built on values. So we have a lot to contribute as Māori.
The mainstream media doesn’t pay much attention to the need for that sort of discussion, does it? It’s more inclined to run stories that paint a picture of migrants being the country’s saviours — and Māori being anti-immigration.
Those views tend to be taken out of context. Naturally, immigration means something really different for indigenous peoples who’ve been subject to colonisation than it does for the dominant group. Māori have experienced demographic swamping. That’s what colonisation was. We were dominated and disempowered.
So, for indigenous peoples generally, the experience of immigration has been different — and we come to that issue with a different sense of history from those in the dominant culture.
Now, having said that, there’s no solid evidence at all that Māori are inherently opposed to immigration. We have a long history of seeing the benefit of immigration. That’s as long as our mana is upheld, as long as we have the power to make decisions and to be good hosts. We don’t have a history of being anti-immigration.
Many migrants that I’ve met hope to have an understanding of the complexity of our histories, of the colonisation of Aotearoa and of the Treaty. Sadly, many arrive who have no knowledge of that. Then they don’t learn it through our mainstream media. And their kids are liable to get very little of it at school. There’s no pre-requisite for those who want to live in our land, to understand things. Should there be?
There’s no doubt that this should be a core part of what it means to be a part of New Zealand. The problem, of course, is that for decades the approach in Aotearoa has been one of envisaging the nation in a very colonial image.
And so there hasn’t been a place for Māori culture, tikanga, reo or history in our curriculum or in our public institutions that shape public perceptions of what it means to be a New Zealander. That’s a problem within Aotearoa. It’s not particularly one for migrants who arrive here.
But how are they meant to understand it if we still haven’t resolved some of those Māori-Pākehā issues? Migrants shouldn’t have to go searching for that information. It should be really visible to them. It should be part of our institutions. It should be part of the citizenship ceremonies.
One of the things that migrants have to do is take the Oath of Allegiance which requires new citizens to swear to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors.”
Athough there’s now an option to take the oath in te reo Māori, and some councils have the occasional marae-based citizenship ceremony, the substance of citizenship is wholly geared to one Treaty partner. There’s no recognition at all that they’re coming into a country that’s founded on a Treaty partnership.
That recognition should be there. That shouldn’t be a mystery for migrants. It should be front and centre when they come into this country. And I don’t think we’d find a lot of resistance from migrants. The migrants that I’ve met are really receptive and they want to know more, and they feel a little cheated that they haven’t been given that opportunity.
Perhaps it serves the purposes of the dominant, mainstream culture if they’re kept in the dark.
I don’t know if it’s done deliberately. I think it’s just reflective of the Euro-dominant way of defining and thinking about national identity — and it just hasn’t made a meaningful space for Māori as Treaty partners.
It’s a real shame because that’s what is distinctive about Aotearoa. We’re not a neo-Europe at the bottom of the world. We’re our own distinctive country. We’re in the Pacific. We have Pacific relationships. We are distinctively Māori. We are distinctively Pacific. So, when people come to this whenua to make this their home, that should be made obvious to them.
And I think now is the right time for this conversation. There’s always been a kneejerk reaction from the public when Māori raise concerns about immigration and make the argument for a greater degree of Māori influence. This is often dismissed as xenophobic or racist.
But that’s simply not the case, and we need to have a more open, constructive conversation on how we can have a more fit-for-purpose approach to immigration that puts Māori at the centre.
In the course of your argument for our country to take a different and a more Māori approach to immigration, you focus on the concept of fairness or tika, which you define as what is “right, just, fair or proper”. You also argue that manaakitanga should be seen as a valuable part of the thinking on immigration.
And this is what you say in your chapter, From Mainstream to Manaaki: Indigenising our Approach to Immigration:
“Manaakitanga is a core Māori value that can be defined as ‘the process of showing and receiving care, respect, kindness and hospitality’.
It is often used in reference to the hosting responsibilities of mana whenua when met with visitors, but also extends to care that is taken to manage and protect resources.
The root of manaakitanga is mana; ‘aki’ indicates reciprocal action. The concept of manaakitanga, then, captures the notions of mutual care and respect for people, honouring one another or power sharing, and the protection of our environments.
For this reason, manaakitanga provides a useful framework when envisaging a tika system for immigration.”
That’s a beautifully rich Māori concept to bring into these considerations.
Well, if there was ever a time when we needed to invoke these values of manaakitanga, it’s now. In this crazy world that we’re living in at the moment, there’s so much race hatred, xenophobia, Islamophobia, political opportunism and scaremongering.
This is a time when we need solid, constructive values — and these values would enrich our approach to immigration. Manaakitanga is such an important concept in te ao Māori, that it would resonate with us as mana whenua, as tangata whenua, in how we can be good hosts. How migrants can be good visitors, too. How we can work together productively.
We already have this tikanga in te ao Māori about how this operates. We have hundreds of years of experience of enacting manaakitanga — and it’s a concept that is fluid and can adapt to different contexts. It’s a concept that’s timeless. And I think it’s one that’s desperately needed here.
There’s an implication of reciprocity that makes it even more useful in this discussion, doesn’t it? It’s not a one-way kindness. It’s encouraging each other to be mindful and respectful.
Absolutely. It’s about relationships. It’s not a one-way street. Of course, there might be a temptation to interpret the concept in a very tokenistic way. Like: “Okay. Let’s just have a pōwhiri and hongi at the citizenship ceremony.”
But true manaakitanga requires something deeper than that. When we’re exercising manaakitanga as hosts, we’re empowered to manaaki. It involves a level of empowerment and recognition, respect and mutuality. Manaakitanga brings us together.
And, as I understand it, it would involve grappling with significant practical issues such as easing the difficulties that some migrants face in obtaining family unification schemes. Then there’s what you refer to as New Zealand’s “embarrassingly small refugee quota in the face of a major global refugee crisis.”
Yes. And there’s the plight of climate refugees. That couldn’t be tolerated within a system where care and respect are central.
Among the obstacles, though, in making progress down the path that you and Arama are advocating is the reality that the Treaty hasn’t been honoured and Māori don’t have the tino rangatiratanga promised in the Treaty. So Māori influence is limited.
You are, however, still hopeful — even confident — judging by your words in the final paragraph of your chapter:
“During our own migration story, our ancestors were able to navigate to these shores due in no small part to their strength of vision. Our navigators were able to see the distant islands of Aotearoa and pull them forth. This same ability to see beyond the horizon will enable us to pull forth a new constitution for this nation. The waka has been carved, and provisions are being loaded. Current political tides, treacherous though they may be, will not keep us from our destination: a fair, diverse and inclusive Aotearoa.”
Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century is edited by David Hall and published by Bridget Williams Books. Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata co-wrote a chapter entitled From Mainstream to Manaaki: Indigenising Our Approach to Immigration.