Decolonisation and Aotearoa –

a pathway to right livelihood

Jessica Hutchings


Aio ki te Aorangi

Aroha ki te aorangi

Koa ki te aorangi

Pono ki te aorangi


Kia tau ki te kahukura

Te wairua kore here

te kawe I te tika

me te pono


He tohu aroha tenei

Ki te ao whanui

He maumahara ki te

whea a Papatuanuku


On the 6th of February this year, a day known since 1840 as Waitangi day, I watched with interest, as the nation struggled to celebrate the commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty of Waitangi is the document signed between the British and Maori in 1840, conferring and affirming Maori rights in return for the British right of settlement. I was interested to see how we as Aotearoa2  (New Zealand) would discuss the ongoing Maori protests that called for the Treaty of Waitangi to be honored and the rights of sovereignty to be upheld. Sadly, it is the only day of the year when you can tune into the dominant colonial news service and be guaranteed that Maori protests, as they relate to racial harmony and national identity, will be discussed.

My heart sank as I listened to the media, with hope for more discussion and deeper analysis on the reports of celebration and protest around the country on Waitangi day. But again, I heard a limited analysis of what Maori are saying and seeking debate on. We also saw a failure on behalf of Pakeha [non-Maori] people to discuss many important issues raised by Maori protesters, issues about the essence of this nation: sovereignty, racial harmony, nationhood and, of course, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

What I wish to share within this essay are some of my thoughts on decolonisation and why I believe it must be an essential part of unfolding learning societies. I focus specifically on decolonisation as it relates to Maori women, because I feel though we are of one cultural tradition, Maori women and Maori men have very different experiences and realities. Colonisation has played a significant role in terms of shifts and changes in the status of Maori women. Pakeha men brought their own gender/race/class notions in regard to Maori women, and we experience/d the imposition of Pakeha worldviews that operated heavily within colonial notions. It is therefore important to look at how independence and sovereignty discourses among Maori, including decolonisation, have been informed by a distinctly colonial patriarchal hegemony. As a Maori woman, I must assess whether these discourses are representative of a particular political vision, in which women feature only as "a metaphor for the [independent] state and therefore become the scaffolding upon which men construct national identity."3 

To allow for a more just, inclusive and sustainable future, I profoundly believe that all aspects of our cultural reclamation should be critiqued. I see gender is a fundamental aspect to this critique. I feel that such critical insights into the concerns of Maori women will be valuable in understanding how decolonisation should manifest in learning societies.

While writing this article, a friend came to visit me with passion, enthusiasm and light in his heart after having attended a decolonisation workshop on Waitangi day. He sat with me and shared stories of this experience, which I asked him to write about to include in this article. The stories, words and thoughts under the title, "A Pakeha (non-Maori) Male Perspective of Decolonisation in Aotearoa" are his words. I hope his writing provides another perspective on this dynamic concept of decolonisation and how we all have different but important roles to play in this process.

I believe decolonisation is opening the minds of many Maori and non-Maori in understanding both a truer history of this country and generating new tools to create a more meaningful process of reflection and dialogue. For non-Maori people, part of participating in decolonisation processes is about recognising their role as belonging to the dominant colonial grouping. From my experience as a Maori woman attending decolonisation programs, and carrying out reading in this area,4  it was a wake-up call of just how colonised I had become with regard to my culture and way of living. For example, I had become alienated from the Maori language and needed to re-learn the language.

Decolonisation is also about my right to determine how I will live with and within Maori communities; to reject non-Maori analysis of situations and events that concern me; and to value myself as a Maori woman. Decolonisation is an essential part of being a Maori woman; it recognises the colonial reality we still live in and provides space for Maori women to be visible, by valuing Maori women’s on-going analysis of all areas of life, such as education, language and health systems. To set a fundamental context for exploring decolonisation, I will begin this essay by discussing Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


Te Tiriti o Waitangi

At a National Hui5  in 1984, held at Turangawaeawae, Ngaruawahia, the Maori who were present articulated the following in relation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi:

For Maori, the treaty articulates and acknowledges our status as the Tangata Whenua [people of the land, indigenous peoples] of Aotearoa. It should be respected in a unique way in the country’s constitutional system; it should give rise to legally enforceable rights to lands, forests, waters and fisheries; it gives recognition of Maori as an equal partner with the Crown hence the necessity of existing constitutional structures to be reformed. Above all, the Treaty symbolically reflects, for Maori, the distinctive identification of being Maori.

It is important to make visible that, at the hui, a remit to the above statement was made, concerning Maori women and their status and rights under Te Tiriti. Pre-colonisation, Maori women were active decision-making participants in all aspects of Maori life. Colonisation has seen Maori society adopt a patriarchal system, which has negated the role of Maori women as decision-makers. The remit therefore reads:

That because Maori women constitute over 50% of the Tangata Whenua, there must be equal representation in all areas of decision-making in the future.

Prior to the signing of Te Tiriti, Maori were a nation consisting of a number of iwi (tribes). There are three articles to Te Tiriti and two versions, an English version and a translated Maori version. It is in the translation of the versions that problems arise. In Article 1 of the English version, Maori ceded the right of governorship. But in Article 1 of the Maori version, this was written as kawangatanga. This transliteration of the word "governorship" was a concept Maori were unfamiliar with at the time of the signing. It would have been clearer for "governorship" to be translated as tino rangatiratanga, which means "sovereignty" and "self-rule." Because this was unclear, Maori feel that we never ceded our rights or sovereignty in the Treaty, but only gave some limited rights to Pakeha to look after themselves, subject to our tino rangatiratanga. As Professor Biggs of Ngati Manipoto6  describes,

"…the distinguishing feature of ‘Rangatiratanga’ [high ranking person or chief] was taking care of one’s own people… Thus, it is entirely consistent with notions of rangatiratanga, an essential theme in the power relationships defined within the Treaty, that Pakeha should be given the right to govern themselves […], while retaining and preserving all existing rights and obligations to Maori. The Treaty thus recognised that we had tino rangatiratanga. It not only recognised it; it guaranteed it."

It is important to note that Maori definitions of "sovereignty" traverse a continuum of understandings today. These range from Maori independence through constitutional change, with Maori having a separate parliament, to Maori working within the colonial system to implement models in line with the goals of Maori development. However, I see "self-rule" as being about choices and options. That Maori should have the choice about how we look after ourselves, where we educate our children, how we care for our health. Indeed, self-rule is about having choices to define and use Maori paradigms with regard to how we live, and in this sense, is crucial for the decolonisation process.

The rest of the Treaty is no less problematic and highly contested. In return for Maori ceding their right to governorship, in Article 2, the Queen confirmed and guaranteed:

To the chief and tribes of New Zealand, and to the respective families and individuals thereof, full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess, so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession.

In Article 3, the Queen also extended her protection to the Maori and granted them all the rights and privileges of British subjects; Maori were accorded rights of citizenship.

The Crown reneged on Te Tiriti soon after it was signed. Article 2, which discusses land ownership and natural resources, has been under intense dispute since 1840. The 1850s and the 1860s was a time of land wars in Aotearoa. As a result, the Crown, in direct violation of Article 2, directly confiscated three million acres and indirectly confiscated 16 million acres of Maori land. The confiscation of land dispossessed Maori of their relationship to their tupuna (ancestors), ways of living with the land, traditional foods and livelihood.

Maori have been calling for the Crown to honour Te Tiriti since it was signed. In 1975, there was a Land March of 30,000 Maori from the tip of the North Island to the steps of Parliament calling for the return of Maori land that had been confiscated by the Crown. In the same year, a Waitangi Tribunal, consisting of both non-Maori and Maori, was established to investigate Maori claims against the Crown. This tribunal is still processing claims and making recommendations to the Crown on the settlements to Maori for Crown breeches of Te Tiriti.

It is difficult to predict what will happen with this process, as it is very much in the hands of politicians. We are due to have an election at the end of this year, and our current opposition party, in releasing their Maori Settlements Policy, announced that they are looking at full and final settlement of ALL Te Tiriti claims within six years. But in order for settlements to be durable, they need not be rushed; rather, they must be adequately resourced and Maori need to feel they have been treated fairly. In contrast, to settle all claims in the next six years would require 600% more resourcing from the government than what they currently provide in the settlement process.

I ask myself, is it possible for 3.8 million people sharing these islands of Aotearoa to create enough of a common bond and understanding to hear the voices of Maori and non- Maori protesting to the Crown to honour Te Tiriti? Or is it that we have come to expect these voices and calls of protests, so that the majority of non-Maori have shut themselves down from hearing and engaging with these moral questions? I believe non-Maori are tired of Maori protests with regard to Te Tiriti. This leads me to ask, whose voices are we choosing to listen to, and whose voices sit in the margin in defining and developing our nation? What possibilities are available for creating a deeper dialogue between Maori and non-Maori? I grapple with these and other questions on a day-to-day basis, in every aspect of my life.


Decolonizing Our Lives as Maori

When discussing the colonisation of Maori, scenes of the colonial ship, the Endeavour, and Captain Cook seem appropriate. The displacement of Maori people from their land, combined with the legislative process to remove Maori from their language and culture, all created conditions that allowed for settlers to move in and colonise Aotearoa.

But colonisation is not confined to a period of history, as is so often taught in schools and universities. Within New Zealand, colonisation is alive and flourishing. It has embarked on a greater journey of alienating the Maori peoples from their lands, practices and fundamental freedoms, now with new and more powerful tools of oppression. Maori sovereignty activist Moana Jackson draws an analogy between the processes of colonisation and of film-making:

"Colonisation is about creating a suspension of disbelief, which requires that those from whom power is to be taken have to suspend their own faith, their own worth, their own goodness, their own sense of value, and their own sense of knowledge. Today, colonisation is a process of image-making, where we’re bombarded by Hollywood about what should be worthy in our lives, and today’s scriptwriters, today’s controllers of knowledge [and therefore research] are the descendants of the old scriptwriters of colonisation." 7

The proliferation of base illustrations of Maori is one example of this colonial image-making. Maori are only portrayed in the media when there is something negative to report, and we are continually told our culture is inappropriate and heathen. Genetic modification is also viewed by Maori as another wave of colonisation, as it tramples over Maori traditions and disregards Maori cultural and intellectual property. The New Zealand government has approved genetic engineering experiments, in which synthetic human DNA is injected into cows — despite Maori stating that this is a cultural obscenity in every way possible. As Maori, we ask ourselves if it will always be a struggle to protect basic cultural rites, to maintain our belief system in the midst of the craze for techno-industrial development.

Such outright examples of colonisation lead me to question how our concerns are perceived by non-Maori and what effects colonial practices are having on Maori reality. Pakeha notions and epistemologies have pervaded society, and the hegemony of their ideologies, as well as colonial violence (both physical and symbolic), has externally and internally impacted Maori.

Decolonisation is a tool for reclaiming ourselves and our futures from this impact. Decolonisation is different from post-modernist theorist accounts of deconstruction, where the parts of a situation are segmented and studied independently, to make some sense of the whole. Instead, decolonisation examines how parts interrelate and affect the whole. The concept of decolonisation assumes that we have both internalised colonial ideologies and also agreed upon the need for deeper awareness.8  It thus requires we critically analyse both the process and the outcomes of colonisation.

Without a doubt, we living in Aotearoa need to decolonise multiple layers of colonial oppression. However, it must occur in a way that does not fragment us further, but rather strengthens us according to our varied experiences and issues as Maori women and men. As Maori filmmaker Leonie Pihama9  writes:

"The processes of decolonisation are not universal. Where there are clearly commonalities, there are also specifics that need to be identified as a part of the overall decolonisation agenda. Our colonial experience has been one of denial. Denial of our reo [language], denial of our tikanga [cultural practices], denial of our whenua [land], denial of our taonga [treasures], denial of our whakapapa [genealogy]. Colonial forces have attempted to deny us all of those things that contribute to our notions of who we are and where we fit in the world. The ways in which these attempts were made varied dependent on context and location, as such the effects have been diverse and multi-layered. Decolonisation then includes a peeling back of the layers. Layer by layer. Constantly reflecting on what we find."


Decolonisation and Maori Women

To be a Maori women in Aotearoa, holding convictions about the continual ongoing colonisation of this country and the dishonoring of Te Tiriti, is to take a position on the margin. However, for myself and for many others, it is a position of truth, because it values the Maori cultural context and provides analyses, which are pertinent to us as Maori. For Maori women, participating in decolonisation processes is about providing own our analyses to health issues, social justice issues, housing issues and education issues. An example of this analysis can be found in the work of Te Kawehou Hoskins,10 who discusses how social relationships have taken new forms as a result of colonisation:

"From the first point of contact with tauiwi [Pakeha, non-Maori], our undisturbed sovereignty and cultural life and identities irrevocably changed. I believe that all our social structures have been ‘colonised, distorted and rearranged’ and that the modes of colonisation (warfare, disease, law) and the imposition of a distinctly western hegemony, have meant the construction of ‘new’ forms of social (including gender), economic and political relationships both within Maori culture and between Maori and Pakeha."

For example, within the process of decolonisation, much unlearning occurs around the colonial notion of paternalism, which is ultimately rejected. Decolonisation is a space for myself, as a Maori woman, to recognise the impacts that western colonial notions of women have had on us. By no means were Maori women equal with white women in the colonists’ eyes; rather we were seen as lower in status and worth, as "native" and "savage" women of colour. This colonial stereotype led to the domestication of Maori women into the role of subservient wife and property of man — previously unheard of in Maori culture.

I strongly believe that Maori women’s involvement is key within the decolonising agenda. It is imperative that Maori women are centrally positioned within a decolonising analysis, in order to reclaim past historical constructions of themselves (as "native" and "savage") and to create space to retell their stories. In fact, over the last century, Maori have continually retold history, challenging both western assumptions of dominance and place of privilege within knowledge and historical construction. For example, for over 150 years, colonial history taught in schools in Aotearoa has hidden the impact of colonisation on Maori and tribal history. Rangimarie Rose Pere11  has elaborated on how the Pakeha schooling system contained and promoted a value system distinct from Maori:

"The adult education models to which children are exposed in their formative years dictate and influence the way people later think and feel about themselves. My Maori female forebears, prior to the introduction of Christianity and the ‘original sin of Eve’, were extremely liberated as compared to my English ancestors. With the exception of slaves (male and female), the women were never regarded as chattels or possessions; they retained their own names on marriage. Retaining their own identity and whakapapa (genealogy) was of the utmost importance, and children could identify with the kinship group of either or both parents."


Decolonising Maori Knowledge

Decolonising our knowledge is also a vital part of the decolonisation agenda. While Maori and other indigenous peoples have rejected western knowledge, as the "true and pure" knowledge, for generations, what is often missed in the equation is how non-Maori use Maori knowledge. Indigenous peoples’ knowledge has and continues to be misappropriated by the dominant colonial culture. This has never been acceptable. Permission is very rarely obtained to use and access this knowledge, nor are rights and benefits from the commodification of this knowledge shared with Maori. The exploitation and theft of traditional medicine is an example. Ethno-pharmacology and the biotechnology industries have become major beneficiaries; the estimated annual world market value for ethno-pharmacology is over $US 42 billion! But less than 0.0001% of the profits off of drugs derived from traditional medicine have ever gone back to the indigenous peoples who led western researchers to them.

However, even more importantly, such exploitation disrespects and devastates the deep moral value system embedded in Maori knowledge. Our lives and livelihoods, the health of our planet, and our spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing have always and will always be dependent on our relationships with the environment. Traditionally our people lived and functioned in harmony with nature. We were a society that had no use for over-exploiting our resources. "Either conserve or starve," was a common understanding. In order to survive, we developed a complex set of customs and lore to conserve and protect our natural environment.

The Maori approach to environmental management incorporates the needs and values of people and recognises the interrelationships of the natural world through whakapapa. Our knowledge system appreciates that the natural world is dynamic, fragile, and finite. We believe that all living things have a mauri (life force). Maori concepts, such as tapu (sacred), rahui (restriction), mana (power and authority), and kaitiakitanga (guardian of culture), ensured that the environment and human activities would be sustainably managed in harmony and balance, and the mauri would be protected. This system of lore holds the same validity today, as it did in pre-European times.

Unlike western science, which is secular, linear, and rational, the Maori epistemology is spiritual, holistic and community-oriented. We see the environment as deriving from a spiritual connection, where everything is tied together as one, through the cosmological ordering of whakapapa. In this view, human beings are the servants or guardians of the earth, not its masters or exploiters. The Maori approach strives to strike a balance between human activity and the integrity of nature for future generations.

Today, however, it is important to differentiate between theory and practice. While many Maori believe that the continued depletion of resources necessitates restrictions on human activity, and that a balance is required between development and sustainability for future generations, most do not have the resources or capacities to act on their beliefs. Or more tellingly, they are prohibited by colonial legislation to transfer this theory into practice at the iwi and hapu governance level. Decolonising our knowledge means recognising this gap between Maori cosmology and colonial practices.

As part of the decolonisation agenda, we must make "visible" these and other issues, which are pertinent to Maori and Maori women. Moreover, we must provide an analysis relevant to diverse Maori worldviews. Therefore, within decolonising projects, multiple mechanisms are operating, such as programs to reclaim our language, Maori learning spaces, decolonisation workshops, and Maori-developed and -operated health and social systems. These simultaneously challenge western discourses of dominance and reclaim other ways of knowing and defining reality. An example is the development of Maori-based learning centers. Initiated as a response to save the Maori language, which ten years ago was on the brink of extinction, this program also provide Maori with an education that values their language, culture, history and traditions. It has been very successful in regenerating Maori language and expressions.

A Pakeha (non-Maori) Male Perspective

of Decolonisation in Aotearoa

Alex Barnes <>

I had heard of "decolonisation" before. It had been included in a number of articles I had read, and had been mentioned countless times. For many years, the Pakeha [dominant white] culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand had initiated programs on cultural safety and awareness. However, I found them to be tokenist and superficial towards both indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. These programs acknowledged cultural difference, but failed in dealing with it. They lacked substance and ignored the political nature of relationships that had formed over time. They acknowledged, but did not change or challenge Pakeha dominance and understandings.

Then I, and 40 other young Pakeha women and men, participated in Te Hui Pumaomao, a decolonisation program, which took place in Waitangi from February 3-5, 2002. The gathering was just before Waitangi Day (February 6, 2002), an occasion widely known in New Zealand as "a celebratory day of New Zealand’s nationhood." The timing of Te Hui Pumaomao was significant to me. Waitangi Day has a strong history of protest by Maori groups, who have consistently highlighted past and present Treaty injustices initiated by the Crown and New Zealand government against Maori Tino Rangatiratanga (independence/ sovereignty). As a Pakeha male, I realised that these political and social issues run parallel with discussions surrounding the decolonisation of both Mäori and Pakeha peoples.

Te Hui Pumaomao (facilitated by Takawai Murphy and his Pakeha partner Chris) was the first decolonisation workshop I had ever attended. It took place upon Te Tii Marae, a tribal meeting ground, where the traditional protocols of this iwi (tribe) were incorporated into the facilitation of the event, through the use of karakia (incantations). This in itself challenged many Pakeha participants, who had never been on a Marae or were inexperienced in Mäori ways of operating. The Marae environment not only made us more familiar with and respectful of Maori belief systems, but it was also welcoming and safe, which was important since we Pakeha would be participating in a new and personally challenging process.

The decolonisation workshop incorporated individual introductions, small working groups, role-play situations, and open and honest collective discussion. The issues raised were always related to the past and present situation of Pakeha/Maori relations in Aotearoa. Issues that had, in the past, been portrayed by the Pakeha-dominated media as "divisive," such as Maori independence, were welcomed and being understood by young Pakeha people. We were discussing issues of power imbalance and institutional racism within an open forum. To my knowledge, this had never taken place before.

The emphasis was on the constructive roles young Pakeha can adopt in building real relationships with Maori, as opposed to blaming individuals, who had little to do with the current systems of oppression and inequality. We realized we had to be open to unlearning behaviours taught by the dominant system/paradigm. But I also understood that unlearning behavior is a hard and complex thing to do, especially when surrounded by an environment that actively discourages it.

What I learned in the decolonisation workshop is this: Being part of the dominant culture is not a bad or shameful thing. Instead, it creates an opportunity to make conscious, constructive steps in understanding the people of the land. It is obvious to me that the challenge starts with myself, with my pronunciation, practice, values and everyday thinking. Decolonisation brings with it the challenge of personal development, which will in time re-shape partnerships, families, communities and nations.


Korero Whakamutunga [Last Words]

The need for Maori to challenge colonial understandings and constructions is not new. Maori, along with other indigenous and colonised peoples, have been challenging the West’s assumptions of its own superiority for centuries. I believe decolonisation is a conscious exercise that examines the long- and short-term impacts of colonisation on all peoples. It is a process of recovering from these impacts by making changes to our everyday living situations. It is also a process of re-claiming and re-identifying our position as Maori historically. This agenda is not confined to only indigenous peoples, but is also valuable for the unlearning that non-indigenous peoples, as part of the dominant colonial grouping, can attain. Decolonisation can lead non-indigenous peoples to examine how stories, history and worldviews are constructed and to understand their position in them. Non-indigenous peoples have an opportunity to speak out and challenge hegemony and the continual colonisation of indigenous peoples. Non-indigenous peoples also have a chance to understand how they themselves are being colonized by techno-industrial development.

What makes decolonisation valuable for all of us who seek to unfold learning societies is that it provides opportunities for people to change how they live. We must ensure that the activities we undertake in our everyday lives, whether as parents, within our larger families, at work, in schools, within the media, and in our careers, do not further marginalise, discriminate, oppress and colonise indigenous peoples or anyone else. Are you critical about your place in the world of oppressing others? Are you part of a system or operating in systems that perpetuate the continual colonisation of peoples? Ask yourself these questions and challenge yourself to make movements everyday towards a decolonising agenda.



1 The opening verse is a karakia (Maori incantation) written by Rose Pere. It is traditional for Maori when beginning a discussion to recite incantation. It sets the scene for this article by acknowledging Maori gods. The karakia was sourced from Pere, R. 1991. Te Wheke. Ao Ako Global Learning: New Zealand. Its translation in English is: Peace to the universe, love to the universe, joy to the universe, truth to the universe. May the violet flame, the spirit of freedom, that upholds justice and truth, prevail. This is a gift of love, to the whole world, it is a token of my regard, for Papatuanuku – earth mother.

2 Since colonisation, Aotearoa has been renamed as New Zealand.

3 E. Shohat, cited in Mohanram, 1994. "The Construction of Place: Maori Feminism and Nationalism in Aotearoa/New Zealan," in NWSA Journal, Volume 6.

4 See Smith, L. 1999. Decolonizing Methodolgies. Oxford: Auckland. And Hoskins, C . 1997. "In the Interests of Maori Women? Discourses of Reclamation" in Women’s Studies Journal. 1997 13:2. Spring.

5 A hui is a Maori gathering, where issues are discussed and debated within a Maori cultural context. It is governed by consensus decision making and is run according to Maori cultural practices.

6 Quoted in "Constitutional reform and Mana Wahine," by Maori sovereignty activist Annette Sykes. Te Pua, Volume 3(2). 1994. p.15-20.

7 Jackson, M. 1998. "A Keynote Address to Te Oru Rangahau Maori Research and Development Conference," 7 –9 July 1998, Massey University, Aotearoa, New Zealand.

8 Pihama, L. 2001. PhD Thesis. Mana Wahine. Auckland University. Auckland.

9 Ibid, p. 283.

10 Hoskins, T. 1997. "In the Interests of Maori Women? Discourse of Reclamation." Women’s Studies Journal 13:2. p.28.

11 See Pere cited in Middleton, S. 1988. Women and Education in Aotearoa. Allen and Unwin: Wellington.



Jessica Hutchings <> is of Ngai Tahu, Ngati Huirapa, and Gujarati (Indian) descent. She is part of Nga Wahine Tiaki o Te Ao Marama (Maori women guardians of the world of light), and is also a lecturer in Maori environmental management at Victoria University, Wellington. Jessica is interested in building bridges between different knowledge bases and is especially excited about opening up other people to Maori understandings of landscape, culture and environmental values.