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Postcolonial Profiling of Indigenous Populations

Limitations and Responses in Australia and New Zealand
Démographie post-coloniale des populations indigènes. Limites et réponses en Australie et en Nouvelle Zélande
Tahu Kukutai et John Taylor
p. 13-27


La construction sociale des populations indigènes est source de contradiction, dans la mesure où les catégories et conditions de la démographie postcoloniale reflètent nécessairement les institutions sociales et économiques qui encadrent le vivant du plus grand nombre. Puisque les modes d’existence des populations indigènes ne sont que rarement pris en compte par ces mêmes catégories, les statistiques officielles omettent ou présentent à tort des aspects clés de la socialité indigène. Cet article interroge les limites des statistiques officielles dans l’établissement de profils sociaux de ces populations en Australie et en Nouvelle-Zélande. À partir d’études de cas, il décrit la manière dont les citoyens indigènes eux-mêmes réagissent à ces limites en produisant leurs propres profils démographiques et indicateurs sociaux en guise de gouvernance intracommunautaire. Une attention particulière est également portée aux moyens de rendre les statistiques officielles plus « indigènes » afin de mieux répondre aux besoins de ces organisations et communautés.

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1Despite chequered histories linking official statistics, demography and Indigenous policy, governments in the settler states of Australasia and North America continue to invest substantial time and resources in monitoring the wellbeing outcomes of Indigenous peoples. In recent decades governments in New Zealand and Australia have amassed a wealth of statistical data on Indigenous Māori and Aboriginal populations, and both peoples are a significant focus of population research and policy in their respective countries. However, a contradiction exists in the social construction of Indigenous populations in that the categories and contexts employed in this form of postcolonial demography inevitably reflect social and economic institutions that frame the lives of the majority populations. Because such categories are rarely inclusive of Indigenous ways of being, key aspects of Indigenous sociality are either missing or misrepresented in official statistics and the analyses derived from them.

2In this paper we identify and critique the limitations of official statistics, and related demographic practices, for social profiling of Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand. Using case studies from both countries, we illustrate some of the ways in which Indigenous polities are themselves responding to limitations by generating their own demographic profiles and social indicators as a form of community governance. Such an examination is timely. Within the discipline of demography, there is a growing awareness of the need to move beyond the well-worn paradigm of demographic transition theory, to embrace a “comprehensive demography” which explicitly addresses questions of causality at the intersection of population and development [Charbit & Petit, 2011]. The emergence of a critical Indigenous demography, involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, has highlighted the epistemological and methodological shortcomings of applied demographic research on Indigenous peoples, and generated calls for more innovative approaches [Altman, 2009 ; Andersen, 2008 ; Axelsson et al., 2011 ; Kukutai, 2011b ; Mako, 1998 ; Moreton-Robinson & Walter, 2009 ; Prout, 2011 ; Taylor, 2008, 2009, 2011 ; Walter, 2010 ; Wereta & Bishop, 2006]. Indigenous communities and advocacy organisations have also expressed growing dissatisfaction with the ways in which they are constructed as populations within their settler states, as well as how their wellbeing is prioritised and reported on [United Nations, 2004, 2006 ; Wereta, 2002 ; Wereta & Bishop, 2006 ; Yu, 2011].

3These appraisals, emanating from different sources, provide an opportune moment to critique the demography-policy nexus in two specific Indigenous contexts and to reflect on how Indigenous demography might be undertaken differently. To that end the case studies presented here – the Yawuru Knowing our Community survey in Broome, Western Australia, and the Māori Plan for Tāmaki Makaurau in Auckland, New Zealand – illustrate the ways in which official statistics and the practice of demography might be fruitfully ‘indigenized’ to better meet the needs of Indigenous communities and organisations. More importantly, we argue, these projects offer compelling examples of how the historically fraught relationship between demography and Indigenous development can be productively reforged when Indigenous peoples are placed at the centre, rather than on the periphery, of the research process.

Figure 1. Map of Australia and New Zealand

Figure 1. Map of Australia and New Zealand

Constructing and classifying indigenous populations

4Critical perspectives on state practices of ethnic counting and classification are indispensible for understanding the context within which postcolonial demography operates. Such practices are important because they effectively determine how Indigenous populations are statistically constructed and subsequently reported on. Nowhere is this more evident than in the national population census. Although the counting of human populations has its roots in Antiquity, the national census is a modern construct, emerging in the United States in 1790, and extending to much of the New World, including New Zealand and Australia, by the late 19th century. Today, the majority of the world’s countries engage in some form of census-taking, its ‘scientized’ form discursively positioned as a universal and efficient mode of objective inquiry across countries with divergent histories and social conditions. Among social scientists, however, State practices of counting and classifying are more often understood as political acts that reflect and maintain inequalities in institutional power arrangements. Census-taking technologies and population statistics have thus been linked to bureaucratic control and surveillance ; state-facilitated interventions upon the national citizenry ; and elite goals of nation-building [Foucault, 1991 ; Hindess, 1973 ; Kertzer & Arel, 2002].

  • 1 Prior to 1986, the census and other official data collections in New Zealand used the concept of bl (...)

5Within these critical perspectives, ethnic schemas are seen to play an important symbolic role in maintaining group hierarchies by portraying a particular vision of social reality congruent with the discourses and concerns of those in power. Such discourses include what an ideal society ought to look like ; how it ought to function ; and who should be included within the bounds of nationhood and citizenship [Andersen, 2008 ; Kertzer & Arel, 2002]. One need not look far to find examples of how population data were utilised in efforts to civilise, assimilate and integrate Indigenous peoples. In New Zealand, for example, the statistical interest in Māori-European “half-castes”1 was clearly linked to colonial polices of racial amalgamation [Kukutai, 2011a]. With time and effort it was anticipated that Māori would eventually lose their separate identity and become absorbed into what one government minister described as a “…white race with a slight dash of the finest coloured race in the world” (cited in Belich, 2001, p. 190). The relative proportion of half-castes to Māori full-bloods was seen as an important indicator of the rate of amalgamation. As the Under Secretary of Native Affairs observed in the 1906 Census report (cited in Kukutai, 2011a, p. 37) :

It is an idea of many people that the ultimate fate of the Maori race is to become absorbed in the European. Whether any tendency is shown in this direction must be gathered from the increase or decrease in the number of half-castes.

6Likewise, in Australia, as recently as the 1930s it was expected by the State that indigenous people would disappear as a distinct population. This was to occur as a consequence of inexorable and excess mortality amongst so-called ‘full-blood’ indigenous people, as well as via the social reclassification of those considered ‘half-caste’ under a deliberate policy of cultural assimilation into mainstream society up until the 1960s [Smith, 1980].

7Though egregious labels such as ‘half-caste’ may now be a thing of the past, the relationship between the presumed rational, scientific nature of official statistics and the socially constructed nature of the categories underpinning those enquiries continues to produce a particular set of challenges for postcolonial demography. Like all disciplines, demography has its own peculiar view of what constitutes meaningful and valid research. As Caldwell (1996) observed in his seminal paper on demography and social science, demographers are interested in the central tendencies of groups ; in minimizing sources of error ; and in the production of “social facts” carefully assembled from quantitative data. There is a deep aversion to engaging in practices considered to be non-scientific [Caldwell, 1996]. Perhaps because of this, demographers have generally been reluctant to admit to the subjective and social biases in their work – that is, to recognise that their social facts are built on categories that are politically informed and socially constructed. This tension is hardly new. As Hindess (1973, p. 47) argued forty years ago, the evaluation of social statistics for scientific purposes is always and necessarily a theoretical exercise, such that “... different theoretical problematics must produce different and sometimes contradictory evaluations of any given set of statistics.” His dismissal of “true” categories as a “figment of the empiricist imagination” (p.40) served as a cautionary warning not to conflate statistical categories with the underlying social reality (see also Caldwell, 1996), but remains a challenge for postcolonial demography. A key point to note here is that, despite the move towards the adoption of self-identification of Indigenous status in the national censuses of most settler states, the State still controls the available demographic categories and, therefore, the prism through which indigenous sociality is statistically constructed. This control is the essence of postcolonial demography – a point elaborated further below.

Postcolonial demography in Australia and New Zealand

8As distinct from postcolonial theories, which engage with and contest colonialism's discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies, postcolonial demographic profiling refers to the forms of applied demography that have emerged, mostly in the last 30 years, in support of attempts by the State to quantify indigenous peoples as a separately identified homogeneous population, and to respond to their perceived needs. The dilemma for appropriate measurement – an issue that demographers care deeply about – is that this form of liberal multiculturalism arises from a view of Indigenous particularity as a simple opposition to the dominant society [Kowal, 2010, pp. 189-192]. This, in turn, requires a mechanism for establishing difference in order to respond to it and the official device instituted for this purpose is the broad population binary Indigenous/non-Indigenous. Statistically, postcolonial logic requires that the official representation of Indigenous sociality is necessarily relational. The aim is not to give expression and substance to Indigenous difference, but simply to compare those aspects of it that the State feels it wants to influence. Along the way, much that is uniquely Indigenous in terms of economy, society and worldview is rendered invisible [Altman, 2009 ; Walter, 2010].

9In both Australia and New Zealand, this binary has found impetus in recent times by first of all generating, and then sustaining, a policy discourse around ‘Closing the Gaps’ where the object of government policy towards Indigenous peoples is reduced to ensuring convergence across a range of key social indicators [Australian Government, 2009 ; Te Puni Kokiri, 1998, 2000]. In this environment, the focus is on information that defines the ‘other’ based on a legal/analytical definition of Indigenous peoples and their attributes, as opposed to self-definitions that are more culturally-based. As Niezen (2003, p. 19) points out, this produces frustration for Indigenous peoples because of their historical and social diversity, and because the question of official definition now sets analysis against identity. Critics have thus argued that Gaps policies have little to do with enabling or empowering Indigenous peoples to live the sorts of lives that they want and value, but rather represent a continuation of historical policies of assimilation towards the European norm [Altman, 2009 ; Humpage & Fleras, 2001]. While few dispute the importance of addressing Indigenous disadvantage, the problem with Gaps-type approaches is that contemporary forms of inequality are decoupled from the unequal institutional arrangements that structure the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the State, itself a legacy of colonialism. The solution thus becomes one of changing individual Indigenous behaviours and orientations (e.g., to lead healthier lifestyles, develop greater labour market attachments, and so forth), rather than addressing the fundamental power inequalities that continue to designate many Indigenous peoples as second class citizens in their own homelands.

10In Australia, it is only relatively recently that Indigenous peoples have been made visible in official statistics. The constitutional referendum of 1967 that repealed a clause excluding Indigenous peoples on the basis of racial identification from the count of the Australian population opened the way for their separate enumeration. This coincided at the time with the wishes of Indigenous people to continue to be identified in the census but without ‘distinctions of descent’ [Rowse & Smith, 2010]. The result was a self-identified race question in the 1971 census that (with slight modification) has formed the basis for constructing a consistent population binary ever since. The capacity to statistically identify Māori as a distinct population has been available since 1874, though the definition of who counts as Māori has been subject to much change [Kukutai, 2011a]. To the extent that the enumeration of Indigenes in New Zealand and Australia is deemed ‘successful’ (i.e., is carried out in a manner consistent with scientific standards), the product of postcolonial demography is well-suited to the targeted provision of citizen entitlements. Crucially, though, it fails to provide for Indigenous peoples’ interests in their inherent and proprietary rights expressed through customary forms of social and political organisation.

11In Australia, these rights are increasingly manifest in the many forms of native title settlement and agreement-making that exist for incorporated land-holding groups [Tehan et al., 2006] as well as in widespread and associated configurations of post-classical Indigenous social organization that Sutton (2003) refers to as “families of polity” involving cognatic descent groups. These he describes as the most visible customary organisational structures of contemporary Indigenous society enabling larger groupings into tribal units or language groups. Importantly, they are the sort of groupings that constitute the major structural element of public life in contemporary Australian Indigenous society as manifest via widespread applications for native title determination. As such, they provide the means by which Indigenous peoples express collective identities and seek to negotiate for their needs and aspirations including fundamental issues of recognition, inclusion and economic opportunity [Tehan et al., 2006, p. 3].

  • 2 The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 between Māori tribes and the Crown, has been described as th (...)

12In New Zealand, pre-European Indigenous forms of social and political organisation were likewise based on cognatic kinship groups. For Māori the most important of these were hapū (clans) which, from time to time, joined with others to form broader tribal groupings known as iwi. The impacts of colonization, the large-scale alienation of collectively owned hapū land, and the intense rural-urban migration of Māori that occurred after World War II meant that by the 1960s “the tribe was largely an abstract concept” [Metge, 1964, p. 58]. However, since the late 1980s, iwi (and to a lesser extent, hapū) have re-emerged as major economic and political institutions, driven largely by government policy and financial settlements relating to breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi2, and the historical alienation of Māori land and resources [Webster, 2002]. The tribal renaissance – manifest in political power, economic influence, and increasing popularity through identification in statistical forums such as the census – means iwi are now a force to be reckoned with, even as Māori, as a people, continue to be disproportionately over-represented in all the negative social statistics [Walling, Small-Rodriguez & Kukutai, 2009 ; Webster, 2002].

13In both countries, the shift to a post-settlement context has amplified the need for robust statistical data for kinship groups, as well as for urban and pan-tribal Indigenous associations. However, a significant irony is emerging in that, at a time when we see an unprecedented volume and range of data on something called ‘the Indigenous population’, mostly as a consequence of efforts by national statistics agencies, there remains a dearth of information on the various socio/cultural entities that make up those populations [Kukutai, 2011b ; Taylor 2009, 2011 ; Walling, Small-Rodriguez & Kukutai, 2009 ; Wereta, 2002]. As a consequence, in matters that are crucial to the interests of variously constituted Indigenous polities, we are increasingly information rich but invariably knowledge poor. The limited capacity of official data to capture the socially situated meanings of demographic events in Indigenous communities is well illustrated by ethnographic research on ageing and population mobility in Australia, briefly described below.

Chronological versus social age

14Age is the classic control variable of demography. Use of chronological age provides life-stage categories such as infants, school-age, school-to-work transition age, prime working age, and old or retirement age and these are routinely linked to demographic events because of the shifts in biology and social expectations that they imply. But as Taylor (2009) has shown, in many Indigenous societies in Australia, especially in remote areas, age is just as likely to be a social category constructed around age grades, age sets and generation sets whose cultural meaning reflects social status and responsibilities and indicates whether a person is married or unmarried, initiated or uninitiated, or has a particular degree of prestige and so on. Consequently, uniquely Indigenous life stages exist that carry with them particular obligations, expectations, behaviors, and statuses but these are invariably unrecorded. For example, the age range from around 9 to18 years in which western education expects full-time attendance at school is also the one in which Indigenous boys progress in stages to manhood with potentially quite different priorities and expectations [Ivory, 2008]. Similarly, many young women will already have assumed marriage and motherhood roles according to customary expectation. The implications of these social practices for fertility and labour force participation are largely unknown due to lack of measurement, but it would be a mistake to assume that chronological age alone provides a sufficient framework for the analysis of demographic events.

Population mobility

15Similar observations regarding the inability of mainstream instruments to capture key aspects of Indigenous sociality have been made in respect of population mobility. A recurring theme in the Australian ethnographic literature is the recognition of frequent circular movement of Indigenous peoples between places that combine to form functional regions based on the location of significant kin or on a need to access services [Morphy, 2010 ; Memmott et al., 2006 ; Taylor & Bell, 2004]. However, conventional fixed-period census questions are not designed to capture such movements and they therefore go unrecorded despite being a prominent feature of Indigenous social and economic life [Taylor, 2011]. Part of the problem here is identified by Morphy (2010, p. 377) as a failure to take into account “units of sociality that are larger than the individual, household or nuclear family”– a view of the region and wider domestic moral economy in which individuals are embedded by relatedness. This echoes calls more widely in the social sciences for ethnographic and biographical accounts of population mobility so as to interpret population movement as culturally-situated in social fields and individual and group lifecourses [Halfacree & Boyle, 1993 ; Lawson, 2000 ; McHugh, 2000].

Indigenizing demography from the ground up

16One of the legacies of being counted, classified and monitored by the State is that Indigenous communities and organisations have, understandably, been sceptical of efforts to quantify them, particularly when the production of so-called social facts has been carried out with little apparent benefit for the communities involved and, at times, has explicitly worked against their interests [Walter, 2010 ; Wereta, 2002]. However, as Indigenous entities have shifted from challenging the State to focusing on the development of internal capabilities, attitudes have begun to change. In part this reflects an acknowledgement that demography, whatever its shortcomings, provides useful tools for generating critical information with which to pursue Indigenous self-determining projects. It also reflects a pragmatic recognition of the extent to which population research continues to provide the evidence base for government policy approaches to Indigenous development. As one Indigenous demographer argues, “‘... if Indigenous researchers are not the framers of the discourse that flows from the data then it is non-Indigenous researchers who set research agendas, prioritise research questions and frame analysis and interpretation that usually cast us as the ‘problem’ to be researched” [Moreton-Robinson & Walter, 2009, p. 11]. In recent years the authors have been involved in two separate projects, both driven by and for Indigenous communities, which embody the foregoing challenge of peoples doing it for themselves. In the following case studies we describe how two very different Indigenous communities in Australia and New Zealand have strategically incorporated demographic methods and practices as a means of realising their own aspirations for improving their collective wellbeing.

Native title and population statistics in Broome, Western Australia

17In 1992, the High Court of Australia upheld a claim that the continent was not ‘terra nullius’ or land belonging to no-one when European settlement occurred. In a decision referred to as the ‘Mabo decision’ after the main claimant, the court found that native title rights survived settlement, though subject to the sovereignty of the Crown. The government’s legislative response to this decision was the Native Title Act 1993 which established a regime to ascertain where native title exists and who holds it. Since that time, there have been a total of 134 determinations of native title on behalf of Indigenous land-holding groups amounting to 1.2 million sq. kms or approximately 15 per cent of the Australian land mass. One such determination has been in respect of the Yawuru people whose land is now occupied by the rapidly growing town of Broome in the north west of Western Australia (fig. 1). In 2010, the Yawuru Area Global Agreement was registered as a formal resolution to issues arising from an 18 year process of native title claim preparation, mediation, bitter litigation and successful negotiation by Yawuru native title holders. This settlement of Yawuru native title lands involved a $200 million land and financial package, thus securing Yawuru as a prime equity partner in Broome’s economy and in its conservation management and social development.

18As the Indigenous rights agenda gradually shifts in such situations from the pursuit of restitution to the management and implementation of benefits, those with inherent and proprietary rights are finding it increasingly necessary to build internal capacity for community planning including in the area of information retrieval and application. In launching the Yawuru ‘Knowing our Community’ (YKC) survey of Indigenous households in Broome in 2011, the Yawuru set a precedent in Australia in the acquisition of statistical information as an act of self-determination and essential community governance by insisting that this be to serve their internal purposes as well as to to enable representation of their own priorities and circumstances to the outside world [Taylor et al., 2012]. This survey was unique in many ways. It was not the first survey of Indigenous households ever to be conducted in an urban centre in Australia, not least in Broome. It was, however, the first to be knowingly comprehensive in coverage based on the prior local identification of Indigenous households, and the first to be developed, managed, conducted and controlled entirely by local Indigenous organisations and local Indigenous residents for the primary purpose of informing their own local planning needs. The exercise can be described as the first truly Indigenous social survey in Australia on a whole-of-population scale.

19This action was deemed necessary because of a perception by Yawuru that official data from the national census had in the past significantly under-represented the Indigenous population of Broome and, as a state-administered process, it had no capacity to represent the cultural diversity of the Indigenous population that lives on, or visits, Yawuru Country. The case is well articulated by a senior Yawuru leader :

The view I have about data is a long way from the current paradigm where data is collected on Indigenous society by governments for their purposes, not to support the objectives that Indigenous people want to determine. I share a pervasive Indigenous aversion to the way data is collected by governments, academics or professional researchers on or about Aboriginal people. …despite the wealth of empirical data dished up by countless inquiries, Royal Commissions and research projects over many decades about the social and economic condition of Aboriginal society, little practical benefit seems to come from all this data. Th[e] categories are constructed in the imagination of the Australian nation state. They are not geographic, social or cultural spaces that have relevance to Aboriginal people [Yu, 2011].

20The message conveyed is that new governance arrangements in the post-native title determination era should inevitably be informed by locally-controlled and customised information. Yawuru leaders are acutely aware of the importance and power of this : it provides them with a customised evidence base for decision-making ; it assists a dialogue between different native title groups in the region who are affected by an expanding mineral resources sector ; it provides a baseline to measure impacts of economic and social change on Indigenous society ; it provides a basis for informed dialogue with government and industry ; and, it provides a basis of accountability for public policy and investment for Indigenous development in the region [Yu, 2011, p. 7].

21The results of the YKC survey highlight the benefits of having local control over information-gathering and the ability to apply a methodology that more effectively identifies, engages with, and elicits a response from the Indigenous community. Basically, the YKC count of usual Indigenous residents of Broome was 48 per cent higher than the most recent official census count (in 2006) and the survey identified 44 per cent more Indigenous households [Taylor et al., 2012]. It also recorded, for the first time, that Yawuru had become a minority group on its own land, accounting for less than one-third of around 3,600 Indigenous residents, but was the largest single grouping among more than 50 other Indigenous language affiliations. All, of course, were outnumbered by an influx of non-Indigenous residents. Importantly, the Yawuru corporate group now has a geocoded unit record population database at its disposal from which to generate statistical outputs for population groupings and to use as a reliable sampling frame for cost-efficient surveys on issues of concern such as housing affordability, school to work transition, and aged care. Incorporation of these data into a Geographic Information System also provides for spatial inquiries – already it has been deployed to demonstrate that a simple re-routing of the town’s only public transport network would increase reasonable access to a bus stop from 19 per cent of the town’s indigenous population to 57 per cent [Taylor et al., 2012, pp. 25-28], a significant improvement for a population with relatively low vehicle ownership.

22Conceptually, the collection of demographic, social and economic information related to the Indigenous peoples of Broome was designed to establish an evidence base that would enable Yawuru to embark on a logical sequence of social and economic planning. This emphasis on evidence-based planning underlined an urgent need for accurate demographic data, not least because there are no official data available for the Yawuru population group/social collective. This was a significant shortcoming for meaningful community planning because whatever the detail of local plans might be, it is crucial that they are based on reliable estimates for the target population. In terms of programs, it requires reliable breakdown into infants, mothers, school-age children, youth, young adults, middle-aged, and older people. Ideally, it also requires that statistical events in the population (such as employment numbers, school enrolments, housing conditions, hospital separations etc.) are drawn from the same population universe – such that numerators are drawn from matched denominators in the calculation of rates. Unfortunately, in official statistics on Indigenous populations generally, this concordance is not always certain.

Monitoring Māori wellbeing in Auckland, New Zealand

23The second case study of demography as a form of Indigenous community governance is located in Auckland, in the upper north of New Zealand’s North Island (fig. 1). With a population of 1.5 million, Auckland is home to one third of the New Zealand’s total population ; a level of concentration unusual by OECD standards, and which will only intensify with 60 per cent of the country’s projected population growth over the two decades expected to occur in Auckland [Statistics New Zealand, 2010]. As the preferred location for corporate headquarters, Auckland is the country’s business hub and contributes more than one third of the country’s GDP [Auckland Council, 2012]. It is also New Zealand’s only ‘super city’, the result of a recent process of local government reform, and is governed by an influential and politically prominent body, the Auckland Council. The Council features regularly in the national media and recently embarked on an ambitious long-term plan to elevate Auckland to the status of ‘world’s most liveable city’ (it currently ranks 10th in a popular list of the world’s most liveable cities list, see Economist Intelligence Unit, 2012).

24Of the nearly half million Māori counted in the 2006 census, one in four lived in Auckland, making Auckland-resident Māori an important part of the overall Māori population. Since the early 1990s Auckland has undergone rapid ethnic diversification and this, combined with historic patterns of European settlement, means that the demographic visibility of Māori in Auckland is low relative to many other parts of the North Island. In 2006, 11 per cent of the Auckland population identified as Māori – significantly below their national share of 16 per cent. Despite the tendency to homogenise Māori as a monolith ethnic group, they, like other settler state indigenes, are internally diverse with respect to socio-economic status and ties to Maori identity, culture and traditions [Kukutai, 2011b]. This is especially so for Auckland’s Māori population, the legacy of the intense Māori rural-urban migration that occurred after World War II, and high rates of intermarriage with Europeans and, to a lesser extent, with Pacific peoples.

  • 3 The Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 defines mana whenua group as an iwi or hapu that ( (...)

25One of the consequences of local government reform in Auckland has been the drawing of sharper distinctions between two groups of Māori known as mana whenua and mātaawaka. The former refers to Māori descended from any of the 19 iwi and hapū whose customary homelands fall wholly or partly within the super city boundaries. The latter refers to Māori who live in Auckland but who lack a kinship connection to any of the customary tribes3. In 2006, mana whenua comprised a relatively small share of all Auckland Māori, at around 15 per cent. Since 2010, mana whenua and mātaawaka have been represented, at a local government level, by a unique political entity known as the Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB). The IMSB was borne amidst lengthy, and often heated, debates about the issue of mandatory Māori representation in local government, a measure which many Māori view as a Treaty right and necessary mechanism for addressing their low visibility in local government, but which has been vigorously resisted by non-Māori, and especially white New Zealanders [Hawyard, 2011]. While central government rejected a recommendation to instigate mandatory Māori seats on the newly formed Auckland Council, it provided for the formation of an independent Māori statutory board to ensure a voice for Māori within the Auckland governance process. This was a landmark decision, given the importance of local government as resource managers with wide decision-making powers affecting Māori ancestral lands, waterways, sacred sites, and places of special significance [Hayward, 2011]. Among its key statutory responsibilities, the IMSB was tasked with promoting cultural, economic, environmental and social issues that are significant to Māori in Auckland, and ensuring that the Council complies with its statutory provisions that refer to the Treaty of Waitangi.

  • 4 Tāmaki Makaurau is the traditional Māori name for Auckland. The plan can be retrieved from : http:/ (...)

26A year into its term, the IMSB established a number of foundational projects, the timing of which was given impetus by the development of The Auckland Plan setting out the Council’s strategic vision through to 2040. Keen to ensure that the Council took account of the Māori aspirations when planning the city’s long-term future, the IMSB decided to develop its own dedicated plan for Māori in Auckland, including a multi-level statistical framework for measuring and monitoring their wellbeing. To the extent that it engages with statistical time-series monitoring, and is explicitly informed by Māori values, aspirations and priorities, The Māori Plan for Tāmaki Makaurau4 is a groundbreaking initiative. As distinct from general western frameworks of wellbeing which are either domain-driven (e.g, social, cultural etc.), or focus on a specific concept (e.g., quality of life), the Māori Plan framework is underpinned by five core Māori values, identified from extensive consultations with mana whenua and matawaaka communities. These principles identify relatedness (whanaungatanga), autonomy and leadership (rangatiratanga), the capacity to care for others as well as the natural environment (manaakitanga), spirituality and identity (wairuatanga), and guardianship (kaitiakitanga) as central to Māori conceptions of wellbeing.

27In developing the framework, it was agreed that the selected indicators ought to meet the standards typically expected of high-quality monitoring frameworks – to be drawn from a representative sample, be valid and reliable, grounded in research, and so forth – so that they could be used as an evidence base in engagements with the Council and central government agencies, as well as for general advocacy. Many of the 100-plus indicators populating the framework were thus identified from existing official data sets, including the national census, as well as administrative data and large-scale surveys. Not surprisingly, given the issues raised in the earlier sections of this paper, the exercise also revealed substantial gaps in the availability of Māori-specific indicators, particularly in the cultural and environmental domains. A critical component of the plan was thus to identify areas where new data could be collected, both through supporting local communities to collect their own data, and through negotiating with the Council to take responsibility for collecting culturally-specific data as part of their usual data monitoring and evaluation activities. While some of the wellbeing indicators only pertained to mana whenua, such as those relating to customary relationships to land and resources, the majority were applicable to all Auckland Māori. This reflected the high degree of overlap between mana whenua and mātaawaka notions of wellbeing elicited in the consultation informing the plan’s design. In terms of its usefulness, it is envisaged that the Māori Plan will serve multiple purposes, for both the IMSB and Auckland Māori communities, from providing an evidence base with which to evaluate the evolving ‘state’ of collective Māori wellbeing, to supporting local activities aimed at improving wellbeing outcomes. Like Broome, the Auckland project illustrates a transformation of sorts in the ways Indigenous peoples are engaging with demography and official statistics on their own terms, and in ways consistent with their own self-determining agendas.

Indigenizing the official statistics system : from the local to the global

28Since its formation in 2000, one of the major concerns of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) has been to establish appropriate statistical profiles of the world’s Indigenous peoples. Following a UNPFII workshop convened in 2004 to focus on data collection and disaggregation for Indigenous peoples, the view was expressed that international human development indices, such as those associated with the Millennium Development Goals, did not capture many of the criteria considered essential for their wellbeing. In particular, what was lacking was a series of rights-based indicators related to issues such as control over land and resources, equal participation in decision-making, and control over development processes [United Nations, 2004, 2006].

29While our case studies show how Indigenous agency is being exercised to productively engage with demography on local terms, they also underscore the ongoing importance of official statistics as repositories of data used to frame and understand the lives of Indigenous peoples. Given the considerable time and resources required to plan and execute whole-of-community surveys and monitoring projects, it is inevitable that, for the forseeable future at least, Indigenous polities will continue to be heavily reliant on official statistics for quantitative demographic data about themselves. Indigenizing demography thus requires more than Indigenous-driven change from the ‘ground up’ ; it also requires transformation from within the official statistics system.

30In New Zealand, the signs are somewhat promising. Outwardly at least Statistics New Zealand has been proactive than its North American and Australian counterparts in acknowledging and trying to address the statistical needs of its Indigenous population. The idea that indicators relevant to the interests of Indigenous peoples can be collected within a coherent framework is demonstrated by the Māori Statistics Framework developed progressively since 1995 by Statistics New Zealand [Wereta & Bishop, 2006]. This framework officially acknowledges that the statistical needs of Māori differ at times from those of the rest of the population and provides a basis for meeting these needs either through official collections or via Māori community-based organisations. Aside from providing data of relevance, a key outcome sought is an enhanced statistical capacity within the Māori community, with the official statistical agency assuming a supportive facilitating role. There is a Māori Statistics Advisory Committee to the Government Statistician that meets three to four times a year to advise on policy and other issues that are likely to affect Māori statistical priorities. The agency’s Effectiveness for Māori Strategy also recognizes the need to address internal systemic barriers to the production of statistics for Māori, and makes reference to enabling effective Māori participation in planning and decision-making, though it offers no concrete guidance for what enabling structures might be put in place, nor how effective participation might be monitored.

31While this level of accommodation for Indigenous perspectives is absent in Australia, from 1990 to 2004, there were some formal Indigenous checks and balances on government activity in the area of Indigenous data collection. This was provided by the existence of representative indigenous regional councils who had a statutory role (under s.7 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989) in vetting and influencing the indigenous data collection and analysis activities of the ABS and other government agencies. Amendment to this Act in 2005 effectively abolished these councils thereby extinguishing an important representative validating environment for statistical data collection and dissemination. With this now gone, the question arises as to who governments should/could legitimately engage with in order to ensure Indigenous input and imprimatur for its activities in this area.

32These experiences in Australia and New Zealand raise interesting questions about the proper role of State machinery in gathering statistics on Indigenous populations. Whereas in the past, governments have been content to generate social binaries as essential input to public policy, the legal and moral framework for such singular attribution of complex Indigenous social organisation has been and is shifting such that individual groupings of Indigenous peoples are reasserting identity through statistical means in the ways we have demonstrated. Against this background it is instructive to reflect on the intent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [United Nations, 2008].

33The UN Declaration is a non-binding text that sets out the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, as peoples. It emphasizes the rights of such peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. It also prohibits discrimination against Indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It affirms their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development. Given this wide-ranging acknowledgment of inherent rights, it is not surprising that Indigenous peoples and signatory governments around the world have started to contemplate what exactly an endorsement of the Declaration might mean for the usual practice of government business in relation to Indigenous peoples. This questioning arises from Article 42, which requires interested parties, including States, to comply with the provisions of the Declaration and promote its effectiveness. Discussion around this Article continues to focus around a so-called ‘implementation gap’, where even good intentions by States in the form of legislative and administrative changes might fail to deliver the benefits that Indigenous peoples seek.

34The parts of the Declaration that would seem to be most relevant for the collection of statistical information are contained in Articles 18, 19 and 23, while the overall focus on the rights of Indigenous ‘peoples’ as opposed to ‘populations’ adds a further dimension. The foregoing Articles refer to rights to participate in decision-making through Indigenous institutional structures on matters affecting Indigenous peoples ; they demand of States good-faith consultation based on the principle of free, prior and informed consent ; and they insist on Indigenous priority setting in regard to what constitutes development. It is worth noting, therefore, that the strengthening of engagements and partnerships between government and Indigenous peoples is a clearly stated aim of Australian governments and their agencies as indicated in the COAG National Indigenous Reform Agreement (Council of Australian Governments, 2008, p. A-31). However, it remains unclear as to how performance on engagements and partnerships is to be measured. Certainly, the United Nations Declaration demands more nuance than is currently practise. The demography of Indigenous populations may be well suited to the provision of citizen rights, but does not provide for the expression of Indigenous interests in inherent and proprietary rights. Whilst not denying a continuing and proper role for centralized data collection, what Indigenous peoples are also seeking from State agencies is a mechanism to support capability building to collect and utilize their own data as a means of promoting their full and effective participation in governance and development planning.

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1 Prior to 1986, the census and other official data collections in New Zealand used the concept of blood quantum to capture group membership. With some exceptions, only those reported as ‘half or more’ Māori were statistically counted as part of the Māori population (for more, see Kukutai, 2011a ; Pool, 1991).

2 The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 between Māori tribes and the Crown, has been described as the Māori “magna carta”. The Māori version of the Treaty guaranteed Māori protection of their lands and resources, tino rangatiratanga (self-determination), and the rights and privileges of British subjects. In return they ceded their governorship to the Crown. The Crown’s failure to honor the terms of the Treaty has long been the focus of Māori grievances relating to loss of land and political marginalization, although the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal has made significant headway in addressing Treaty-related concerns.

3 The Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 defines mana whenua group as an iwi or hapu that (a) exercises historical and continuing mana whenua in an area wholly or partly located in Auckland ; and (b) is either a mandated iwi organisation under the Maori Fisheries Act 2004 ; a body that has been the subject of a settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims ; or a body that has been confirmed by the Crown as holding a mandate for the purposes of negotiating a Treaty claim. By contrast, mātaawaka are Māori who (a) live in Auckland ; and (b) are not in a mana whenua group.

4 Tāmaki Makaurau is the traditional Māori name for Auckland. The plan can be retrieved from :

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Tahu Kukutai

Senior Research Fellow
National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis
The University of Waikato
New Zealand

John Taylor

Professor and Director, CAEPR
Center for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR)
Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS)
The Australian National University (ANU)

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