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When it comes to health and social wellbeing, we tend to consult with Māori, gather their data, and move on. There is much more to be gained by working with Maori, according to Daymon Nin, Chief Customer Officer at Whānau Tahi, a social enterprise in the social and health sectors.

He met with Auckland Bioengineering Institute staff for a lunchtime presentation, talking about Māori data sovereignty and building relationships beyond the “consulting Māori” aspect of developing and delivering social and healthcare.

“Māori gather, store, use and interpret data in many forms across the generations – taonga, wharenui, waiata, through kaumatua and kuia, carvings, tukutuku panels in the wharenui, through tikanga, whakatauki,” says Nin.

In other words – data sovereignty. This is the concept that all data collected is subject to the laws of the country in which it is collected. Māori data sovereignty recognises that their data must be subject to their governance as part of realising their aspirations.

He cites vaccinations in south Auckland as an example. “The government is delivering mass vaccinations in south Auckland, but no one has talked with us. Rather, they’re doing it to us.”

He says the “with” is critical. “Don’t just come in, consult, and leave. Develop relationships and then ask. Where data is concerned, start early and use co-design. Look beyond the transactional. Aim for the longer term. People who are going to use the data must contribute to the design.

“There’s a formula. Whakaaro – the idea. Karakia – the protocols. Kōrero – the discussion. Wānanga – the learning. Repeat.”

He emphasises that any health or social wellbeing involving Māori must start before the “need” arises. “You go to Māori before you “need” them. Look for Māori in your own teams; they can help connect, recruit, organise meaningful relationships.

“Show respect. Earn the trust. Engage early. Move beyond the bad, mad, sick approach – lots of Māori are succeeding. Iwi are developing resources and capacity in-house.”

Nin says the health system in general has struggled to work Māori. “The health board reforms and creation of the Māori Health Authority should help, but they’re no substitute for local relationships, and those relationships must be with people rather than with organisations.”

There is progress.

In 2020, the Data Iwi Leaders Group led a Māori Data Governance co-design process involving te ao Māori leaders, Māori organisations with data interests, individual Māori data experts, and 16 Crown agencies.

"The primary purpose was to design a system-wide model for Māori data governance to ensure data design, collection and dissemination supports iwi and Māori needs and aspirations. The two reports present models that can provide guidance, exemplars and benefits for Māori, Indigenous peoples and our wider communities. Data is a tāonga and when Iwi have the opportunity to govern, design and use their own data, iwi, hapu, whānau and communities flourish." From Te Kāhui Raraunga.

Nin believes Māori data should be subject to kawa – Māori protocol and etiquette – and Māori governance, so Māori can use it to help achieve their aspirations. He points to the importance of the Wai 262 decision from the Waitangi Tribunal.

This claim was one of the largest and most complex in the tribunal’s history. It considered “who is entitled to make or participate in decisions affecting indigenous flora and fauna, the environment, Māori culture and the products of Māori culture”. More about Wai 262.

All of these initiatives are focused on ensuring Māori data is available to Māori for them to use. “In this way, the Māori voice will be properly heard.”

His pleas: Don’t do it for Māori, do it with us. Use authentic partnerships to reshape, honour mana motuhake so Māori can determine their own future and engage with us very early.


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