Māori need greater access to – and say over – data collected about them if they are to fulfil tino rangatiratanga, or self-determination, and transform the lives of their communities, a founding member of Te Mana Raraunga/Māori Data Sovereignty Network told Victoria University of Wellington’s inaugural Data in Our Digital Futures symposium.

The symposium was attended by some of the many Victoria academics across different disciplines for whom data is a fundamental part of their research, along with specialists from outside the University.

‘Spearheading our digital futures’ is one of Victoria’s eight areas of academic distinctiveness and focus.

Currently, rather than self-determination when it comes to data, Māori are more often subject to state determination, with data used to make decisions about and for them, said Victoria alumna Kirikowhai Mikaere (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakue), an independent adviser about data and statistics to iwi and other Māori organisations, and previously a senior adviser to the Government Statistician and Private Secretary Statistics to the Minister of Statistics.

Mikaere is also lead adviser to a group focusing on data issues established last year by the Iwi Chairs Forum, a platform for leaders from more than 70 tribal organisations around the country.

She told the symposium that data broken down into iwi, and not just about Māori more generally, was vital to tino rangatiratanga.

“I thought I’d share a story that has probably been one of the most resonating experiences for me in presenting data and translating data back to our people,” she said.

Mikaere spoke about presenting education statistics to leaders from the Te Arawa confederation of iwi and hapu in the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty areas.

“In the official statistics system, it’s only the census and now the Ministry of Education who collect and disseminate iwi data. So I presented education statistics on our early childhood education engagement, on our NCEA achievements and on our tertiary and higher education attainment levels.”

She did so by iwi and at the end an elder stood up to say: “We get told all the time about how Māori are doing and Māori statistics and I don’t know who those people are. But when I see those numbers broken down by Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Tūhourangi, I know who those children are. I know those families. They are my grandchildren and I will do something about that.”

Mikaere gave an example of an iwi project that used targeted data.

“Our leaders wanted to understand the impact of their investment in identity,” she said.

“In terms of self-determination and tino rangatiratanga and our drive toward measuring our aspirations, identity is one of our top priorities.”

They wanted to measure the levels of not simply te reo Māori, she said, “but also te reo o Ngāti Whakaue, which is a little more intricate. We have some of our own words. We have our own mita [dialect]. And we have our own beautiful nuances”.

Using available data, including Statistics New Zealand’s 2013 Te Kupenga survey of Māori wellbeing, and matching it with specifically gathered information about te reo o Ngāti Whakaue (“because nobody [else] collects that”), the iwi discovered that despite its significant investment in education this important aspect of tribal identity had not improved.

“We get told all the time about how Māori are doing and Māori statistics and I don’t know who those people are. But when I see those numbers broken down by Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Tūhourangi, I know who those children are. I know those families. They are my grandchildren and I will do something about that.”

“When we can provide our leaders and decision makers with information, they act,” said Mikaere. In this case, the organisation reprioritised its investments.

Iwi are held back by the shortage of information about them in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) drawn from surveys, the 2013 census, government agencies and other organisations, said Ms Mikaere.

When the IDI was established, it had no iwi identifiers attached to it, she said.

“Last year, they finally attached the 2013 census, which is nearly five years old, so it misses a huge part of our population if we want to try and link it to other datasets. That’s the only dataset in the IDI—of 42-plus datasets—that holds iwi identifiers. I think the Ministry of Education are putting some of their data in there around iwi but not all of it …

“So the data infrastructure of this country is not responsive at the moment to us. We can’t use it. And this is the very fundamental dataset the Social Investment Agency is doing all their research on.”

As tangata whenua, Māori also want data targeted to place, said Mikaere.

She is working on a pilot project with Statistics New Zealand and a colleague from the University of Auckland to create a process whereby an iwi’s geographical area of interest can be fed into the IDI and all related information accessed.

As an example of what an iwi can do with place-focused data, she pointed to the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan, which is led by Ngāti Rangi and looks at “stats, stories and solutions to create a plan to transform the lives of whānau in Raetihi, Ohakune and Waiouru”.

They pulled as many statistics as they could relating to education, employment, housing, health and social wellbeing.

“I even did 19 OIAs [Official Information Act requests] to Ministers across all the different portfolios so I could get even more information about Raetihi, Ohakune and Waiouru. And then most importantly we gave it our own stories. We gave it our own korero … to give it a deeper connection so then the community could solution-storm.”

Of 23 solutions, said Mikaere, all but two have been implemented—including an employment expo that has resulted in more than 100 job placements and $5.5 million injected into the local economy.

Māori need to be able to interpret and use data with their own lens, rather than have it interpreted and used on their behalf, said Mikaere.

“Most of the narrative around Māori statistics is negative and that’s what people focus in on,” she said.

“We aren’t just interested in using the data to look back at our state of desperation and deprivation. We are actually really interested in using data to measure toward our aspirations.”

That requires being not just data providers and even data consumers, but being data designers too, to ensure other data is collected, she said.

When Prime Minister Bill English spoke about the 10,000 “most challenging of our community” costing $6.5 billion over their lifetime, said Mikaere, she wanted to know why we weren’t also tracking the people from the same backgrounds who had succeeded.

“Because that is the information we want. We want to understand … what was the point of difference? So then we can intervene to help our people realise their potential.”

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