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Census and iwi register data

This chapter explores data sources available for exploring identity.


Statistics on iwi identification patterns and growth patterns are important to iwi organisations and government agencies for policy and planning purposes, and in relation to Treaty settlements. The census is the primary way to obtain this data. Since 1991, census has collected three indicators of Māori identity: ethnicity, ancestry, and iwi.

Rarere (2012) and Kukutai (2001) emphasise the importance of the census in collecting Māori identity data.

Although the social context and political context has affected how individuals and/or groups form their identities, which in effect affects the way they identify themselves in the census, it is ultimately the census that has an effect on iwi identification because it dictates what ethnic categories and questions are available, how data is categorised and classified. (Rarere, 2012, p50).

Further, the wording of these census questions is important to obtain reliable data.

The wording of the question, the method of data collection, and a host of other factors can impact upon the way in which ethnicity (broadly defined) is reported and counted. (Kukutai, 2001, p3).

For example, a significant growth in the Māori population between the 1991 and 1996 censuses was due to a wording change in the ethnicity question that encouraged multiple responses (Kukutai, 2001).

Walling, Small-Rodriguez, and Kukutai (2009) recommend reflecting post-Treaty-settlement iwi needs by expanding the existing iwi question in the census, and by prompting for tribal registration status and then aggregation to register boundaries. In their opinion, this change would better align official data with the membership concept used by iwi. It would yield data that are more relevant for iwi policy and planning needs.

Moreover, there should also be flexibility for iwi authorities to have access to data that are aggregated according to their register boundaries, rather than those defined by the standard classification, which may be a poor fit. (Walling et al, 2009, p14).

Post-settlement iwi such as Waikato-Tainui are now in a position to play an important role in improving the wellbeing of their members, both through internal capacity building and by influencing external policy formulation and service delivery. In order to do so effectively, however, iwi decision-makers need access to relevant and accurate information about their members. Without a reliable empirical knowledge base, decision-making runs the risk of being based on anecdote and misplaced judgement. In a post-settlement context we ask: How well placed are official statistics to meet the current and future needs of iwi? (Walling et al, 2009, p3).



An additional source of information on iwi affiliation are tribal registers of enrolled members that many iwi have established. For reasons that include confidentiality issues and inconsistencies of data collection, data from tribal registers is not of the same quality and comprehensiveness as the census, which places the onus of iwi definition and classification on Statistics NZ, the developers and administrators of the census. The key difference between census and tribal registers is that census relies on self-identification while tribal registers require proof of whakapapa. Walling et al (2009) compared census-based indicators for Waikato iwi with those generated by the tribe’s own register and found significant differences in population size and composition.

Walling et al (2009) question the ability of official statistics to provide reliable demographic data relevant for iwi.

Efforts by government agencies to meet the statistical needs of iwi have been generally well received, but there are several potential shortcomings of relying solely on official data. One relates to the potential mismatch between how iwi affiliation is conceptualised in official statistics and the criteria employed by iwi themselves. As we discuss in more detail, the conceptual basis of iwi affiliation in official statistics is through self-identification, whereas most iwi registers define membership through a whakapapa (genealogical) link to constituent hapū (clans) and/or marae (family groupings). This conceptual disconnect is problematic in that it may yield populations of different sizes and characteristics. For iwi organisations, their primary and often statutory obligation is to their enrolled members, and so there is a compelling incentive for them to have data that reasonably reflects the characteristics, experiences and needs of their affiliates. The need for data that is representative of iwi register populations also extends to external agencies tasked with servicing them. (Walling et al, 2009, p4).

Kukutai and Rarere (2013) single out two important questions they believe iwi are asking themselves. Reliable data is necessary to provide the answers.

Nevertheless, the intergenerational focus of iwi development means that iwi can ill afford to ignore future population change. In a post settlement context, iwi leaders will increasingly need to ask themselves two basic demographic questions: How fast are our populations likely to grow in the future (e.g. in five, 10 or 20 years’ time)? And, how many members are we likely to have? (Kukutai & Rarere, 2013, p2).

As well as having reliable data, we need to develop statistical systems that have flexibility to incorporate and accommodate new and emerging iwi, and non-traditional groups, to adequately quantify the ever-evolving iwi mosaic.


Iwi classification

Currently, Statistics NZ recognises iwi by considering the following criteria:

  • whether the group is separately categorised in earlier iwi or tribal classifications
  • whether the group is identified by respondents in previous surveys or censuses
  • whether the group has a history of operating as a separate iwi in a business or resource management capacity, with legal and/or administrative recognition
  • whether historical and genealogical tradition identify the group as distinctive;
  • whether the group (as hapū of a larger iwi) is moving to acquire or petition for iwi status (Statistics NZ, nd).

Iwi are classified hierarchically, first by rohe (region) and then by individual iwi within the rohe. The current classification includes 14 rohe and 128 iwi categories, excluding residual categories (Statistics NZ, 2009). Walling et al (2009) suggest iwi coding needs to be significantly improved.

Although a list of iwi is included with the census form, respondents are free to provide any response they see fit. Consequently, Waikato iwi comprises the Waikato appellation in addition to 370 hapū and place names. Some of these responses, such as “Waikato Tainui”, clearly indicate that the respondent self-identifies as descending from Waikato iwi. However, numerous responses that are coded as Waikato iwi do not definitively demonstrate an intention to affiliate in that way. For example, names of places that are within the Waikato-Tainui rohe (e.g. Kāwhia) are coded as Waikato iwi, though residence within the Waikato-Tainui rohe does not necessarily indicate descent from Waikato iwi. A complete analysis of the coding of the iwi affiliation question is beyond the scope of this paper, but our preliminary analysis indicates that coding of New Zealand census iwi data is due for a substantial review. (Walling et al, 2009, p8).

According to Walling et al (2009), aggregated census data results in limited data usability for iwi.

In contrast to the census, the Waikato-Tainui register population is defined in terms of the aforementioned 33 hapū stated in the Deed which, in turn, cover 66 beneficiary marae (Waikato Raupatu Lands Trust, 2008). We compared the list of raupatu hapū with the coding list used by Statistics New Zealand to designate individuals to Waikato iwi and found several differences. The main difference is that seven hapū covered by the Deed are not designated as Waikato iwi, but are instead assigned to Ngāti Raukawa (Waikato), Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Haua and Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae undefined. Furthermore, of the marae associated with the Deed hapū, only two (Turangawaewae and Makaurau) appear in the list of Waikato responses. Official data that ostensibly refer to Waikato iwi may encompass different people from those enrolled on the Waikato-Tainui register, with the potential to lead to substantial differences in the parameters and composition of the population measured. (Walling et al, 2009, p9).

Within New Zealand iwi definition and geographical assignation vary. Advances in defining and classifying iwi and Māori groupings for statistical purposes will provide more meaningful and useful data for government agencies and for iwi.

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