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Concluding remarks

This literature review presents an analysis of contemporary Māori social organisation within the framework of traditional Māori groupings. Whānau, hapū, and iwi are the basic units of organisation in Māori society, with some authors arguing that hapū were the predominant organisational groups before colonisation. Presently, iwi affiliation is the most common way to recognise Māori group identification. This probably results from the Crown’s preference for ease of communication.

The 20th century saw a pervasive and rapid shift in Māori society, from one of rural, tribal living to being integrated within urban communities for a majority of Māori. Living away from tribal lands and from other group members, urban Māori have adapted – building new non-traditional tribes based on residential location rather than whakapapa. Urban Māori feel the spiritual connection to their ancestors, but at the same time they affiliate more with physical markers in their proximity (urban marae, church or club) that fulfil the need for collective belonging.

This review suggests that to fully understand the identity of Māori living in urban dwellings, we need a broader collective identification spectrum than iwi affiliation alone.

Unfortunately, defining tribal groupings is problematic. Links to groupings at different levels of tribal hierarchy are just one part of a larger whole, and greater importance is not given to one over another. The Māori researchers and Māori participants involved in the research described by the reviewed literature claim their affiliation to Māori groupings on different levels (waka-iwi-hapū-marae) of a tribal and neo-tribal/urban affiliation as a fluid expression of their identity. In particular, affiliations to iwi and hapū are more often than not mentioned together as if one wouldn’t be complete without the other.

The census fulfils the important role of gathering statistical information on self-identified iwi affiliation. This information is used by government agencies and by iwi for policy planning and resource distribution. However, it is clear that further work is needed on understanding and conceptualising Mäori groupings. We also need improvements in the classification of this information to better serve the needs of both iwi and the government.

This review describes struggles faced by newly emerging or separating iwi, including urban groups. Without established definitions of terms, and a certain authority dealing with claims from hapū wanting to separate from their original iwi or establish a new iwi, Statistics NZ is exposed to tensions and criticism from applicant groups seeking to affirm their existence. Their legitimacy depends on many factors and is often recognised by some groups and disputed by others.

If Statistics NZ remains in the position of decision maker about inclusions and exclusions of certain groups in the classification, tensions and dissatisfaction about these decisions are very likely to remain. However, at present, no viable alternative recognised authority remains.

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