Māori Article of the Week: Historical trajectories for reclaiming an indigenous identity in mental health interventions for Aotearoa/New Zealand—Māori values, biculturalism, and multiculturalism by Bennett and Liu

The Treaty of Waitangi (1840), signed between Māori (indigenous people) and the British Crown is today narrated as the foundation of New Zealand’s sovereignty. The theory of history and identity is mobilized to (1) articulate how historical narratives such as the story of the encounter between Māori and Pākehā (European New Zealanders) and the signing and subsequent violation of the Treaty between them furnish symbolic resources and possibility spaces that construct, mobilize, and manage ethnic identities; (2) deploy this historical narrative to make sense of the changes to Māori identity in the 20th century and its status and construction today; (3) consider the implications of this historical trajectory in describing mental health situations for Māori people today, including how indigenous values, processes, and constructs might be employed in mainstream, bicultural, and indigenous spaces (from clinical therapy and community-based interventions to social welfare delivery). Indigenous values such as whanaunganga (family relationships), wairua (spirituality), and whakapapa (geneology) are introduced as indigenous concepts in mental health therapy, and linked to recent initiatives by government and iwi (tribes) to improve health and mental health for Māori through different implementation pathways involving more collectivistic structures.

Mai i te urunga o Ngai Tāua te iwi Māori ki roto i ngā kāwai mātauranga ō Tauiwi, ina, honotia te peka Māori ki te rākau rāwaho, he rerekē tōna hua me te rongo ō tōna kiko, he kawa. Kāti, tēnei te whakahoki ki ngā paiaka ā kui mā, ā koro mā.”

“Let us return to our origins. Since the time we as Māori were immersed in the knowledge streams of tauiwi we have become like a branch, grafted to a foreign tree, producing fruit of a different quality and somewhat unpalatable. It is time we returned to the rootstock of our ancestors.” − Rangitihi Tahuparae

The Treaty of Waitangi (1840), signed between Māori (indigenous people of Aotearoa- the “land of the long white cloud”) and the British Crown is today narrated as the foundation of New Zealand’s sovereignty. A giant copy of the Treaty is enshrined as the symbolic heart of Te Papa (“Our Place”), the national museum in the nation’s capital, with one wing opening up into a Māori space and the other to a story of subsequent settlers. Such a bicultural approach to telling the story of the “Making the Peoples” of Aotearoa/New Zealand (see Belich (2007) and King (2003) for authoritative histories) is unique in the post-colonial world. The Principles of the Treaty are part of the charter of most public institutions, and Treaty is recognized as the basis of the nation’s claim to sovereignty. Despite this, Māori people are over-represented in negative social statistics in a manner quite similar to other indigenous peoples who have suffered colonization (Lawson-Te Aho & Liu, 2010). This intertwining of the positive and negative is at the heart of our approach to theorizing about how the historical trajectory of Aotearoa/New Zealand has impacted on the mental health of its indigenous people, and provides current and future opportunities for improvement.

This article is composed of three parts: (1) it employs the theory of history and identity (Liu & Hilton, 2005; Liu & László, 2007) to narrate the encounter between Māori and Pākehā (New Zealander Europeans) in the 19th and 20th centuries as a source of symbolic resources as well as institutions for governance. (2) This historical narrative is employed to make sense of the changes to Māori identity in the 20th century and its status and construction today. (3) The implications of this historical trajectory are considered in describing mental health initiatives and the health situation for Māori today, examining how indigenous values, processes, and constructs might be adaptively deployed in mainstream, bicultural, and indigenous spaces.

Access the full article here.

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