Te Ao Māori Perspectives on Seeking Asylum

By Clair Caird

Like other settler colonial societies, Aotearoa New Zealand has excluded indigenous perspectives on immigration. Despite being treaty partners, Māori have almost no opportunity to influence immigration decisions. One area which could benefit from perspectives from te ao Māori is the process of seeking asylum.

A 2015 study conducted by Catherine Lane West-Newman concerning Māori opinions on people seeking asylum, identified a sense of kinship with those seeking asylum due to a shared history of deprivation and suffering. Many participants noted that a wider adoption of manaakitanga by non-Māori could lead to a climate of welcome and acceptance. This would contrast with the current popular image of people seeking asylum as a dangerous and risky group. Values such as empathy and communal responsibility, central to te ao Māori, could greatly enhance our current system. The study also noted that there were more calls for greater Māori involvement in the process and the need to educate new arrivals in Māori customs and beliefs.

Faisal Al-Asaad and Dr Arama Rata discuss the relationship of Māori with settlers of colour including former refugees in their 2019 article ‘​Whakawhanaungatanga as a Māori Approach to Indigenous–Settler of Colour Relationship Building’.​Interviews with six Māori leaders identified whakawhanaungatanga, defined as the process of establishing relationships, as providing a framework for intercultural interactions. Whanaungatanga is a form of kinship forged, Rata and Al-Asaad argue, through shared experiences such as white supremacy, and is a special social solidarity created by a shared understanding of persecution. One leader who worked with former refugees spoke of the family-like relationships formed through similar experiences. Additionally, many Māori have a deep understanding of displacement within their own country, as experienced in Aotearoa under colonisation.

Tahu Kukutai and Dr Arama Rata discuss Māori perspectives on immigration in their chapter ‘From mainstream to manaaki: Indigenising our approach to immigration’​in the 2017 book Fair Borders.​Māori have experienced demographic swamping through the dominating and disempowering process of colonisation, and so there is a justifiable distrust of immigration. Colonisation and immigration saw the alienation of land from Māori, the toppling of Māori tino rangatiratanga and the replacement of tikanga with the English common law.

Kukutai and Rata discuss how immigration policy informed by te ao Māori would be long term and intergenerational and could incorporate values such as manaakitanga. Manaakitanga involves ideas around showing and receiving care, respect, kindness, and hospitality. The term is often used when referring to the hosting responsibilities of mana whenua to visitors. It asks of our immigration system how we can be good hosts and is fundamentally about building relationships and bringing people together. A system based on manaakitanga would help reunify families and would place care and respect at the centre of Aotearoa’s approach to asylum seekers. A tika based system would consider what is right, just, fair, or proper. There is a rising trend of xenophobia and far right nationalism globally

against immigration, so it is important to have values such as manaakitanga and tika which enrich our immigration policy.

The authors pointed to our ‘embarrassingly small’ refugee quota in comparison to the major global refugee crisis as an example of something that would not be tolerated under a system of manaakitanga and tika, where ‘care and respect are central’. Our system for aiding refugees and people that seek asylum would need to be balanced with the responsibilities owed to existing groups within Aotearoa, including Māori, and the need to protect the environment.

Manaakitanga goes both ways. Immigrants, including people seeking asylum, need to show reciprocal respect and care for Māori. For those entering Aotearoa New Zealand through asylum or other immigratory means, there needs to be recognition that they are coming into a country that is founded on a treaty partnership. There would need to be a recognition of mana whenua. These steps would only be a small form of recognition towards the tino rangatiratanga promised in te Tiriti but are a good starting point.

One possible way of achieving recognition for mana whenua is through programs such as the Tikanga Project, conducted in 2017-2018. This project was run by the Red Cross, the Multicultural Language and Support Services, the Changemakers Refugee Forum and three local Pōneke iwi. The project was a year-long tikanga Māori learning project focused on establishing manaakitanga and an understanding of colonisation.

Perspectives from te ao Māori on seeking asylum have been ignored for too long. Including Māori in immigration decisions and incorporating values from te ao Māori such as manaakitanga and tika in our treatment of people seeking asylum would be a step towards a more fair, diverse, and inclusive Aotearoa.