ST. JOSEPH, Trinidad — Today, there are roughly 620,000 Māori living in New Zealand, composing about 15% of the total population. While their native language, rich culture and political involvement continue to have a substantial impact on all facets of New Zealand life, the indigenous tribe has historically and disproportionately faced poverty. Consequently, developments in areas like education, business, female empowerment, access to power and journalism have contributed to alleviating Māori poverty.
Māori Medium Schools
Māori academic achievement has recently increased across New Zealand. The Māori Language Strategy, the government’s ongoing 25-year plan to revitalize Te Reo Māori, the Māori language, involves the Māori Language Education Plan (MLEP.) MLEP focuses on providing high-quality education to Māori children in their native language. Special state schools called kura kaupapa Māori or Māori medium schools facilitate this. The same state curriculum is in effect in these schools, but these schools allow Māori to design education around their own culture. The existence of kura kaupapa Māori schools has led to more Māori remaining in school longer than the required length of time and even attending tertiary level institutions and graduating with higher academic qualifications.
These qualifications have led to Māori attaining higher-level jobs. In 1996, when lower-skilled manual occupations became unavailable, the Māori people were almost three times more likely to be unemployed than non-Māori. They also earned lower median incomes than non-Māori with similar levels of education and occupations. Consequently, Māori began taking advantage of self-employment in the 2000s.
In 2020, the Ministry of Māori Development discovered thousands of Māori businesses, more than the previously estimated 1,300. Statistics reveal closer to 25,000 Māori businesses, suggesting that more Māori are becoming financially independent. The NZBN register of Primary Business Data is collecting more information on these businesses to help government officials better understand how they can support Māori businesses going forward, especially post-COVID-19, further alleviating Māori poverty.
Nau Mai Rā
Nau Mai Rā is New Zealand’s first Māori-owned power company. Despite most of New Zealand’s energy assets being located on Māori land, power poverty disproportionately affects the Māori population. In 2019, the Interim Climate Change Committee found that Māori households spend more on electricity than non-Māori households, a cost that is only rising.
Noticing this, longtime friends Ezra Hirawani and Ben Armstrong established the Nau Mai Rā company in June 2019. Their ultimate goal is to end power poverty among the Māori. As “New Zealand’s first Māori power company,” Nau Mai Rā aims to provide a nationwide stable supply of electricity at an affordable price to the 100,000 families facing energy hardship. Understanding these hardships, Nau Mai Rā does not disconnect the supply if people are unable to pay their electricity bills on time.
A portion of customer payments goes toward causes like the Whānau Fund. The Fund was established in March 2020 to assist Māori families needing financial assistance to keep the lights on. The company’s billing model has allowed it to double its positive impact on the vulnerable families who need help the most.
The company has also launched a petition which Hirawani hopes will bring about systemic change in New Zealand’s power industry. It calls for the government to mandate that electricity generators provide fair and affordable electricity to vulnerable communities. The petition also calls for the nomination of a “last resort energy retailer,” which should not turn away anyone needing power.
Māori Women’s Development Inc
Māori Women’s Development Inc (MWDI) is a not-for-profit indigenous organization developed in 1997 by Māori women for Māori women. It supports the economic development of Māori women and their families, particularly in the field of digital technology. Additionally, it provides a variety of valuable services to Māori women. These services include access to loans, life coaching, mentorship programs and expert advisors to disadvantaged women turned away from banks. MWDI has even assisted multiple women pursuing independent business ventures to begin their journey, restructure existing models and expand their capacity, thus improving the economic position of themselves and their families and alleviating Māori poverty. In 2018, MWDI approved 12 business loans worth $478,190 and positively impacted 1,479 people.
Funding Māori Journalism
Māori issues have been notoriously excluded from the mainstream media, leading to a lack of awareness of the issues this marginalized group faces. New Zealand’s government and the Māori themselves are taking significant measures to rectify this. The government has allocated roughly $10 million in 2021 to support Māori journalism projects and a new training initiative in an effort to allow the Māori to tell their own stories. Like MLEP, the state funds Te Reo Māori journalism under the national agenda as another facet of alleviating Māori poverty under the Māori Language Strategy.
To address the lack of training available to Māori journalists, a professional group named Kawea Te Rongo was established by Māori journalists in 2021 to train, support and advocate for other Māori journalists. Another training program called Te Rito aims to ensure more indigenous voices are present in the media by training and hiring 25 indigenous journalists.
With more news organizations challenged to recognize the need for Māori journalism, more Māori may enter reporting positions. The hope is for all these advances to bring Māori stories to the forefront of the news in order to highlight and address Māori needs while better informing New Zealanders about these issues from a Māori point of view.
– Serah-Marie Maharaj