New tech to find missing shareholders of Māori land – Expert Reaction

Researchers have developed a tool to help find missing shareholders in Māori freehold land. 

Missing and incomplete records mean that thousands of Māori who are rightful shareholders can’t be tracked down, creating problems for land succession, economic development, and maintenance of whānau relationships. The research, co-designed with Māori, uses computational approaches and expert community knowledge to find information about individuals’ relationships to their communities, which helps find missing living shareholders.

The SMC asked experts to comment on this research.

Rere-No-A-Rangi Pope (Ngāruahine), Kairangahau, Te Tātari Raraunga, Te Whare Tā O Wai-te-ata | Wai-te-ata Press, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and Sydney J. Shep, Reader in Book History and The Printer, Co-Kaiwhakahaere, Te Tātari Raraunga, Te Whare Tā O Wai-te-ata | Wai-te-ata Press, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, comment:

Rere-No-A-Rangi Pope and Sydney Shep are two of the six co-authors of this paper.

[Rere-No-A-Rangi Pope] “Ko te tangata e mōhio pū ai i a ia anō, he mārō tōna tū, he kai kei āna ringa, nōna te ao.”

[Sydney Shep] “Imagine you are the new Chief Executive of one of New Zealand’s top ten Māori enterprise groups. You call a special shareholders’ meeting to determine the future direction of your organisation but are unable to get the required quorum. You go back to your administrator who shows you a stack of envelopes marked ‘address unknown, return to sender.’ You consult with your officer responsible for shareholder engagement who reveals your bespoke database is neither current nor accurate. The implications are enormous. You have over 10,000 shareholders: over 60% cannot be found; over $5M in dividends cannot be disbursed. Land is unproductive and families are disconnected; social and cultural wellbeing are compromised. It’s a scenario that is repeated daily up and down Aotearoa. This is the lived experience of tangata whenua.”

[RP] “Tā Mason Durie talks about the dual accountability that Māori researchers have to our research community as well as our hapū, marae and whānau. He speaks of our ability to draw on Māori knowledge while being schooled in a Western model of knowing. He reminds us of the value of being able to walk in both worlds – which also means that we have many masters.”

[SS] “As part of the National Science Challenge, Science for Technological Innovation spearhead research programme, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington has partnered with the University of Auckland and Parininihi ki Waitotara Incorporation (PKW) to harness new computational methods and innovative data analytics to address the complex problem of missing Māori shareholders.

“Our kaupapa is the inter-relationship between whānau|people, whenua|place, and te reo|language. Integrating data from Māori Land Online, Land Information New Zealand, Births Deaths Marriages Historical and the Online Cenotaph Database, we are mapping the entire PKW community using network analysis and probabilistic modelling to visualise whānau relationships, identify broken links, and infer likelihood of whānau matches. As guardians of whenua, PKW is co-designing a tikanga-informed, community-facing crowdsourcing platform and Māori collective identity data commons for shareholder engagement.”

[RP] “Durie’s dual accountability is precisely why I feel connected to this mahi, while also being driven by an obligation to succeed or at least to deliver something that we can be proud of. This research has provided us with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the intergenerational impact that disconnection historically resulting from muru me te raupatu can have but also what reconnection could look like from the ground up.”

[SS] “Together and biculturally, by holistically addressing the real world problem of ‘missing’ shareholders, our project links science and novel technology with Mātauranga Māori and community priorities. Together, we can enrich and enhance cultural identity and collective mouri ora for PKW and other Māori organisations. Together, we have the potential to reconnect what’s missing, both here and around the world.”

[RP] “The depth and breadth of the problem suggests that we will still have much work to do once the project is over and the funding dries up, but hopefully we can start to empower our communities to help ameliorate some of the burden now.

“Kia ūkaipō anō tō tātou mounga tītōhea ko Taranaki nui tonu.”

No conflicts of interest.

Karaitiana Taiuru (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rārua), STEAM Māori Cultural Advisor, comments:

“This system has many potential benefits to not only allocating missing Māori shareholders to their ancestral/family land, but also to the large population of Māori who do not know their iwi. It will also likely be used as a motivation for Māori who both learn about and or visit their marae and land for the first time. This will all have significant positive social and cultural impacts.

“As with any digital system, human beings can not be complacent and expect that the system will always be correct. An expert human is still required to verify genealogy. As the paper states, there are many complexities of Māori social and family structures. The paper does not account for the traditional adoption practice ‘whāngai’, which was widely used in the past and still to an extent today. Many people do not know they were whāngai. Sometimes those whāngai parents manipulated the system, for example, a mother giving birth might have used her cousin’s name or the new whāngai mother’s name, etc. These social issues will need to be incorporated into the Indigenous Framework with appropriate ethical considerations.

“Māori Data Sovereignty consideration is lacking in the paper. The focus appears to be only on Iwi permissions as opposed to hapū and whānau sovereignty rights.

“Te Tiriti is mentioned but not He Whakaputanga/Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand.

“A number of Indigenous, particularly Māori, rights of future ownership of the system, where it is stored, privacy rights of individuals, and who will have access to the system, must be considered. There also needs to be more transparency and Māori Peoples need an option to opt out (Fully Informed and Prior Consent) as guaranteed with the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights UNDRIP.”

No conflicts of interest.

Dr Kiri Dell, Māori Land Lecturer, University of Auckland, comments:

“The research is a great way to use advances in technology as it assists with helping to solve problems of identifying Māori landowners. The study is trying to provide a solution to a hugely significant problem of Māori land ownership and the challenge of identifying absent and disconnected owners. More concerning, this issue is likely to get worse as we get increasing generational ownership.

“However, identifying absent owners is still a band-aid solution, it doesn’t really fix the heart of the problem. Our current forms of Māori land ownership are flawed. They are based on early colonial ideas of possessing property and a system that was designed to remove and separate Māori from their land. What we have now are the messy, messy consequences of poorly conceived legislation from as far back as the late 1800s. We keep trying to fix the wrong part of the problem.”

No conflicts of interest

Professor Tahu Kukutai, National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato, comments:

“This research is a great example of how mātaruanga Māori and data science can come together to offer practical solutions that further Māori wellbeing and development. Too often, data-driven research is motivated by the interests and agenda of researchers and government. Here, the research is focused on addressing the needs and priorities and needs of the Māori research partner – that’s pretty standard for Māori researchers but it’s still relatively rare across our universities.

“Research at the interface of mātauranga and western science is our unique ‘value’ proposition and the RSI system is slowly waking up to that.

“As a member of the ‘Digital 9’ network, Aotearoa is considered one of the world’s most digitally advanced nations. Increasingly, Aotearoa is also looked to as a global leader in Indigenous research and the growing field of Indigenous data sovereignty. However, to date there has been a relative lack of interest and investment in developing Māori data infrastructure and capability. This project gives a sense of the largely untapped potential of marrying Indigenous knowledge systems and data science.

“The research raises at least two important issues that warrant further reflection. One is the issue of data ownership and governance. Having ‘harvested’ massive amounts of Māori land and vital data (BDM), the research team is in possession of key information sources on whakapapa and whenua – these go to the very heart of Māori identity. The Māori land dataset includes the entire Māori Land Online corpus, so it is not limited to individuals and whānau with a connection to PKW (the land incorporation). Indeed, the paper notes that this ‘take all’ approach is a necessary step towards recreating the entirety of Māori land ownership in Aotearoa. Such an undertaking carries risks along with benefits and needs to be Māori-led, Māori-mandated, Māori-controlled and subject to tikanga Māori.

“All of this means that it is important for researchers to be upfront about issues of data ownership and governance. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of Māori and Indigenous data sovereignty frameworks and governance models that offer useful guidance here (see, for example, Te Mana Raraunga’s Māori data sovereignty principles and the Global Indigenous Data Alliance CARE principles for Indigenous data governance).

“The second aspect relates to the importance of tikanga. Given the speed and scale of technological innovation, it is tempting to focus on technical solutions to problems and retrofit the ethics, almost as an afterthought. In Tikanga in Technology, a new Māori-led research progamme funded MBIE, we are taking a tikanga-centred approach to Māori data governance, Māori data systems, and Māori AI. Our view is that tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori are crucial for engaging with the construction of digital identities and relational responsibilities to data.

“Too often, there is a narrow focus on individual data rights, data protection and data privacy. We need a profoundly different approach to deal with, for example, issues of collective privacy and collective consent in the face of powerful data linkage and integration technologies. Te Ao Māori offers that profoundly different way of thinking.”

Conflict of interest statement: Professor Kukutai is a founding member of Te Mana Raraunga Māori Data Sovereignty Network and Global Indigenous Data Alliance