Why do White People Write about us?

This latest report put out by MOTU, an economic and public research institute based in New Zealand, titled;

‘Indigenous Belief in a Just World: New Zealand Māori and other Ethnicities Compared’

basically tells us that Indigenous Maori values are holding us back from being successful. Which is of course, a load of rubbish. Associate Professor Leonie Pihama has slammed the report saying it is flawed on multiple grounds. And she raises some really relevant points, that we as indigenous researchers are already schooled to be on the alert for.

  1. The white male lens
  2. Lack of cultural knowledge and understanding
  3. Simplistic overstatements

and my favorite

4. being compared against black Americans (whaaat the???)

While she speaks of the technical flaws of their research, what I find the most puzzling is ‘the why’? Why would three non-Māori, white males take up this topic of research? Why do they write about us, and not with us? This is absolutely bewildering to me.

As I develop myself into a research academic, I constantly question myself, who do I want to be as a researcher, what do I want my research identity to be and what type of research will I undertake. Obviously I have an interest in indigenous research (being indigenous) and I believe more attention to our economic development can help our communities. So, my heart is fully invested in indigenous business research.  My research work ties me to my whanau, whakapapa and whenua. I am connected and bonded to these kaupapa.

Why did they take up this research? To tell us we are flawed? To fill a research gap? To get publications or points on the board? Because from how I read it, their heart is not invested.

So my question is to the three co-authors Arthur Grimes, Robert MacCulloch and Fraser McKay….why?

Māori Researcher slams MOTU report as flawed analysis

Flawed research report can be accessed here

Update – 29th October 2015

So as it turns out, one of the researchers on this report is Maori. Which probably makes the situation worse. Of course the readers cant tell this because his whakapapa has not been acknowledged in the report.


  1. Amber Nicholson

    So amongst all of the problems you outline above Kiri, the report has many research gaps in it. These are some I found at first glance…

    As I read it the original survey seems to give people the option of 1-10 on a scale. But for ‘research purposes’ this report clusters 1-5 and 6-10 into definitive answers. So a)why bother using scales, and b)those who chose ‘5’ are clearly on the fence, but in this report have been forced to express an opinion.

    Firth (who cites Best) is only reference cited in the historical section of ‘Māori Beliefs and Values’

    And can someone please explain to me what is the link between abortion and economics??

    A same yet different kaupapa was examined in 2011 regarding Child Poverty and the disparities between our Maori and Pasifika children in NZ to the rest of the population. One of the main messages: The comparative analysis that asks “how are Māori and Pasifika children doing compared to other groups of children?” is fundamentally flawed. Current measurements of Māori and Pasifika well-being are inadequate, because they do not take account of the Māori and Pasifika world views. New measurements and indices need to be developed that reflect Māori and Pasifika values, spirituality and capabilities.

    This is the kind of research that I believe is relevant to our communities. Research that addresses the systemic issue—not one that is born out of misreading a survey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. rachelcockerhopkins

      “The comparative analysis that asks “how are Māori and Pasifika children doing compared to other groups of children?” is fundamentally flawed.”

      well amen to that. “They’re poor, unhealthy, uneducated, dying (or whatever else) because they’re different” is just. not. acceptable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. rachelcockerhopkins

    This is so like countless pieces of research I read in Chris + Debs post grad entrepreneurship paper and thought: I have to do research so that there is something better for people to read. It’s thinly veiled racism, and so dated. I don’t buy the argument that Maori, or other indigenous are poor because of their beliefs. As in, the things that make us who we are. We are poor because of who we are? No. Especially loved the fact that Native peoples are so invisible we weren’t the other poor people of colour in the report. Call me crazy but an indigenous to indigenous comparison how ever crude might have been a bit logical.

    That said …. I’m uncomfortable, because I don’t know how the fact that Fraser is Maori, and a recent UoA business school tuakana alumn/tutor, was missed in the article. It’s a really uncomfortable oversight for me. really. Assumption based on his name? awkward. Picture? even more awkward.

    It’s easy information to track down. And it’s really important to unpacking a conversation about the value (read lack) of this research, more pointedly – the damaging affects of a research piece like this. It means white male privilege isn’t an adequate explanation. It’s still relevant, but not completely adequate.

    I think we have to ask trickier questions than ‘why white men’.

    What is the place of insiders/outsiders in indigenous research?
    Is all research done by people ‘of indigenous heritage’ (the ambiguity is way to big to tackle here) ‘indigenous research’? How does this effect the value of non indigenous researchers participating in ‘indigenous research’?
    Is indigenous research inherently good?
    Who gets to decide all of this?

    These are loaded questions for me. I’ve got early thinking around each of them, and it’s shaped of course completely by the identities I draw on as an Indigenous Kiowa and Tongan woman (though we don’t have a habit of affording the label indigenous to Tongans or other Pacific people here in Aoteaora- another tricky issue for me).

    Anyways, I think there’s a lot more to why this report, and all others like it, should quickly become a thing of the embarrassing past.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kiri.Dell

      I definitely support non-indigenous researchers being apart of our problem solving.

      But they need to ask themselves why they would take it up? Because this research piece kind of reminds me of the missionary work done on our people in the 18th and19th century, where they (sometimes innocently) believed they are doing good but did an incredible amount of damage.


  3. rachelcockerhopkins

    I completely agree with you.

    With my questions I’m really trying to understand (because I don’t have a lot of answers) how researchers negotiate a place to stand.

    I think it can be really dangerous to be an indigenous researcher. It’s way more than a professional or intellectual impetus to create work. It’s so personal. In a way that other types of research just aren’t. When you show to work up as your whole self, your failings as a researcher can’t be completely separated from your identity, or responsibility to your community.

    I’m absolutely terrified of being told I’m not (whatever) enough to have a contribution. Or my work being labelled well-meant but harmful. Or inadequate. Or self-serving. Or un-useful to my community. <– this is part of what I'm trying to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rachelcockerhopkins

      edit to last comment:
      “I’m absolutely terrified of being told I’m not (whatever) enough to have a contribution. Or my work being labelled well-meant but harmful. Or inadequate. Or self-serving. Or un-useful to my community. <– this is part of what I'm trying to understand."

      After a bit of reflection – that's pretty old self talk there, no longer really applicable. Let's just call that part of an older stage of my process of negotiating a place to stand.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kiri.Dell

    I like this phrasing “negotiating a place to stand”. At nearly every Māori occasion we are expected to explain… who am I? and why am I here? Important questions to regularly ask ourselves and negotiate as researchers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Amber Nicholson

    I just came across this passage on “academic skull measuring” and thought it was rather fitting…

    This is where, according to Katona (1998), academia has failed Aboriginal communities. Courses on cross-cultural understanding and cultural sensitivity developed by universities and schools seem to benefit non-Aboriginal communities. The focus of much academic research today is what Katona calls “academic skull measuring,”in which one portion of non-Aboriginal society tries to understand more about Aboriginal communities, and once the communities are analyzed, subjectified, and reconstituted, the task is done and the research is over, with no value to Aboriginal communities who are the subjects of the research.
    – Banerjee (2000)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kiri.Dell

      I think thats why questioning our motives as to why we research a particular topic is always important. I just spoke with a masters health policy student, who is looking at how Spoken Word can be a positive form of healing for mental health people and I was like wow, that is a really meaningful topic!

      I’m grappling with why am i in business research at the moment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rachelcockerhopkins

    I found this and thought it was also super relevant:

    “One thing that most of these enquiries hold in common is that they look at social, historical, and economic factors to explain the difference between Indigenous and non- Indigenous peoples and then make recommendations that are intended to adapt the dominant system to the needs of Indigenous people. These programs proceed with the assumption that is economic and environmental conditions were the same for Indigenous and non- Indigenous people, Indigenous people could “pull themselves up” to the standards of dominant society. This same attitude promoted the forced assimilation of Indigenous people through such social tragedies as the ‘stolen generation’ and forced residential schooling. The other things that all of these things have in common is that without fail, the conditions and issues that are being studied get worse, rather than improving, after the research has been done (Atkinson, 2002a).” (Wilson, 2008, p. 20)

    Liked by 1 person

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