Focus on Māori family well-being wins Marsden funding

Press Release – University of Auckland

A project looking at how Māori families have strived for whānau ora (whānau wellbeing) across the 20th century has won $622,000 in Marsden funding.

University of Auckland historian, Dr Aroha Harris, and independent historian and University alumna, Dr Melissa Williams, will research how Māori whānau have negotiated with, pushed against, and pressed beyond state interventions to maintain whānau wellbeing.

“National histories identify twentieth century Māori poverty, abuse, and tribal breakdown as the outcomes of colonisation,” say Drs Harris and Williams.

Yet the experiences of Māori whānau are often absent in these narratives, they say.

“Throughout the 20th century Māori families experienced high levels of state intervention, disempowerment and estrangement, a result of welfare policies critical of whānau structures that differed from the Pākehā nuclear family.”

In this Marsden-funded project, Dr Williams and Dr Harris, who is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, will work with their team to explore how Māori held onto their aspirations for whānau ora while engaging with, and against, the twentieth century welfare state.

“We will focus on the stories of the women, children and their families who directly faced Māori welfare policies,” they say.

The team will combine whanau-centred oral histories with archival research into the roles of Māori nurses and welfare reformists to challenge accounts of Māori as either hapless victims or resistant recipients of state services.

“The project engages with ongoing contemporary concerns around poverty, incarceration, health and family wellbeing,” say Drs Harris and Williams.

“We expect to uncover positive models of Māori community resourcefulness, resilience and innovation under the socio-economic pressures of the modern century.”

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