The New Zealand government is one of the countries that is under Voluntary National Review at the 2019 UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the report is up for a review tomorrow. The government’s report is titled  “He waka eke noa” which is a Māori proverb that means “we are all in this together”. 

In order for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved, WILPF believes that there must be an integrated approach to addressing structural barriers and inequalities, including those affecting indigenous peoples. While the report outlines the State of New Zealand’s recent legislation and initiatives to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it also notes that the special status of Māori as tangata whenua, indigenous people of New Zealand, is of profound importance and fundamental to the country’s national identity. 

Māori and WILPF Aotearoa

As a dedicated women’s peace organisation, WILPF Aotearoa (New Zealand) has had a long involvement in working alongside Māori on the realisation of their rights and remedying the effects of the violence of colonisation. 

“At WILPF Aotearoa, we understand that SDG 16 [on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies] is not achievable and that there can be no peaceful, just and inclusive societies, until the effects of colonisation are acknowledged and dealt with in partnership with those whose lands were colonised,” says WILPF Aotearoa president, Megan Hutching.

“For example, since 2017, WILPF members have been actively supporting Maori traditional owners of land in South Auckland which is the site of the oldest indigenous settlement in Auckland, to stop a housing development on that land which was confiscated by the settler government in the 1860s.”

Government of New Zealand’s Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

In its review of SDG 16 on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, the New Zealand report outlines some of the steps the current government is taking to address the consequences of colonisation. This year, the government of New Zealand established a new agency, Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations in recognition of the need to facilitate and improve Maori-Crown relationships. One specific initiative to implement SDG 16 seeks to address the disproportionate incarceration rates of Māori people. Māori make up only 15% of the population, but approximately half of the prison population. 

The initiative as reported in the New Zealand report seeks to reduce incarceration of Māori as well as address the harm to those who have suffered directly from criminal justice policies that discriminate unfairly against Maori, including previously incarcerated individuals and their families. One goal of this initiative policy is to reduce the prison population by 30% in the next 15 years, by 2030. This policy is a concrete step to improve the lives of Māori, who have suffered structural violence at the hands of the state in New Zealand. However, it is just one step in an ongoing process to address the harms of colonisation. WILPF Aotearoa believes that the new office, Te Arawhiti, must substantively engage with Māori on their own terms, and must prioritise their demands, rights, and needs. 

History and legacies of settler colonialism in Aotearoa/New Zealand

The arrival of European settlers in the 19th century led to significant changes to Māori ways of life, Megan Hutching relates. From the 1860s onwards, there were rising tensions over disputed land sales and land confiscation in wars between European settlers and Māori. The arrival of European settlers in increasing numbers led to conflict, social upheaval, and disease epidemics, all of which decimated Māori populations. 

As with many other indigenous groups throughout the world, Māori currently face significant social, economic, and political barriers to living in a peaceful, just and inclusive society. One significant issue is disproportionate incarceration, as well as underinvestment in education, health, and jobs for Māori. There are ongoing campaigns led by Māori that call on the government of New Zealand to redress historical grievances, reduce present-day inequalities, and invest in Māori communities.

Engaging with Māori communities to address inequalities

“While all who live in Aotearoa (New Zealand) may be in ‘this’ together, WILPF Aotearoa recognises that ‘this’ was only possible because of access to indigenous land and resources, much of which was taken by forced sales, or confiscation after the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century,” says Megan Hutching. “The resulting inequalities are entrenched by the continuing legal and cultural mindset which reinforces white privilege.” 

It has long been part of the Section’s work to work alongside Māori to make known these injustices, and to increase the understanding of non-indigenous New Zealanders about these issues. They will continue to advocate for inclusive, intersectional approaches to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that acknowledge and seek to remedy the ongoing, catastrophic effects of settler colonialism.

There has also been an alternate report, entitled “The People’s Report on the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals – 2019” published to parallel the official VNR process. 

[FACTBOX: Who are the Māori?]

Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Māori communities originated in eastern Polynesia, and probably arrived in New Zealand in the 13th century. Although the Maori population declined greatly as a result of conflict and diseases that were brought by European settlers. The Māori population of around 600,000 comprises 15% of the overall population. 


Photo credit: Peter Pruzina / Pixabay