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Justice system a tool of colonisation, says research report

04 October 2018

A report on research carried out into Māori perspectives on the justice system says 90% of over 900 respondents believe structural racism, intergenerational trauma and colonisation are the reasons why there are more Māori in prison than non-Māori.

The report, They're our Whānau, was produced by community campaigning organisation ActionStation and fourth year medical students at the University of Otago.

The research involved a 28-question online survey from 10-22 July 2018 which generated 936 responses (with promotion through ActionStation's mailing list, Facebook and outreach to hapū and iwi groups); interviews with seven experts (6 Māori and one non-Māori) who were a former prison inmate, researchers, a lawyer, a mental health specialist, a social justice advocate and a political lobbyist; a literature review; and attendance at the Safe and Effective Justice Summit in Porirua from 21-22 August.

The report says the rate of Māori incarceration is "the tragic and seemingly inevitable outcome of 178 years of successive Pākehā governments stripping Māori people of their whenua (land), tikanga (laws and customs), reo (language), and culture".

"Early on in the colonisation process, European settlers instigated policies that forcibly stole Māori identity, language, and whenua (land), and created a foreign system of justice that actively diminished the role of tikanga Māori (Māori values and customs or law) in restoring balance between those who had harmed, and those who had been harmed. Colonisation created a cycle of intergenerational trauma that still affects Māori today," the report says.

The forceful taking of Māori land resulted in Māori having less resources and wealth than Pākehā and this unfair economic reality pushes more Māori toward acts of survival that get punished by the justice system."

It says there were no prisons before colonisation and prison structures do not fit with Te Ao Māori (the Māori world). "Rehabilitation of those who have harmed does not and cannot occur through imprisonment."

Looking forwards, the report says by returning rangatiratanga to Māori, uplifting Māori culture, restoring te reo Māori and incorporating tikanga Māori in policy "we can build a justice system that contributes to a fairer, more compassionate Tiriti-honouring Aotearoa New Zealand".

"What this research also tells us is that Māori are unfairly and inaccurately presented by New Zealand media to the public and that, too often, stories of Māori and the justice system perpetuate anti-Māori views.

"Journalists and media editors overrepresent Māori in reporting about crime and stories about justice are often told from a Pākehā centric worldview that others Māori and privileges Pākehā."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019