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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/our-practice-approach/colonisation-context-and-impact/
Printed: 14/06/2024
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Last updated: 07/08/2023

Colonisation context and impact

Colonisation resulted in immense socio-cultural and economic disadvantage for Māori. To practise within the mana-enhancing paradigm, we need to understand the complexities of Aotearoa New Zealand history with an emphasis on Māori perspectives.

Māori experience of colonisation


Māori lived successfully in Aotearoa for 1000 years before the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century.

Pre-contact, Māori had a social structure that supported an effective cultural, social, political and economic collective lifestyle. The social structure was made up of whānau, hapū and iwi tied to a genealogical line. Tamariki mokopuna were looked after by kuia, koroua, whāea, mātua and whanaunga, who often lived among their hapū in pā or villages. Land was shared – while iwi territory was marked, there was no concept of individual land title or land ownership.


Initial contact had both positive and negative impacts. Many iwi engaged in highly prosperous trade with the settlers, and some Māori travelled as far as Tahiti, Australia and London. However, the settlers also brought disease, alcohol, prostitution and muskets, which greatly affected oranga Māori (wellbeing).

In addition, breaches of te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) (1840) occurred from the outset, leading to the wars of the 1860s and legislation such as the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and the Native Lands Act 1865, which depleted iwi of their land and resources and severely undermined their social and economic positions. Throughout the 19th century and much of the 20th century, Māori social structures were eroded, along with controls, language and traditional Te Ao Māori knowledge, which impacted negatively on the oranga of Māori and their whānau and led to the overrepresentation of tamariki Māori in the statutory child welfare system.

From the 1970s, however, Māori leaders have expressed strong demands for social justice and tino rangatiratanga, and the paradigm has been shifting in education, health, politics, business, leadership, whānau, hapū and iwi. For Oranga Tamariki, our paradigm shift is a result of the historic and current trauma faced by whānau, hapū and iwi.

Child welfare system

Aotearoa New Zealand’s child welfare system has been dominated by western/eurocentric knowledge, Tauiwi Pākehā practitioners and a government-led approach that focused on dependency, paternalism and integration. While the government did not institute specific policies of forced removal of Māori children, historical atrocities have had inter-generational impacts and contemporary consequences – many of the problems associated with child abuse and neglect in communities are directly related to experiences of colonisation.

Change is required within the practices and processes of Oranga Tamariki – a shift towards a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice values Te Ao Māori and recognises the significance of history. Understanding the complexities of Aotearoa New Zealand history with an emphasis on Māori perspectives is part of enacting Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) obligations and mana-enhancing practice.

Paper – Historical context of colonisation and statutory social work (PDF 228 KB)

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