TangataWhenua.com and our unique Maori Ecosystem

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Ko te mea tuatahi, ko te Aroha. Ko te mea tuarua, ko te Wairua me te Whakapono. Ko te mea tuatoru, ko te Ora o nga Atua, te Mahi o nga Tupuna, te Kokiri o nga Tangata katoa. Kei te mahi pai. Kei te mahi awhinatia. Kei te mahi manaaki ki a whanau, ki a whanau, ki a whanau hoki. Tihei mauri ora.

Every day, we attempt to create a better world for ourselves and our tamariki, often using the meager resources, substandard tools and harsh conditions to build toward our own personal vision of what we believe will make our lives livable.

Back in 2002, we had no idea where the whakaaro to provide positive Maori panui online would take us. It was more a measured reaction then a proactive response and could have drifted into the filing cabinet of work done had 2 things not happened: more whanau opened up email accounts and Maori across the world recognized that significance of social media to retain, regain and control our own unique Maori connections.

TangataWhenua.com started as a small one page e-Panui, with 10 links sent out to 12 friends. It included a HUGE 1mb picture (which probably stopped 3 people from receiving the email lol). As students in the School of Maori & Pacific Development, we were honoured to be surrounded by brilliant academics, each one a thinking force and combined, a centre of indigenous-focused excellence.

We were exposed to case studies from across the indigenous world, speaking about colonial dispossession, genocide and survival; there were lectures of economic exclusion and sexual disenfranchisement, speaking sessions on anti-capitalism movements and micro-financing initiatives. Our appreciation for the village being the basis of support for every child took form in our minds and as we found more interesting, exciting and vibrant information, we knew it had to have a life outside the walls of academia. Rangikainga, issue 1 was sent in 2002 and we have been slowly affirming our own unique digital Maori presence online ever since.

The initial loop was limited to friends with email accounts and back in 2002-2003, that was limited to other university students, staff and a few Government official friends. Most of our stories came via kanohi ki te kanohi interactions, attending hui & wananga, writing notes, editing as an email, adding addresses and then pushing send.

Capturing images was difficult pre-search so our investment in a digital camera allowed us not only to report from the frontline but also to start capturing images of the places, the people and the times. Then a remarkable thing happened Maori galvanized.

The Seabed & Foreshore legislation was straight up theft. Every Maori and their dog could see it. Even the ones who signed the bill that became the Act knew it. But when you are the minority and Maori to boot, the populism of the many can outweigh the rights of a marginalized few. From the very second we saw the tv news footage, every Maori activist knew exactly what to do HIKOI.

Maori agreed to talk and walk about these evolving situations and at the same time, cellphones were becoming essential tools for whanau to keep in touch with each other. We took to the streets, called up the radio stations and sent around emails to organize hui, share documents and focus our attention. Very few people appreciated the crucial role emails, online posts and cellphones played behind the scenes of the Hikoi 2004; for our mahi, they were vital.

Our digital kete got larger over the following 5 years. And anyone who carries a big bag knows that eventually things will get lost, somewhere in the bottom of the bag. We decided quickly to archive all of our e-Panui on a website, again not realizing that the service we had been quietly offering was an essential daily source of Maori content for many organizations.

TangataWhenua.com came to be the central portal for Maori news, for views, for opinions and for sharing information in a collaborative and respectful way. This proved to describe the composition of our unique Maori ecosystem. We would deliberately stay away from mainstream interpretations of Maori issues, instead finding lots of overlap with Iwi Radio, Maori TV, Mana & Tu Mai magazines, though remaining largely outside conventional definitions of Maori communication. We like to think that while our ecosystems all shared, each held and maintained their own, unique digital rangatiratanga.

In the interest of paying the bills, we stepped up to develop Iwi Communication and Maori land trust services. This came in the form of creating digital strategies that allowed Trustees to communicate with their whanau whanui and with the rising influence of 2.0, allowed members to send in feedback, something normally reserved for monthly land trust meetings. Now, whanau could contribute to the collective korero of their land trust, for instance, 24/7/365 from home, from work or when outside the rohe. With the Maori economy estimated at $30b+ and growing, we anticipate greater need for digital administrative services, registration and membership tools, kaumatua training, SME support and an increased range of service & product options being made available to whanau. One just needs to look at cellphone range 3 years ago and compare with whats on offer today.

We are increasingly being invited to work with Rangatahi Roopu to develop projects and by schools to offer mentorship, support and industry experience. Schools and teachers are trying to tie what is prescribed within NCEA standards, what is known and teachable and to instill enough of the basic skills necessary for future career pathways, no matter what industry they go on to select. What we bring is a youthful appreciation of what is taught inside the classroom, bringing an appreciation for knowing the basics in programming, in networking, in building a static website for an assignment and then talking on and sharing our own personal experiences working in IBM, building an iPhone app or assessing and implementing new ideas.

Another exciting initiative we have been invoted to work on is the renewed focus on Marae as Centralised Community Hubs, connecting with local Kura, Kohanga and Wananga, partnering with local Hauora and offering services and training. Examples exist in the Far North, in the Heretaunga and throughout Tuhoe, as Marae Committees see the advantage of connecting whanau at home with whanau away, accessing information of the world and sharing knowledge from tribal homelands. The ability to digitize that marae feeling, keeping connected and being able to catch up on whats happening back home remains important as whanau move further and further away. Marae have always missed out on mainstream services and utilities so it is more the challenge for local whanau, hapu and iwi to identify which digital services would best fit at home and then to seek out active engagements and relationships with specific service providers. There remains scant attention to supporting and empowering marae within Government regulation so this looks like another case of backing ourselves.

When it comes to the Government, I emphasise and support the words of Waitangi Tribunal claimant Graeme Everton:

How often have initiatives been promoted as benefiting M?ori only to see them come and go without anything permanent being achieved because they were drawn up by bureaucrats and not come from the communities and wh?nau they are expected to benefit. In developing the RBI (and UFBI’s Crown Fibre Holdings) the lead department, Ministry of Economic Development (MED), clearly missed the boat by not ensuring that the Crown’s Treaty Partner was fully engaged in the planning and development of these initiatives at the beginning.

ICT is fertile ground for the Government and Maori to work openly and collaboratively, looking at issues of cultural protection, language transmission and economic development. Added to this, spectrum is as much a taonga as geothermal energy, as the clearing wind, as the warm sun. What Maori want acknowledged is that local resources must benefit local communities and that both the Government and Industry talk with the people doing the mahi on the ground. The current system clearly does not work. (As a side note, we saw very little during the 2011 General Election campaign that looked specifically at Maori ICT development. Is this a case of when no one aims, no one misses?).

The ICT industry offers a wide entry point for those Maori with creative input and unlimited imagination, which describes virtually every Maori kid we know. While the adults are trying to figure out how to pay for everything, young people are making up new ways to communicate. Imagination clicks in when thinking about our kaumatua entering their whare, the lights switch on, the room warms up, the tv switches to the recorded episode of Shortland Street and the fridge talks to Koros smart watch, reminding him about his medication. Inspiration comes when a whanau learns how to dismantle and recycle old computers, discarded cellphones and build a business based on returning new value on e-Waste. Not to mention the music, the photos, the videos, the art, the new forms of connecting with whanau and experiencing today. Content is the fuel of the knowledge economy and we already know that Maori content is both rich and deep.

When listening in to the recent CES2012 panel discussion, I heard the Ecosystem explained as starting with the hardware thats the mobile phone you buy and use; the Operating System, which runs your device like is the Android system, Apple, Palm, Blackberry and the upcoming Windows Phone; the Apps you run on your device; Content, which is media, news, information, entertainment, music, video, books and the Connection Provider, in our case Two Degrees, Telecom, Vodafone, Telstra Clear, Kordia, KapuaNet (Rotorua) & SwiftNet (Hastings). All these elements combine to provide a customer ecosystem, to which tech companies pitch their products and services. It is a vision for those with the money to buy in. So then, what does a Maori Ecosystem look like? This vision will surely form over the coming months.

So then, what are the solutions to many of the challenges Maori as a whole and whanau specifically face? It is easy to say more choice, but when money is tight, you tend to go for what is affordable and if that means it is a low level phone with occasional credit, then so be it. At a guess, that represents 1 in 4 mobile phone users. Another 1 in 4 probably sit at the other end, fully deviced, fully connected and fully engaged. Then there are those in-between, which further suggests that more research on Maori ICT use is needed (perhaps with the planned 2012 Census?)

And not everything is about money. Maori tamariki and rangatahi can access the internet at school, at home and on their devices, so shouldnt there be elements of advice and protection running alongside the sales of the devices and the connections? Should there be a Digital Maori Code of Conduct? Seems there are rules for every other group online, and though they are usually peer-formed and rarely legally enforceable, at least the process of opening up the fullness of ICT discussions to as many Maori as possible would be appreciated? The more digital places we refuse to enter, the more likely something wrong will happen inside that darkness. My thinking is that no one can articulate our aspirations better than us not the Government, not industry us, Maori katoa.

To me, Maori ICT does have the outside appearance of a Federation, some parties having more resource than others, some possessing deeper, more specific experiences, each independent. Part of what we have been watching has been who is best able to develop and deploy successful ICT strategies within Maori communities. Te Huarahi Tika Trust have to some degree, as have Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Raukawa and Awanuiarangi. We hope these remain important beds of research, experimentation and future-building for budding Maori tecnoprenuers.

As for our evolution, this year TangataWhenua.com want to stick to carving, to keep doing what we do well and to keep providing exceptional Maori news to the many communities we connect with. We launched an iPhone app just before Christmas 2011 and have kept content flowing over the holidays. We enjoy sharing panui via our Facebook and Twitter whanau and look forward to participating in the upcoming Commerce Commissions High Speed Broadband Conference in February 2012. Here, we will listen to the industry arm-wrestle Government ministries into submission, relegating Maori to spectator status and waiting to be one of the few handpicked yes Maori to join the team, ensuring that their cultural boxes are ticked. Sealords v2 anyone?

We will continue to stay off the mainstream path, the one that is well beaten and instead, respond to the needs of whanau Maori today. We do think digital kaumatua services will be huge but right now, building deep tribal databases is where a new whanau business venture could grow. We do think teaming up with Samsung, with Google, with 2Degrees, with Huawei will add those new elements of skill, expertise, resource and market reach. What we as Maori will bring in return is an honest need to talk, to communicate openly and to share, be it with txt or with koura. There are huge barriers we face, not the least how Maori homes will deal with the Digital Switch Over (still no research exists around Maori and the DSO) but as Maori, we do bring that sheer determination and that ability to bring to life living legacies that enhance and affirm our place in this changing world. Sure, we will have to seek out the resources because we all know that while there is very little money, there is no shortage of mahi. Nikolasa and I will focus on what can be done now, with the little we have but looking to grow the people, the resources and the good will, to pay the bills but more, to expand, to build new pathways toward our collective Maori success.

Haumi-e Hui-e Taiiki-e.

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