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Abstract

This paper surveys Internet information resources relating to the Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and examines issues that arise when indigenous peoples’ culture is placed in a digital networked environment.

Introduction

The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Maori, descended from the great Polynesian voyagers who swept across the Pacific, arriving in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago, calling the land “Aotearoa,” the land of the long white cloud, reflecting the view of the landmass topped with cloud that the early voyagers must have seen as they came south. About 200 years ago, the Maori started to have contact with Europeans and their technology, with results similar to those experienced by other indigenous peoples: population decline through disease, loss of land and sovereignty, and cultural alienation.

On the other hand, the Maori were noted for their uptake of European technology. Muskets, of course, were adopted quickly, to the cost of the settler forces. Maori adopted European agriculture and shipping methods quickly [SIN59], and there was significant print output by Maori in the early days of colonization [DEL87]. This rapid uptake of technology is being echoed today in the way the Internet is being used by Maori. The title of this paper is taken from the Maori saying “Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi”; “The old net lies in a heap while the new net goes fishing.” Maori are today, if not abandoning older methods of communication, at least exploring the possibilities of the electronic “Net”: the Internet and the Web.

This paper surveys the range of use that Maori are making of the Net and discusses issues that arise. These issues are relevant to a wider audience than purely New Zealanders, since they reflect the concerns that information professionals will need to address as they create digital libraries and museums of information about many different cultures.

The range of information relating to Maori on the Internet includes databases, for instance of land and language information; virtual museums that display Maori cultural objects; Web sites that promote Maori commercial initiatives; and sites for organizations researching and teaching in the area of Maori culture. The Internet is also used as a communication medium by Maori activists and others interested in Maori issues.

The presence of Maori information on the Internet has benefits for Maori, for instance by creating a Maori presence on the information superhighway and offering a way of preserving and promulgating information. However, many Maori see risks to their culture in making information too freely available on the Internet.

Some issues that arise, and which have implications for other indigenous peoples, include

  • Threats to cultural values
  • Loss of control of information when it is digitized
  • Intellectual and cultural property ownership issues
  • Accuracy and authority
  • Commercialization of information
  • Access issues