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Poipoia te Kākano i Ruia Mai i Rangiātea: Māori Cultural Embeddedness - From Theory to Measure

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posted on 2023-09-26, 23:20 authored by Ririwai Fox

To be Māori is a wonderful privilege. Being Māori means having whakapapa Māori and, through that whakapapa, being entitled to the treasures endowed to us by our ancestors, which are contained in our culture and its language, customs, beliefs, and values. Unfortunately, through colonisation processes which sought to oppress Māori people and suppress Māori culture, there are many Māori people who have been obstructed from cultural learning opportunities. Moreover, as a result of land alienation, displacement, and urbanisation, Māori people today live in a multiplicity of circumstances and thus experience diverse realities (Durie, 1995a).

The Māori identity literature is deeply focused on avoiding the stigmatisation and double marginalisation of Māori people by ensuring that people without cultural learning opportunities are not further excluded from their Māori identity. The literature rightly rejects the notion of ‘essentialism’ (Gillon et al., 2019), confirming that there are no ‘essential’ criteria to qualify as being Māori enough, especially fluency in te reo Māori or knowledge and experience in other cultural practises.

At the same time, a strong connection to culture is extremely beneficial and has been linked to a number of adaptive outcomes (Fox et al., 2018; Matika et al., 2017; Muriwai et al., 2015). There is therefore an important need to be able to promote the benefits of being culturally connected whilst also being sensitive to the experiences of those people who have been obstructed from cultural connection opportunities. In the present thesis, I argue that ‘Māori identity’ is used as an umbrella term to refer to three related but different concepts: Ethnic categorisation, ethnic identity, and enculturation. The notion of essentialism stems from a conflation of these three separate concepts, such that enculturation is wrongly used as a marker of ethnic identity and a criterion for ethnic categorisation.

In the first study, using theoretical methods and drawing on my Māori cultural experiences, I developed the concept of cultural embeddedness to disentangle enculturation from the other components of Māori identity. I defined cultural embeddedness as: the degree to which individuals have utilised opportunities to learn, experience, engage with, and integrate the core values, beliefs, and practises of their culture. This definition recognises the importance of the availability of opportunities for embeddedness, thereby avoiding further marginalisation, but also promoting the value of being and becoming culturally embedded. I also introduced the Dual-Pathways Model of Embeddedness to Culturally Valued Behaviours for Indigenous Minorities (DPM), which theorises the pathways through which embeddedness leads to the enactment of general behaviours that are consistent with cultural values. These foundations ensure that the concept of cultural embeddedness is firmly grounded in theory.

In Study 2, I built on the theoretical foundations of Study 1 through a qualitative exploration of Māori cultural embeddedness. I interviewed 10 knowledgeable Māori people who (by my estimation) are themselves culturally embedded and who also have had experiences observing other Māori people at various levels of cultural embeddedness. My research partners elucidated the key values, beliefs, and practises of Māori culture, the characteristics of a person who is culturally embedded, and the cultural transmission process for becoming culturally embedded. The values of whakapapa, whanaungatanga, and manaakitanga were highlighted; wairuatanga and pūrākau were noted as key belief systems; and tikanga was referred to as containing key cultural practises, which are underpinned by cultural values and beliefs.

In the final study, I utilised the learnings from Studies 1 and 2 to develop a valid and robust measure of Māori cultural embeddedness: the Māori Cultural Embeddedness Scale (MaCES). The items were strongly informed by the findings of Study 2, but additional factors were identified as well. The scale contains 43 items and consists of three primary factors (i.e., Values, Beliefs, and Practises) which are further divided into secondary subfactors. The Values factor is comprised of Whanaungatanga, Whakapapa, Manaakitanga, Mahi Rangatira, and Kaitiakitanga; Beliefs is comprised of Wairua and Pūrākau; and lastly, Practises is comprised of Comfort in Cultural Practises and Tikanga. The structural validity of the MaCES was achieved, but further validation is required.

In the final chapter, I discuss the implications and applications of Māori cultural embeddedness. Conceptually, Māori cultural embeddedness is a useful addition to the Māori identity discourse, promoting embeddedness using a strengths-based approach and simultaneously avoiding double marginalisation. Practically, the MaCES is useful for generating further research on the benefits of embeddedness. I explored the overlap and differential utility of the MaCES and the Multidimensional Model of Māori Identity and Cultural Engagement (MMM-ICE; Houkamau & Sibley, 2010), and argued that both measures are needed, despite some minor overlap among domains. Finally, I closed this thesis with an invitation to all Māori, especially those who have had limited cultural learning opportunities, to come and be embedded in Māori culture, receive the treasures of our ancestors, and enjoy the benefits that they offer.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

210802 Te whāomoomo i te tuku ihotanga me te ahurea Māori (conserving Māori heritage and culture); 210805 Ngā tikanga Māori (Māori customary practices); 210899 Te tuku ihotanga me te ahurea Māori kāore anō kia whakarōpūhia i wāhi kē (Māori heritage and culture not elsewhere classified); 210701 Ngā tokoingoa hauora (determinants of Māori health); 210502 Te whanaketanga me te oranga o te Māori (Māori development and wellbeing)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Jose, Paul; Neha, Tia