‘Another Tool in the Kete’: Māori Engaging with the International Human Rights Framework
In this study, I consider how the universal concept of human rights is being engaged with and interpreted by Māori communities in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The rights of indigenous peoples have recently been formally defined within United Nations forums and cemented in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This research argues that the indigenous rights movement indicates a shift in many of the debates that have dominated the global rights rhetoric to a more evolutionary concept of human rights. It suggests that engaging with these debates has the potential to open up new dialogue within the human rights discourse for alternative ways of considering human rights at the global level. This will impact the way that rights-based approaches to development are implemented, engaged with and utilised at the local level. However, currently little is known about the ways in which indigenous communities are using human rights at the local level. This work focuses on a successful rights-based community development programme as a case study. Through this exploration, I consider the levels of empowerment and the positive impacts that resulted from increased knowledge of human rights in the region. I further present some of the principles inherent in the successful application of a rights-based development project. From a methodological perspective, it provides an exploration into the way that research involving indigenous communities is conducted. As a Pākehā researcher working with Māori communities I had to take extra care to ensure that this research had an ethically sound methodological foundation. Taking a critical perspective, I consider some of the political and social implications of being a non-indigenous researcher working with indigenous communities. This work illustrates that highly ethical, critical methodological approaches are essential to any development work. Overall, the research proposes that Māori concepts of human rights are placed within a distinct cultural framework. Human rights are understood and given meaning through Kaupapa Māori, tikanga and whakapapa. They are also framed within the experiences of a colonial history. This research provides an example of how this universal framework is localised to fit particular historical, local and cultural contexts increasing its potential to be a tool for positive social change. It provides a conceptual, methodological and practical inquiry into rights-based approaches as a way of delivering development.