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The Service Innovation team with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is leading the development of a Digital Inclusion Blueprint for Aotearoa. As part of this we’ve actively engaged with sector groups to gain a better understanding of how digitally included New Zealanders are — and what factors determine the level of inclusion or exclusion.

We travelled around Aotearoa, talking and listening to a diverse range of audiences. This presented opportunities to interact with tangata whenua, who are innovators by nature. This blog is specifically about how we engaged with tangata whenua.

In doing so, the first thing we established was the need to identify leaders and successful initiatives, while at the same time conducting ourselves in line with tikanga Māori.

Tikanga Māori is, and always will be, the best model to engage with Māori. Tikanga Māori is the customary system of values, practices and behaviours that have evolved over time and are used by Māori. This resulted in meaningful discussions and gave the team an ability to gain an understanding of what the digital world looks like through Māori eyes.

As had been expected, we found factors such as poverty, health, education and social needs that disadvantage Māori generally, also have a direct correlation to the access, motivations, trust and skills that are related to digital inclusion/exclusion.

Many Māori youth are not exposed to examples of successful local Māori working in digital professions. And, generally, tangata whenua experience patchy exposure to robotics, coding, geographical information systems, blockchain, artificial intelligence and technological advances.

However, and of more value, we found Māori champions and successful initiatives in the digital field. I see these leaders and initiatives as having taken on the role of tuakana - bastions of realised potential who have direct whakapapa ties to tangata whenua. Their tuakana status is recognised when they nurture others/tēina who have similar aspirations.

They have done the hard work and overcome many barriers, paving a way forward for others to follow. They have surpassed just meeting the needs of Māori — they are providing successful examples that all New Zealanders can follow.

It was impossible to avoid discussions about data and language sovereignty, mātauranga Māori, Māori digital identity, intellectual property rights and licencing. These issues are unique to tangata whenua and other indigenous peoples in the digital field, given their collective ownership responsibilities and differing world views. It is important to acknowledge these issues and not create the expectation the blueprint alone will solve this wero/challenge.

Rather than government telling their stories, we must look at providing a platform where tangata whenua stories can be told and heard. This upholds and acknowledges their mana and tino rangatiratanga. It also provides tangata whenua with an opportunity to realise their potential to take a role in leading others toward a more included future.

Much like poutiriao/the natural gods referred to in mātauranga Māori and the oral histories of tangata whenua, it is no surprise that many Māori are, and aspire to be, creators, as opposed to just users, in the digital realm.

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