Ensuring data sovereignty and the continuity of Māori consciousness

2 August 2023 | Read time: 4 minutes

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Late in March 2019, Aurere was the setting for the second of two hui about the future of Māori data, co-hosted by SfTI, the Data Iwi Leaders Group and Te Hiku Media. This started a collaborative conversation which has, among other things, led to the funding of the Te Pā Tūwatawata, an indigenous Māori data sovereignty repository

As part of the ‘Ending with Impact’ phase, The Science for technological Innovation National Science Challenge (SfTI) is funding the Te Pā Tūwatawata,  an indigenous Māori data sovereignty repository. This will be designed to protect and ensure the survival of the continuity of iwi Māori consciousness. This project is part of and informs a longer-term programme towards investment in the realisation of Māori Data Sovereignty.

Traditionally, a Pā Tūwatawata is a place of strength and security, positioned strategically within the environment to defend those within its stockade. 

“A data repository is not necessarily new technology – however a data repository solution which carries the consciousness of an indigenous peoples and is centred on indigenous tikanga is,” said Kirikowhai Mikaere, Pou Ārahi of Te Kāhui Raraunga and Lead Technician of the Data ILG of the Iwi Chairs Forum.

Image: Te Kāhui Raraunga May 2023: Launch of the Māori Data Governance Model Report: Tuia te Korowai o Hine Raraunga.

Te Pā Tūwatawata is to be an iwi Māori designed, owned, and operated repository network that creates security of the highest level. All the programming used will reflect traditional Māori methods of data repository models (holding protocols and principals that align with kawa and tikanga for respective datasets depending on the levels of sensitivity or tapu). The underlying programming and coding will also reflect a collective framework set and tested by the different iwi cohort participating in the research.

“We see Te Pā Tūwatawata as allowing for the continuity of our consciousness,” said Kirikowhai Mikaere. It is the intergenerational transmission of the distinctive way that Māori think, act, engage with, and see the world both at an individual and collective level. It is underpinned by our own cultural systemic responses to transmit our knowledge and consciousness to others across time and generations.”

The project is seeking to balance kotahitanga and mana motuhake in the context of a digital repository of data, including security, access, and authenticity. It will also investigate how to configure this repository for individual iwi and the collective.

“SfTI is proud to be working with the Data Iwi Leaders Group to create a safe environment where Māori can reveal the latent potential of ancestral knowledge to realise rapid exponential change and begin the building of intergenerational systems through technological innovation,” said Prof Sally Davenport, SfTI Director. 

By the end of the project Te Pā Tūwatawata will have a detailed technical plan to inform the pilot build. The aim is to help build a prosperous and technology-driven iwi Māori economy.

“We are providing $600,000 over the course of a year to fund the hardware and infrastructure, environmental and cultural impact, and software standards and security analysis for Te Pā Tūwatawata. The most important element, however, is how these technical elements interact with tikanga. SfTI is providing support within a longer-term ambitious plan of what could be achieved in this complex environment,” said Sally Davenport.

This work follows on from two Māori Data Futures Hui. The first was held in Wellington in 2018 and the second in the Far North at the home and invitation of the late Tā Hekenukumai Puhipi (Sir Hector Busby), an internationally recognised world leader in traditional navigation, Māori astronomical knowledge and waka building.