Principles of Kaupapa Māori

Kaupapa Māori theory is based on a number of key principles. Graham Hingangaroa Smith (1990) initially identified six principles or elements of Kaupapa Māori within the context of educational intervention (Kura Kaupapa Māori) and research [1]. These elements and principles have since been expanded by other Kaupapa Māori theorists such as Linda Smith (1997), Leonie Pihama (2001) and Taina Pohatu (2005). Other theorists who have also contributed to the development and growth of Kaupapa Māori methodology include Russell Bishop (2005), Kuni Jenkins (2001), Cheryl Smith (2003) and others.

The key elements or principals of Kaupapa Māori research are outlined here:

Tino Rangatiratanga - The Principle of Self-determination
Tino Rangatiratanga relates to sovereignty, autonomy, control, self-determination and independence. The notion of Tino Rangatiratanga asserts and reinforces the goal of Kaupapa Māori initiatives: allowing Māori to control their own culture, aspirations and destiny.

Taonga Tuku Iho - The Principle of Cultural Aspiration
This principle asserts the centrality and legitimacy of Te Reo Māori, Tīkanga and Mātauranga Māori. Within a Kaupapa Māori paradigm, these Māori ways of knowing, doing and understanding the world are considered valid in their own right. In acknowledging their validity and relevance it also allows spiritual and cultural awareness and other considerations to be taken into account.

Ako Māori - The Principle of Culturally Preferred Pedagogy
This principle acknowledges teaching and learning practices that are inherent and unique to Māori, as well as practices that may not be traditionally derived but are preferred by Māori.

Kia piki ake i ngā raruraru o te kainga - The Principle of Socio-Economic Mediation
This principle asserts the need to mediate and assist in the alleviation of negative pressures and disadvantages experienced by Māori communities. This principle asserts a need for Kaupapa Māori research to be of positive benefit to Māori communities. It also acknowledges the relevance and success that Māori derived initiatives have as intervention systems for addressing socio-economic issues that currently exist.

Whānau -  The Principle of Extended Family Structure
The principle of Whānau sits at the core of Kaupapa Māori. It acknowledges the relationships that Māori have to one another and to the world around them. Whānau, and the process of whakawhanaungatanga are key elements of Māori society and culture. This principle acknowledges the responsibility and obligations of the researcher to nurture and care for these relationships and also the intrinsic connection between the researcher, the researched and the research.

Kaupapa - The Principle of Collective Philosophy
The 'Kaupapa' refers to the collective vision, aspiration and purpose of Māori communities. Larger than the topic of the research alone, the kaupapa refers to the aspirations of the community. The research topic or intervention systems therefore are considered to be an incremental and vital contribution to the overall 'kaupapa'.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi - The Principle of the Treaty of Waitangi
Pihama (2001) identified another principle to be taken into account within Kaupapa Māori theory: Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840) is a crucial document which defines the relationship between Māori and the Crown in New Zealand. It affirms both the tangata whenua status of whānau, hapū and iwi in New Zealand, and their rights of citizenship. The Tiriti therefore provides a basis through which Māori may critically analyse relationships, challenge the status-quo, and affirm the Māori rights.

Ata - The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships
The principle of āta, was developed by Pohatu (2005) primarily as a transformative approach within the area of social services. The principle of āta relates specifically to the building and nurturing of relationships. It acts as a guide to the understanding of relationships and wellbeing when engaging with Māori.

Ata focuses on our relationships, negotiating boundaries, working to create and hold safe space with corresponding behaviours.
Ata gently reminds people of how to behave when engaging in relationships with people, kaupapa and environments.

Āta intensifies peoples' perceptions in the following areas.

  • It accords quality space of time (wā) and place (wāhi).
  • It demands effort and energy of participants.
  • It conveys the notion of respectfulness.
  • It conveys the notion of reciprocity.
  • It conveys the requirement of reflection, the prerequisite to critical analysis.
  • It conveys the requirement of discipline.
  • It ensures that the transformation process is an integral part of relationships.
Āta incorporates the notion of planning.
Āta incorporates the notion of strategizing.

For more information about Kaupapa Māori theory see

[1] Smith, G. H. (1990) ‘Research Issues Related to Maori Education’, paper presented to NZARE Special Interest Conference, Massey University, repreinted in 1992, The Issue of Research and Maori, Research Unit for Maori Education, The University of Auckland.;