The High Court has recently decided that Oranga Tamariki was correct in identifying a child as Māori despite the father’s wishes otherwise. The Court concluded that such a decision is not up to a parent or guardian to make.

The child went into the care of Oranga Tamariki shortly after she was born and was later placed into the temporary care of a family friend. Throughout the child’s dealings with Oranga Tamariki she has been identified as a “Māori” child.

The child’s mother is of Māori, Aboriginal, and Scottish descent, while her father is of Scottish descent.

According to law, the care of a Māori child should remain with the child’s family, whanau, hapū, iwi or family group, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

The father wished for the child to permanently remain in the care of a family friend. The Court had to determine whether the decision to identify a child as Māori is a guardianship decision, or a decision of fact.

According to the law, a child’s parents have the right to make all decisions in relation to “important factors relating to the child” as well as decisions regarding the child’s development. “Other important matters” include the child’s culture, language and religion.

The father argued that the term “culture” includes ethnicity, which directly relates to whether the child is identified as Māori.

The Court agreed that the term “ethnicity” is about a person’s culture. However this does not relate to whether a person is identified as a particular race. Rather, whether a person is identified as Māori depends on whether the person is of the “Māori race of New Zealand, which includes any descendant of such a person”.

Whether a child is of Māori decent is not something that a parent can decide, but is rather a matter of fact and genealogy.

The Court then considered how Māori is defined in tikanga. Evidence provided to the Court showed that whakapapa plays a strong role in whether a person is Māori. Whakapapa was described in the decision as a “birth right” and not something that is chosen by any individual.

Other New Zealand laws also define “Māori” as a person “of the Māori race of New Zealand, including any descendant of any such person”. The Court therefore concluded that whether a child is identified as Māori depends on the child’s whakapapa, race and descent, but is not a decision that a parent or guardian can make. 

The Court concluded that Oranga Tamariki was correct in identifying the child as a Māori child and she therefore would need to be placed in the care of family.

As a parent or guardian, it is important to be aware of your rights and obligations in relation to your child. If you are confused about these rights and obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

 

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Gianna Menzies and Hunter Flanagan-Connors