Manu is my homegirl: navigating the ethnic identity of the Māori adoptee
West, Emma Florence
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The adoption of New Zealand infants and children was such a prevalent practice in the 1960s and 1970s that it has been described as one of New Zealand’s greatest ‘social experiments’ (Else, 1991, p. 197). The secrecy permeating this practice meant that up until 1985, adoptees of this era were denied access to records identifying their birthparents. Amongst these adoptees were Māori children, transracially adopted by non-Māori adoptive parents. Although currently Māori identity is seen as crucial to Māori self-determination (Durie, 1998) very little has been written about how Māori who have been raised outside of their culture identify ethnically. This qualitative research aims to contribute to such discussions. Using a social constructivist paradigm and applying ideas from social psychology, the narratives of eight Māori adoptees born between the years 1955-1979 are analysed to determine how they interpret their social and emotional experiences and how they navigate their ethnic identity. The author’s insight, as both an adoptee and a Māori person, is used to illuminate the discussion at certain points. The analysed case studies, which have been gathered from in-depth interviews, reveal that assumptions about Māori identity strongly influence the Māori adoptees’ interpretation of their experiences and this consequently affects how they commit to their Māori identity. Embedded in the Māori adoptees’ language and behaviour is evidence of ideology used to define Māori identity. The emotional ramification of being a transracial adoptee varies depending on how the adoptee chooses to interpret this ideology. One of the conclusions reached in this study is that if Māori identity is to be used in law and politics, then static and essentialist notions of identity need to be challenged. This will require a broader perspective of identity that is more inclusive of the diverse representations within the Māori ethnic group.