A leading demographer says we need to rethink what it means to be Maori after finding that almost a fifth of all Maori in the world now live outside New Zealand.
Dr Tahu Kukutai, a Stanford-educated research fellow at Waikato University, told a Population Association conference in Auckland yesterday that 151,000 of the 815,000 Maori people in the world now live overseas - 140,000 of them in Australia.
She has used census data from Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada to calculate the numbers of Maori in those countries at the beginning of the last decade, and has estimated population growth since then.
The figures are approximate because some countries do not record Maori ethnicity directly so she had to estimate them by matching birthplace data with ethnic categories such as "other race not Chinese".
But she found that there were now multi-generational Maori communities living away from New Zealand. A third of people with Maori ancestry in Australia were born there, and about 6000 are third-generation Australian Maori whose parents were also born there.
Yet, Dr Kukutai said, they had not lost their sense of being Maori, who were less likely than other New Zealanders in Australia, who were in turn less likely than all other immigrants, to have taken up Australian citizenship.
"It's something about the identity, that sense of longingness, because the notion of being Maori is so heavily rooted in being in Aotearoa. That perhaps gives the support for enduring Maori communities away from home," she said.
Although some Maori have gone overseas since the earliest days of European contact, she said the huge scale of the diaspora was a new phenomenon and required new thinking.
"Are there ways of being Maori away from home?" she asked. "How many generations can you sustain that? What about land succession?"
She said iwi organisations were trying to maintain contact with members who still had land rights at home but were now scattered around the world.
"They have set up taurahere [groups of Maori outside their ancestral lands]. My uncle is the chair of one in Perth," she said.
But organisations such as the Tuhono Trust, through which Maori people can register with their iwi, struggle with people who do not update their addresses when they move.
"You get whole families that come back for the koroneihana [annual ceremonies honouring the Maori King], but we can't always rely on that," Dr Kukutai said.
"Are we going to have podcasts, or password-protected whakapapa websites? Because it's scary to walk up to someone you don't know, and perhaps your mother or father didn't know."
She said Maori were now roughly as likely as other people born in New Zealand to be living overseas. Maori made up 15 per cent of all New Zealanders in Australia, comparable with their share of the home population.
But Maori in Australia were much younger, and more likely to be in less skilled manual jobs, than Maori who stayed in New Zealand.By Simon Collins Email Simon