Building software in Aotearoa

Starting foundations :

  • Tino Rangatiratanga : Iwi never ceded sovereignty and as such possess Tino Rangatiratanga1
  • New Zealand is a settler-colonial nation
  • Māori ways of knowing are multiple, diverse and not less than other ways of knowing
  • IT is neither objective nor neutral

I am not going to talk about the decolonisation of software development, because decolonisation must start with the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Or in the parlance of these times “Land Back”. There are much smarter people than I working on this massive topic, so what I am going to attempt to do is suggest some few small ways we can start to build software better here in Aotearoa.

1. Data must remain on our whenua, and with a NZ owned company.

We simply can’t achieve any level of Māori data sovereignty if data is stored outside of NZ’s legal jurisdiction. It’s hard enough to get NZ law to recognise Te Tiriti o Waitangi, let alone others.

2. Co design is not a real thing unless practiced under an equity lens.

Every project is a product of the society it is built in. We live in a racist society that is actively hostile towards Māori in a lot of ways. Unless this is accepted and factored in, no amount of participatory design will guarantee a project that doesn’t serve to reinforce existing systems. As Angela Davis said “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

3. Not about us, without us.

If you are building something that touches on anything Māori, Māori need to be involved. This, like the other points to be honest, isn’t specific to software projects but is a general rule for any work in Aotearoa.

4. Names are important, get it right

Māori names may contain tohutō (macrons) so storing, displaying and searching of them must handle them. Macrons are important, just ask weta. Māori names may often contain more than one word. A first name could be one, two, three or even more words. Assuming each part of a name is split by a space is a false assumption and will result in your system assuming there are hundreds of Māori called Te.

5. If you are collecting data about Iwi/Hapū affiliations, there is no limit on the number of Iwi a person can belong to, don’t put arbitrary artificial limits in your software.

6. On a related note, New Zealander is not an ethnicity.

7. The software you build is a built on the foundation of your, and the people you work with, biases, life experiences, language and so on. This is not always a bad thing, but pretending that you are able to be objective in design decisions is. Verbalise, or write down, your assumptions, check them with your peers and more importantly with the intended audience of your software.

8. Finally, maybe don’t build it at all. Not all ideas are good ideas and not all clients are good people. This is probably the hardest one to put in place because in the society we live in we have to get paid to be able to live. But if you are in a place where you can say no to implementing bad ideas, or working for bad people, please do.

1 –

Further reading.

Dussel, E. (1995) Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures). In: Beverley, J., Oviedo, J. & Aronn, M. eds. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Durham, US: Duke University Press: 65-77.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2000. ‘The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference,’ South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (1): 57-96

My work bookshelf

Perhaps not the average selection for an IT place, but it should be

Nethui 2019

To start with, I just want to say this is purely a summary of what I took away from Nethui this year. Also I will be being careful not to takahi anyone, If I do, please let me know and I will apologise and correct it. Nethui was held inside Te Papa, and my feelings are we were in off the marae ātea at that point and that the rules of Rongomaraeroa apply. It would be very hypocritcal then of me to have spent the last 3 days talking about tikanga and te ao Māori, to then be whakahīhī and belittle others, a most un Māori thing to do. All that being said (longest disclaimer ever) here we go.

This year I attended both the 2 main days of Nethui and the partner/pre events on Wednesday also.
The first session I attended on Wednesday was about blocking/filtering parts of the internet, mainly focused at the ISP level. Some interesting discussion was had, but I’m not sure any sort of consensus was reached, but I don’t think there ever will be one on such a topic, especially when (usually) those making the decisions are those least likely to be impacted by them. But it was a good discussion to be part of nonetheless.
After lunch, Amber and I got a little lost and ended up in an Ally Skills workshop, which was the best accident of the whole 3 days. It was a great workshop that I won’t try to summarise here, but if you ever get the chance to do it, you should. I’ll be happy to explain why in person.
That evening there was a Māori in Tech dinner at Dragons restaurant. It was great to see some familiar faces, and meet some new people.

Thursday Nethui proper started with a whakatau, and then into the first keynote. This was interesting, my one piece of feedback, and I tweeted it at the time is that I prefer (and think it is more effective) when people use examples from their own place/culture, than using others.

I don’t think anyone from a settler colony would have to think too hard to find examples of oppressive and brutal regimes.
Following that I attended a session on Environmental Sustainability and the Internet. It was a great session, with one exception. The guy who tried to tell everyone that there were no tāngata whenua left

I wish I could say it was surprising, it did seem to surprise a lot of the non Māori that he would say that, but we hear it all the time. What was surprising and in a good way, was how quickly the room shut this nonsense down.
So a bit of a rocky start to the morning.
After that I went to the session on Copyright, the main topic of discussion was the upcoming copyright reform act, and how the time to make submissions is now. It was a little worrying how people are still quite confused between copyright, trademarks and patents. I think that this is something that perhaps would be a good mini talk in its own right. The discussion was good, and one of the ideas was that Te Tiriti o Waitangi should have a much more prominent position in the legislation. Which was great to hear.
Following lunch there was the keynote from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who spoke eloquently, and in my promise of non takahi, I’ll leave it there.
I had quite a few issues with the panel afterwards, I am not going to name names, but when you are talking about what happened in Christchurch in March, and the one Muslim on the stage talks about white supremacy, the last thing you should do is talk about terrorism with all your references being non white supremacists. It was like watching gaslighting play out on stage.
After that, and a few deep breaths, I went to Building a New Zealand Disinformation Response plan. The main thing I took away from this is we are way underprepared for what is coming our way. And that the existing organisations such as the BSA and the media council are not able to deal with things other than traditional media. You may be able to guess how I (as a Māori) think they do dealing with traditional media currrently. It was also discussed how there is no one place a person could report disinfomation too.
Following this was drinks, nibbles and networking. A long day, equally interesting, positive and frustrating.

Friday the first up for me was the session on Internet of Things. It quickly became clear data privacy is the main issue so most of the discussion focused around this. I could sum it up by saying non-Māori seem to have far more trust in the Govt and its agencies than Māori do. Another reason NZ history needs to be taught in schools.
Following this was Amber and I facilitating a session on Digital Colonisation. I think this went ok, but I’d much prefer someone else summarised/shared their opinions on it than me.
The final session I attended was Technology & Māori Community wellbeing. I missed the start as I got caught up downstairs after our session, so I think I missed quite a lot of the context, so I didn’t really get much out of this. My fault entirely.
After the wrap up, a few of us went out for some drinks and dinner, which was fantastic. This leads me nicely into the highlights (for me) of Nethui.
It was the people, it’s always the people.
Catching up with old friends. Hanging out with the rangatahi Māori, hanging out with the other mātua and whaea, making new friends.
I particularly liked watching the young Māori speak up, with clear and direct words. We could do a lot worse than to get out of their way.
Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi

Pae Tīhau Māori

I was reading this excellent post by Carrie Stoddart-Smith (which I discovered via Twitter) and it got me thinking about how I use Twitter itself. If you are a New Zealand Twitter user you have probably bumped into someone using the word Twitterati.  This is usually used as a insult, often in conjunction with equally prejorative phrases like ‘hive mind’ etc. Now while the Twitterati don’t exist (it’s pretty much just a group of friends acting like friends) there certainly are subgroups of NZ Twitter out there.

One of my favourite of these is what I am calling Pae Tīhau Māori, or the Māori twitterverse. I think a major characteristic of it is whanaungatanga (this is how I got to here from Carrie’s post). A lot of what I see is awhi, and whakawhanaungatanga. People helping and encouraging each other, and people making connections with each other.

One recent example of this whakawhanautanga happened with me just last week. While I was in India, reading twitter over breakfast, I noticed this Twitter exchange with my Dad.


Now this jogged my memory, Nanny Ada Davis fed me my first solid meal (which I don’t remember) but I remember being told, and I remembered the photos of me with her. So I posted.

Which after this

And a few more tweets lead to me emailing Phoebe a bunch of photos, for her to share with her whānau. Connections had been reestablished. Then there are things like this

And many many more (please hit me up with any examples you like if you wish). In general and with very few exceptions, I see Māori on twitter helping, uplifting, and connecting with each other. There are discussions, but I am struggling to think of one that wasn’t done out of a genuine desire to learn/discuss, rather than to attack. I am sure there are some acrimonious ones, but I am happy to hang out in my ‘bubble’ it’s a much nicer place to hang out than lots of the internet. Long may it continue. Mauri ora tātou

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu – The power of 7 words

I’ve told a few people this story, it is a very short one the whole thing happened in a few short minutes but it is still very vivid in my mind.

It was 1990, the 150th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti, and events around this were happening all over the motu. I was a seventh former (as we called it in the olden days, last year of high school) and myself and the other 7th formers in the Māori class were at a hui at Putiki marae.

We were introducing ourselves, and I was super nervous. As an aside I noticed this on Tuesday night too, I have no problem at standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people presenting. (I guess it’s the Pākehā man genes kicking in, we’ve been overconfidently talking at people forever). But put me in a setting like doing a mihi and karakia on the marae at Te Papa (Tuesday night) and I get all whakamā. So back to the story, I was nervously waiting my turn and when it came I bumbled my way through it. Then I said something like “as you can see I’m only part Māori”

Moana Jackson (who we were there to kōrero with) then said

There are no parts, you are Māori

Now if I was whakamā before, imagine how I felt now. I felt like I had been told off, but let’s face it to a 17 year old boy everything feels like being told off. Here is this man that my parents hold in super high regard and he’s telling me I said something wrong. I blushed and sat down.

But within minutes, I began to understand. One of the reasons my parents (and I) admire Moana Jackson is because his words come from a place of aroha. He was grounding me, letting me plant my feet, saying you have the right to be here. There are no degrees of Māori, you just are.

Seven words that have lived with me for 26 years now since that day. Seven words that have had a massive impact on how I view the world.

So even though it’s incredibly unlikely Moana will read this, just in case. Kia ora mō tēnā.

He kaituhi hōtaka rorohiko ahau

Warning: This is a messy bunch of jumbled up thoughts, with no real conclusion.

How did I end up here? This is something I often ask myself. How did a person born in Kawakawa, from Te Wai Pounamu, end up in the server room of the Library of Bowen University in Iwo, Nigeria?



When I was young I wanted to be a chef, then I realised how hard they have to work, and noped right out of that idea. I was super privileged that both my parents were teachers, and that my dad has always had a strong interest in computers. We always had computers in the house, since I was about 12, so computer science was what I ended up studying.

In a theme that has continued through a large part of my life, I couldn’t do a double major in Computer Science and Māori Studies in a BSc. So I ended up doing a BSc and a BA. Once I finished my BSc, and while I was finishing my BA I worked part time at Te Pūtahi a Toi at Massey University. For those 2.5 years I was able to really feel like I was a Māori programmer, not a programmer who happens to be Māori.

Since 1997 I have worked for 3 different companies, 2 of them were fantastic, Katipo Communications, and Catalyst IT (where I still work now). The third one, not so much, but that is a whole other story. While Katipo and Catalyst were and are great places to work, the reality of working in IT in Wellington is, it is quite likely you are going to be the only Māori in the room most times. What may be a little different for me is that I don’t look like what most people think Māori look like. (Us Kāi Tahu had contact with Europeans relatively early on, lots of whalers down that way. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “but how much Māori are you?” or “Why did you learn Māori?” I’d have retired about 10 years ago.) This means I get to overhear lots of really offensive opinions and the worst part is when people assume I will agree.  I’m not going to delve into the role privilege plays in IT, apart to say, I think a lot more people could think on Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini kē. (My strength is not the strength of one, it is the strength of many. We are the product of our ancestors and our environments, no one stands alone, no one did it themselves).

So, at least in my experience, the easiest way to be Māori in IT is to be as Pākehā as you can. That’s certainly the path of least resistance and will make your daily life easier. Except of course, unless you are working for a Māori organisation. I also acknowledge that for most of my career I have been working with Libraries, this has brought me into contact with many awesome people through groups like Te Rōpū Whakahau. So I have had a much easier journey than others.

Things are changing though, people are now taking Te Reo classes at my work, I have a great support group of people like my whānau, Kris, Amber and many others here in Wellington. IT has also given me the chance to meet people from all over the world. To visit places like Nigeria, Argentina, Greece, Scotland, Canada, USA, Fiji .. and so many more. It is, in the scheme of things, a pretty damn good career choice. It is something I encourage many more Māori to get involved in, as it is an expanding and massively varied field of work. From User Experience to Design, to Business Analysis, to Operations, to Sales, to Project management, and on and on. There is so much more to it than just us coders. I think in summary I’d say to Māori.
IT is like rugby, there is a position for every type of player. However it is quite likely some cracker is going to say something like we need a sensible Pākehā in the centres.

My list of conference presentations

I realised the other day, I was losing track of the conference presentations I have given. So in order to have a list somewhere I decided to write one here. I’ll update it as I have changes.

I think that’s all of them, if you know of any I’ve missed please let me know

Te Rōpū Whakahau Hui-ā-tau 2012

I was very privileged to attend the 20th Birthday Hui-ā-tau of Te Rōpū Whakahau last week at Waipapa marae in Tamaki Makaurau. It was a fantastic few days, and did wonders recharging my batteries. All the talks were great, and at least as importantly the conversations, between and after the talks were also excellent.

I think my talk went ok, and I got some nice positive feedback. I’m just glad I managed to do something that people found useful.

As you would expect at a gathering of Māori library and information workers, there were a lot of questions about Koha and the TM situation. I was happy to be able to report the lawyers had the situation under control and we were all looking forward to a positive outcome. I can’t imagine that the company who shall remain nameless will ever be doing business with any library that has any Māori influence on it.

Apart from the kōrero, there was amazing whanaungatanga and amazing kai. I would thoroughly recommend anyone Māori involved in libraries or information management join Te Rōpū Whakahau and get along to the Hui-ā-tau next year in Whakatane, I’m hooked that’s for sure.