National | Census

Census 2023: Kirikowhai Mikaere explains why having Māori descent data in the first release matters

Lead technician for the Data Iwi Leaders Group and Pou arahi of Te Kahui Raraunga, Kirikowhai Mikaere, has been working in data and statistics for almost 25 years. Photo / Andrew Warner

Population counts and Māori descent data from the 2023 Census will be published on Wednesday in the first data release since it was collected last year.

A Rotorua-based leading Māori data and information specialist says it will be the first time Māori descent data is included in the first release, signalling the importance of “iwi-Māori data in iwi-Māori hands”.

The Census is the official count of the people and dwellings in New Zealand and is held every five years, with the most recent Census Day held on March 7, 2023.

The data is used to inform government agencies and local authorities, as well as businesses, iwi organisations, and the public.

It can be used for developing and implementing policies and planning, as well as decisions on services such as healthcare, education, housing, and transport.

Kirikowhai Mikaere (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakaue) is the lead technician for the Data Iwi Leaders Group and pou ārahi of its operating arm Te Kāhui Raraunga, and has been an analyst for almost 25 years.

In the early days of her career, Mikaere said she saw how the government used data and information for decisions that “really heavily impacted our people”.

“People say what you measure, you manage. And I think we should move beyond measuring desperation and deprivation … towards our aspirations and more positive futures.”

Kirikowhai Mikaere has been working with Stats NZ to analyse and process some of the information collected for Census 2023. Photo / Andrew Warner

Mikaere has been working with Stats NZ to analyse and process some of the Census data and said it would be the first time the Census first release would include Māori descent data.

“In [the] first release, it’s usually just population counts for New Zealand … and then possibly a regional and territorial authority breakdown.

“This time around … there will also be the Māori descent population, geographically broken down by regions and territorial authorities. Also, we’ll have age breakdowns.

“This data will be able to tell us how many Māori there are in Rotorua and Tauranga, the make-up of, in particular, our Māori descent population, the age distribution [and] the geographical distribution.”

Mikaere said it signalled the importance of “iwi-Māori data in iwi-Māori hands - how that helps contribute to the right services at the right time to the right people”.

“I think it also will be really powerful for our people to see themselves in the data.”

She said there was a nuance between the Māori ethnic and descent population data - the latter being “bigger” than the former.

‘Trust is the currency of data’

Mikaere said the Census data collation reaffirmed the power of working closer with iwi.

“Trust is the currency of data and so over most recent years, we’ve seen trust in the government wane … working closer with iwi as trusted parts of the community have really, hopefully, helped increase the quality of data we will be able to access.”

The 2018 Census was heavily criticised after it was found one in seven people did not complete it. Data quality was impacted by low response rates, including from Māori and Pacific people. In 2019, government statistician Liz MacPherson resigned, saying she took full responsibility for the issues.

Mikaere said there were three iwi-led pilot collection areas for the Census, which showed the value of working with iwi on the ground to help with engagement, participation, and collecting data.

Mikaere hoped the age structures revealed in the Census would help inform government policies.

“We know that as Māori, we have a younger age structure. The New Zealand population … is ageing. I think what is really important is to not lose sight of the different age structures and therefore how that needs to inform the policies that are currently being developed and policies that will be developed.”

Mikaere said Covid-19 proved the importance of data and the government working with Māori, with iwi-led sources used daily and informing vaccination strategies.

“Working better with us and giving us greater access to data meant we were able to get information to those people in our community who were on the frontline helping our people.”

Government statistician and Stats NZ chief executive Mark Sowden.

A Stats NZ statement said the first data from the 2023 Census would include key counts of the population - the primary purpose of the Census.

Government statistician and Stats NZ chief executive Mark Sowden said more data and detailed statistical releases would be released later this year.

Sowden thanked the “hundreds” of community organisations that stood with Stats NZ and for communities to help people take part in the Census, especially Te Kāhui Raraunga and the iwi involved in Te Mana Whakatipu iwi-led collections in three locations in the North Island.

“Thank you to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand for sharing your information so we can understand more about who we are as a nation now, and how we are changing as a country over time.”

Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.

- NZ Herald