Land loss and the intergenerational transmission of wellbeing: The experience of iwi in Aotearoa New Zealand

Soc Sci Med. 2022 Mar:296:114804. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.114804. Epub 2022 Feb 9.


We analyse the impact of land loss, through colonisation, on contemporary cultural wellbeing and health outcomes of Māori, the Indigenous population of Aotearoa New Zealand. In 1840, Māori legally owned all land in the country; by 2017, Māori owned just 5% of land. Ties to the land (whenua) have been identified as being critical to spirituality (wairua) and health (hauora). All tribes (iwi) experienced major land loss, but the timing, extent and nature of land loss differed across iwi. In some cases, land was confiscated following the New Zealand wars of the nineteenth century. We draw on recently derived data for historical landholdings of 70 (North Island) iwi to link the extent of historical landholdings, and whether land was confiscated, to contemporary outcomes for five cultural wellbeing and health outcomes for each iwi: te reo Māori (Māori language) proficiency, importance of involvement in Māori culture, visiting an ancestral marae (meeting place), difficulty in finding support for Māori cultural practices, and rates of regular smoking. We find that higher land retention within an iwi's rohe at the end of the nineteenth century is supportive of contemporary cultural wellbeing outcomes, while confiscation is linked to higher contemporary rates of smoking. The evidence is consistent with historical trauma having significant effects on the cultural wellbeing and health outcomes of Aotearoa New Zealand's Indigenous population over a century later.

Keywords: Aotearoa New Zealand; Cultural wellbeing; Health; Land; Language; Māori; Smoking; Te reo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • New Zealand
  • Smoking*
  • Spirituality