New book sheds new light on Māori contribution

A new book by Victoria University of Wellington senior lecturer Dr Maria Bargh offers insights into a highly secretive world while also challenging perceptions about the economic contribution of Māori.

Maria Bargh

A Hidden Economy explores Māori participation in the private military, suggesting that the extent of involvement presents a challenge to stereotypical views which primarily consign the Māori economy to the farming, fishing and forestry industries.

Dr Bargh believes the relatively high proportion of Māori entering private military organisations is partly a reflection of a large percentage of Māori in the New Zealand Defence Force, although many may not have initially been aware of the private sector possibilities.

“People hear a lot about how much money individuals can get paid in the private military sector, and some join for that reason,” says Dr Bargh. “But, for Māori in the industry, there are all kinds of contributions and connections they make back to the Māori economy.

“It’s interesting to note that Māori in the private military are not seen as a warrior people with skills predominately suited for frontline activities, as is often the perception in New Zealand,” says Dr Bargh. “They are commonly referred to as Kiwis and very often picked for management positions.

The book is the end result of what started out as simple curiosity about this traditionally closed world.

“In the course of my day-to-day research, I kept hearing about Māori who were travelling to and from places like Iraq or Afghanistan in a capacity outside of a typical nation-based defence force,” says Dr Bargh.

“I became very curious about all this activity, but because of the highly specialised and secretive nature of the work, I was a little nervous about exploring things further.This world is not particularly well documented for a reason. People don’t tend to just voluntarily come forward.”

Undeterred, Dr Bargh started making enquiries to see if anyone was open to discussing their experience and was amazed by the positive response.

“In many respects I put this down to something very unique to the principles of Kaupapa Māori. The way the network developed from my initial enquiries meant the trust was already firmly in place by the time I reached the key individuals.

“Because of this, the participants tended to speak very openly and frankly about their work in these organisations. This was great for the book, but it also meant I had a tremendous responsibility to them as individuals.”

A Hidden Economy is published by Huia Publishers and will be officially launched at Vic Books on the University’s Kelburn campus on Wednesday 18 November at 6pm.