A ‘forgotten’ whakapapa: historical narratives of Māori and closed adoption

Type of content
Journal Article
Thesis discipline
Degree name
Informa UK Limited
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Ahuriri-Driscoll, Annabel
Blake D
Potter H
McBreen K
Mikaere A

The era of closed stranger adoption is a significant part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s social and colonial history; some 80,000 children were legally adopted between the years 1955–1985. Māori children constituted a considerable proportion of these legal adoptions, although little attention has been given to their experiences. The relative silence surrounding this phenomenon exists alongside narratives of colonisation and a professed abhorrence by Māori to closed adoption practice, producing a narrative discrepancy. This article aims to understand and account for some of the discrepancies in public narratives by providing an accurate historical account of engagement with the 1955 Adoption Act and its 1962 amendments from a Māori perspective, and unpacking the legal, political, social and cultural aspects from a historical experience. The complexities and nuances of settler colonialism are highlighted, as well as the effects for Māori adoptees of not being publicly and historically narrated–forgotten subjects. Glossary of Māori words: Aotearoa: the Māori name for New Zealand; hapū: kinship group, clan, sub-tribe; iwi: kinship grouping, tribe; korero: to tell, say, speak, talk (verb); speech, narrative, story, discussion (noun); Māori: normal, usual, natural, common or ordinary, used to refer to indigenous New Zealanders; mokopuna: grandchild/grandchildren, descendant; Ngāpuhi: the people or tribal grouping of the Northland region; Pākehā: New Zealanders of European origin; tamariki: child/children; Te Tiriti o Waitangi: the Māori text of the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document which enabled British settlement of Aotearoa; tikanga: culture, customs, traditions; whakapapa: genealogy, lineage, descent (noun); to place in layers (verb); whanau: family; whanaungatanga: relationship, kinship; whāngai: customary child placement, literal meaning to feed, nourish or nurture.

Ahuriri-Driscoll A, Blake D, Potter H, McBreen K, Mikaere A (2023). A ‘forgotten’ whakapapa: historical narratives of Māori and closed adoption. Kotuitui. 18(2). 135-152.
adoption, Māori, settler colonialism, assimilation, historical narratives
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
Tāngata whenua | Indigenous people (Aotearoa); Māori people; People, Māori
Whakapapa | Family history; Genealogy; History, Family; Kinship; Relationships; Wakapapa
ANZSRC fields of research
45 - Indigenous studies::4507 - Te ahurea, reo me te hītori o te Māori (Māori culture, language and history)::450710 - Te hītori Māori (Māori history)
45 - Indigenous studies::4510 - Te hauora me te oranga o te Māori (Māori health and wellbeing)::451008 - Ngā wāhanga ora o te Māori (Māori life course)
44 - Human society::4410 - Sociology::441009 - Sociology of family and relationships
43 - History, heritage and archaeology::4303 - Historical studies::430320 - New Zealand history
43 - History, heritage and archaeology::4303 - Historical studies::430312 - Histories of race
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