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The Australian National University

School of History Seminar Week 3: Closed Stranger Adoption and Māori (1955–1985): Violence, Sex, and Race

Date and time

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - 16:15 - 17:30


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU

Matron with babies at Bethany Home, Wellington, NZ, 1969. [Source].

Between 1955 and 1985 over 80,000 children in New Zealand were adopted. The majority of these children were adopted under the State-sanctioned practice of ‘closed stranger adoption’. While exact numbers are unknown, it is widely accepted that a significant proportion of these adoptions involved children of Māori ancestry who were placed into white homes.

This presentation of my thesis is based on the oral histories gathered from social workers, birth parents, and adopted people who have personal experience of this practice. Viewed collectively, their histories and my own analysis demonstrate that adoption and race are inextricably linked. Secondly, the adoption of Māori children in New Zealand, while differing in policy and practice with Indigenous adoptions in Australia, Canada, and the USA, has also resulted in long-term inter-generational impacts on family values, kinship ties, and social organisation. Lastly, I will speculate on the processes and effects of the trans-racial adoption of Māori children in comparison with the processes of colonisation itself.

Maria Haenga-Collins is a cross-cultural adoptee from New Zealand and is of Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Ngāi Tahu, and Irish descent. Maria completed her Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) and her Master of Social Work at Massey University after which she worked as a clinician in a specialist mental health team. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Australian Centre for Indigenous History. Her work on closed stranger adoption and Māori has been disseminated through a range of media: visual art, theatre, print media, conferences, and journal articles. Maria has also been interviewed on Radio NZ and is to be a witness in a Waitangi Tribunal claim on behalf of Māori who were made wards of the State, adopted and fostered through Government welfare systems.


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