Mauri is the life spark or essence inherent in all living things that has been passed down from ancestors through whakapapa. Mauri affects and is affected by the surrounding environment. It is a motivating force and also encapsulates a process of change from Mauri moe, a state where potential is as yet unrealised; through Mauri oho, sparks of interest and the realisation that change is possible; to Mauri ora, an action oriented stage of striving towards full potential (Keelan, 2014; Pohatu, 2011). Mauri, along with tikanga (cultural values) drives the expression of āhuatanga, a person’s characteristics and qualities (Ware, 2009; Ware & Walsh-Tapiata, 2010) and is closely connected to identity exploration and development, and flourishing. Thriving occurs through realisation of one’s inherent strengths and the ability to stand in one’s own truth (Kerekere 2015, 2017b).

There is ample youth development literature focused on young people’s identity exploration experiences, including navigation of identity challenges, the benefits arising from being afforded opportunities for self-discovery, and the effects associated with having a strong cultural identity. However the idea of supporting young people’s self-discovery and strengthening their identities is largely absent from the existing YDSA principles. Consequently, the Mauri principle stands somewhat apart from the existing six YDSA principles.

The Emphasis on Identity in Youth Development Models

The expression and affirmation of positive identity is a core feature of many positive youth development models. In indigenous models, one’s personal identity is inextricably linked to the collective (Arahanga-Doyle et al., 2018), as illustrated in the Ware and Walsh- Tapiata’s (2010) description of Mauri above and in Te Ora Hou’s Maia model (Baxter et al., 2016; Te Ora Hou, 2011; Wayne Francis Charitable Trust – Youth Advisory Group, 2011). Keelan points to the instructive comments in E Tipu e Rea regarding the importance of keeping one’s cultural identity and heritage at the fore as one navigates their developmental journey, as well as taking on board the lessons offered by other cultures. The latter point of having the confidence to move between cultural worlds is also emphasised in Simmonds et al.’s (2014) Te Kete Whanaketanga – Rangatahi model. Positive Identity is also one of four internal asset categories in the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets and self-belief forms a core feature of the 5 C’s model of PYD; these are two evidence-informed international PYD frameworks often referred to in research literature on youth development in Aotearoa New Zealand (e.g., Burnett, 2018; Deane, 2012; Deane, Meissel, Moore & Gillham, 2017; Farruggia & Bullen, 2010; Furness, Williams, Veale, & Gardner, 2017; Smit, 2016; Williams, 2015).

The Importance of Positive Cultural Identity

The Youth 2000 research provides a snapshot into several dimensions of cultural identity for taiohi Māori. Since the first survey in 2001, there has been a large increase in the number of taiohi Māori who know their iwi affiliation, from 60.3% to 76.6%. Most are proud to be Māori and many feel it is important to them to be identified as Māori. Younger Māori were more likely to report being satisfied with their knowledge of Te Ao Māori and that they could understand and speak Te Reo well, when compared to older young people. This suggests that generations of taiohi Māori are increasingly engaged with and connected to these aspects of their cultural identity. Similarly, more than 80% of young Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan and Niuean youth are proud of their ethnic heritage, and most Samoans and Tongan youth are able to speak their language. More than 70% of other Pasifika youth, other Asian youth (excluding those identifying as Indian or Chinese), Middle Eastern, Latin American and African, Pākehā and Other European young people are also proud of their family’s culture. Indian and Chinese young people involved in the survey reported the lowest levels of pride in their ethnic culture (64% and 57% respectively; Clark et al., 2013). The Youth ’12 report also illustrates the growing ethnic diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand communities with 42% of young people identifying with more than one ethnicity, compared to 29% in 2001. Two-thirds of Pasifika young people identified with at least two ethnicities, including 13% who identified with four or more ethnic groups. Almost two-thirds of Asian young people identified with only one Asian ethnicity, with remaining young people far more likely to identify with a non-Asian ethnicity (33%) than another Asian identity (5%).

In interviews with young Māori in South Auckland, participants described a set of conventional indicators of authentic Māori identity (Borell, 2005). These included using te reo, having knowledge and connection to iwi, engagement with marae, attending kōhanga reo or other Māori medium education, and participating in kapa haka or waka ama. However, these young people also described obstacles to accessing these indicators, which limited their capacity to engage in their Māori identity in conventional ways. Instead, they cultivated their identity through other experiential indicators. Material disadvantage, a ‘Māori’ environment – characterised by being rough, bad parenting, and lacking in resources – and gangs were significant to their understanding of a Māori identity. The participants in Borell’s (2005) study articulated a “Southside” identity based on being Māori in a specific part of South Auckland. Being Southside meant acknowledging the negative image of South Auckland, but coupling this with reflections on what is great about it.

Webber (2012) asked young Māori what they like and dislike about being Māori. Participants cited culture (e.g., kapa haka or cultural traditions); a sense of belonging, community, and place; experiencing pride and status as tangata whenua; religion, language, and the way Māori look as positive associations with their identity. Many participants (62%) said racism and discrimination is a negative part of being Māori, including stereotypes about violence, gangs, crime, and being “dumb” or lacking academic ability.

Several studies have explored how cultural identity impacts the wellbeing of young people. Williams, Clark, and Lewycka (2018) found young people with a strong Māori cultural identity tended have better mental health outcomes, such as better wellbeing and lower depressive symptoms. However, youth who experienced ethnic discrimination were more likely to experience mental health risks like poorer wellbeing, increased depressive symptoms, and suicide attempts. Therefore, promotion of cultural identity as well as a reduction in ethnic discrimination is needed. In Webber’s (2012) interviews with high achieving Māori youth, having a positive ethnic identity as Māori was important to their healthy development by instilling a sense of belonging and place. Furthermore, their identity contributed to resilience and coping with challenging circumstances. For instance, one participant referred to using his mana to manage distracting classmates.

As part of a cross-cultural study regarding identity and wellbeing, Reese et al. (2017) collected data from Māori, Chinese, and Pākehā youth. Participants were asked to tell their life story to an interviewer, identifying important events which changed their life. In doing so, researchers were able to establish how youth make sense of their identity – an important developmental task during adolescence. Only for Pākehā youth were personal developments, such as a change in religious beliefs or the kind of person they want to be, linked to wellbeing. The authors suggest this may be due to cultural differences in valuing the individual over the collective. Māori youth were more likely than others to weave a theme throughout their life story, connecting events around a coherent theme. This may be due to the value placed on memory and narrative in Māori culture.

Manuela and Anae (2017) explored ethnic identity and wellbeing through a Pasifika lens. Their review of the literature shows strong ethnic identity has benefits not only in wellbeing, but also in education and justice sectors. They argue for the differentiation between cultural programmes based on language and creative arts, and ethnic programmes. Such programmes should be responsive to the differences in being “island-born” or “New Zealand-born”, as well as addressing colonisation and encouraging Pasifika young people to use Pasifika knowledge to understand and navigate their life.

Navigating Multiple Identities

As more and more young people identify with more than one ethnic background (Clark et al., 2013), literature regarding how young people manage multiple cultural identities has emerged. Tupuola (2004) argues that Western frameworks about “achieving” a particular identity are unsuitable for diasporic, global young people, such as those from a Pasifika or Oceanic background. She argues that some young people “weave within and between multiple cultures with relative ease” (p. 88) and challenges the dichotomy of “New Zealand born” and “island born” Pasifika young people. Almost three quarters of Pasifika young people included in the Youth’12 survey are New Zealand-born, and the majority reported feeling comfortable in both Pākehā and Pasifika social environments (Fa’alili-Fidow et al., 2016). Similarly, Tasi (2009) and McIntosh (2005) describe the multifaceted, fluid identity of Samoan and many Māori youth, respectively.

The proportion of young people of Asian descent is growing quickly, and is projected to continue this trend over the coming decades (CSI, 2018). This population is comprised of resident Asian youth as well as international students who may live in Aotearoa New Zealand for years while they study. Some of these young people have multiple Asian identities, and thus develop Pan-Asian identities (Benson & Rahman, 2007). Adopting a coherent Pan-Asian identity is somewhat easier for young people from East and South East Asian backgrounds, as there is a common, compatible set of values among many of these nations. Furthermore, the presence of political and economic ties through organisations such as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) can encourage young people to adopt a broader Pan-Asian identity. Thus, a Pan-Asian identity can allow young people to enjoy their traditional cultural practices, whilst taking advantage of the opportunities provided through a regional identity.

Another study explored the intersection of Māori and disabled identities, working with young Māori who are deaf by using photovoice methodology (Faircloth, Hynds, Jacob, Green, & Thompson, 2016). Participants in this project were adamant about claiming both identities equally because they were proud to be both Māori and deaf. However, these young people experienced barriers to Te Ao Māori at times. For instance, they highlighted the lack of interpreters fluent in both sign language and te reo. While having dual marginalised identities did not appear
to affect the strength of their identity, they might be further bolstered by having the resources to allow greater access to their cultures. In his research on young people with disabilities who also have diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics, and come from a range of cultural backgrounds, Robertson (2017) reiterated the need for such young people to constantly navigate multiple identities. While respondents identified strengths and positives, the intersectional nature of the discrimination and racism they faced could be overwhelming.

The past 16 years has seen an explosion of the LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer) youth sector. From the first National Queer Youth hui in 2003 to the annual youth-led Shift Hui for queer and gender diverse youth, young people with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics have been finding ways to allow their mauri to shine. Snapshot (Ara Taiohi 2015) was developed to explore the complex context of the support sector for Rainbow young people and identify strengths and gaps to support their work. Thirty Rainbow organisations across the country, primarily youth-led, took part in the study. While such groups provided an important role in creating safety and support for identity formation, they also reported significant issues of burn out, minimal funding and routine disclosure of depression, self-harm and suicide ideation from the young people attending those groups. Kerekere (2015, 2017a) emphasises that whānau acceptance of their takatāpui young people is essential to the development of their mauri and key to suicide prevention. Doing so enhances the mana of the whānau.

Identity Development via Programme, Service and Community Engagement

Youth development programming can contribute to the development of strong, positive identity for young people (Arahanga-Doyle et al., 2018; Deane & Harré, 2014, Dutton, 2014; Grocott & Hunter, 2009; Hayhurst, Hunter, Kafka, & Boyes, 2015; Hunter et al, 2018; Smit, 2016) with outdoor adventure programmes perhaps particularly well suited to foster sustained personal growth, as evidenced by evaluation studies demonstrating sustained follow up effects in identity development domains (Grocott & Hunter, 2009; Hunter et al., 2011). Deane and Harré (2013, 2014) describe the facilitated experiential learning cycle that provides the foundation for new self-insights in many youth adventure programmes, along with the social learning that accompanies these kinds of intense but collective growth experiences, also acknowledged by Arahanga-Doyle et al. (2018).

With regards to fostering positive cultural identities, a week long youth development sailing voyage in the Bay of Islands that explicitly drew on Māori concepts of identity and place demonstrated particularly strong effects in resilience and self-esteem for the Māori students who participated. Ball (2010) highlights the importance of grounding youth mental health promotion programmes for Māori in Māori values and strengthening participants’ identities as Māori. However, evaluation research demonstrates that many youth programmes could be enhanced in this regard (Hollis, Deane, Moore, & Harré, 2011; Farruggia, Bullen, Soloman et al., 2011; Fay, 2016). For instance, Māori youth who participated in Project K described their pride in being Māori, despite an acute awareness of the negative stereotypes associated with their culture. The participants noted, positively, how they were not treated differently because they were Māori: expectations were the same for all participants. However, they were a little critical of the lack of knowledge about Māori culture, and subsequent cultural insensitivities, of some instructors which may have further improved their already positive programme experience (Hollis et al., 2011).

Youth identities can also be affirmed through other social services. Munford and Sanders (2014) investigated how support services, particularly social workers, for at-risk youth can contribute to identity development. Three themes were identified in their findings: seeking safe and secure connections (e.g., connecting youth to iwi leaders); providing opportunities to test out identities (e.g., re-engaging with education); and building a sense of agency (e.g., becoming less reactive in response to risk factors).

Elsewhere, research has explored how young people might develop their identity through activism and community service (Harré, 2007), and the interaction between identity and young people’s perceptions of their own wellbeing (Bullen, 2010). Harré (2007) argues that participating in service or activism can promote powerful feelings of belonging and integrity in young people. These feelings can contribute to the formation of an associated identity which then motivates them to continue participating in service. Bullen (2010) explored ‘identity projects’: the activities and goals which contribute to identity development. Within these identity projects, young people who experienced efficacy, belonging, and integrity reported higher subjective wellbeing.