Traditional Māori workforce
Traditionally Māori worked within their whānau (family) or hapū (subtribe). Activities such as planting, harvesting, hunting birds, fishing and eeling were seasonal. Some tasks, such as rat trapping, canoe building and warfare were largely done by men; weaving was done by women. Tohunga were specialists in areas such as carving, tattooing, building and spiritual matters.
After Europeans arrived, Māori traded goods for items such as guns. Māori provided goods that Europeans wanted, such as kauri timber for ships’ masts, and large amounts of flax for making rope. They also grew potatoes for trading.
Early in the 1800s Māori men began working on whaling ships.
In the mid-1800s Māori grew wheat and built flour mills to process it. But later, tribes lost much of their land. Māori had to work as labourers for Pākehā farmers, or on government contracts building roads or railways, or clearing forest. Some whānau or hapū groups formed shearing gangs.
From the late 1920s Apirana Ngata set up schemes to help Māori develop and farm their land.
Moving to the city
After the Second World War increasing numbers of Māori moved to the city. Many worked in factories, and in hospitals, hotels and boarding houses.
Early Māori professionals included Apirana Ngata (a lawyer) and Peter Buck and Māui Pōmare (both doctors), all of whom had attended Te Aute College. However, through the 20th century there were few Māori professionals, and most were in teaching, nursing and the clergy.
In the early 2000s more Māori had higher education and worked in professional jobs.
Restructuring and unemployment
During economic restructuring in the 1980s many Māori lost their jobs as freezing works closed and government industries like forestry, railways and the Post Office were cut back. The Māori unemployment rate was more than twice as high as that of non-Māori.
In the 2000s there were larger numbers of self-employed Māori – but Māori were still less likely to be self-employed than Pākehā.