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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 02Jan02
By Kent Larsen
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LDS Attempt to Microfilm NZ Records Upsets Maori Leader

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND -- A failed proposal to have the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints microfilm about 100 years of New Zealand birth, marriage and death records since 1848 has local Maori officials upset, both because the proposal was even considered, and because the alternative contract led to a fee increase on copies of the genealogical records. Wellington Tenths Trust managing trustee Peter Love condemned the proposal to microfilm records because he said it would lead to Maori ancestors posthumous baptism into the LDS Church.

Love, a Maori who manages the interests of Maori tribes in the land on which Wellington was built, criticized New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs, saying the Trust was "alarmed that this proposal even saw the light of day." He added that Maori's were not consulted on how to preserve the records, but that the records are important to them, "Whakapapa [genealogies] begins with the record of the birth of an individual Maori, and this record is a closely held taonga [treasure] which is generally not given out beyond the immediate family. Least of all is it given out to a specific religion."

Under the Treaty of Waitangi, under which the Maori became citizens of New Zealand, the government agreed to protect the Maori taonga, which is believed to include their Whakapapa [genealogies]. Theoretically, an agreement with the LDS Church could lead to a lawsuit against the government.

The LDS proposal would have cost New Zealand's government just $500,000, and included a proposed effort by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists to create a computer index to the records using large numbers of volunteers.

However, the Department of Internal Affairs rejected the LDS proposal for other reasons. Acting Internal Affairs Secretary Katrina Bach acknowledged that the LDS proposal did have advantages, "the proposal did offer an opportunity to preserve the original paper records from further handling at relatively low cost," but said converting the records to microfilm, rather than scanning them into a computer, was not the ideal option.

Instead, New Zealand's cabinet asked for another option, one that didn't involve the LDS Church, and recently signed a $3.8 million contract with giant computer services firm EDS to digitize the records. Acting Secretary Bach said EDS's proposal included data security and strict controls over how private information, such as adoption certificates, was handled.

But the more expensive EDS proposal came along with higher fees for getting copies of the certificates. Identity document fees will now rise to $30 from $9, and the Wellington Tenths Trust's Love says that the new fees will fall disproportionately on Maori's because of the cultural importance of genealogy, "It is a passionate cultural necessity for most Maori to seek and find out about their own whakapapa. The Crown is damaging Maori ability to secure this most important information by lifting their charges for it," Love said.

The Maori incident may open a new difficulty for the LDS Church's efforts to gather genealogical information and perform posthumous ordinances for the dead. In the past decade, Jews have objected to the practice of baptism for the dead, especially in the case of Holocaust victims, claiming that the practice mirrored the forced baptism of Jews in the middle ages. The Church has subsequently removed the names of thousands of Jews from Church records because of those objections.

The Church's proposal to microfilm records is similar to proposals it has made in the past in many countries around the world. Under the proposal, the Church keeps a master copy of the microfilmed records and adds copies to its microfilm collections, which are available to the public. The Church then extracts names from the records and performs posthumous ordinances, generally for those born more than 110 years ago. However, members of the Church often submit the names of those born more recently.


$3.8m contract to digitise births and deaths
Otago NZ Daily Times 28Dec01 N1
Mormons offered records

Mormon proposal upsets Maori spokesman
Auckland NZ Herald (NZPA) 28Dec01 N1


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