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More Than Ticking Boxes: Engaging with Māori – Kiri Jarden


Post-earthquake Ōtautahi holds lots of promise.

In no small part that promise comes about through the requirement for rebuild agencies to engage properly with mana whenua. This requirement was a reason for my own return to the city as I know it was for many others. It was a door held open and an invitation to start talking: to be at the table.

And it has tangibly changed the face of the city-the mana whenua narrative is present in all of the city’s post-quake public buildings –  making this city one of Aotearoa’s best from a public art perspective.

Across the arts and creative sector too, there has been interest in engaging with mana whenua at governance level and in the gifting of Māori names. There remains genuine interest by many agencies and individuals to engage with Māori in the city, and this has been evident through the development of Toi Ōtautahi, our city’s arts and creative strategy.

Many involved in the process expressed clear interest in seeing the treaty relationship honoured and for ngā toi Māori – Māori arts – to receive support and resource to further develop in the city. This view has further been reinforced by the CCC Life in Christchurch survey in 2021.

But as in all things, it’s easy to express a desire, but a little more difficult to act on it.

A strategy or vision only makes a difference when it’s acted upon with knowledge and purpose. So, what does it actually mean to honour the treaty relationship?

There is no doubt that seeking to increase Māori programming, content and resourcing makes a difference, but these do not necessarily equate with true partnership when the framework or parameters for participation are written by non-Māori.

Māori will struggle to have genuine partnerships under any circumstance particularly if there is no representation at governance, staffing or programming level.

Like any relationship, time, commitment and effort is needed, and the relationship needs to be reciprocal. Its no good if there is only one party deriving benefit.

Being invited to the table is a good first step but there may not always be the right people sitting at the table, regardless of how good the intentions are. The demand on Ngāi Tūāhuriri (who hold mana whenua over much of the city) post-earthquake led to the establishment of Matapopore. While primarily formed to work with central and local government, Matapopore has been engaged on occasion by local arts trusts and others working in the central city to provide advice.

A quick glance at the latest population statistics shows some interesting results for Ōtautahi. We have a growing Māori population who are more likely to be professionals, technicians, trade workers, managers and community workers compared to the rest of the country.

But has that translated to more skilled Māori being on the boards or being engaged as managers at our city’s arts and creative organisations? Not necessarily.

Sitting at the head of a table is unfortunately still not the norm anywhere in the country unless the organisation or business is Māori founded.

So what can your organisation or group do when it comes to engaging Māori? There are steps organisations can take and questions you can ask, which will ensure you are doing more than simply ticking the box when it comes to true engagement.

  • Improve your knowledge of the treaty and of reo and tikanga Māori.
  • Understand that the basis of the treaty relationship is between Māori and everyone else – it’s not simply between Māori and the government.
  • Look to properly resource Māori to participate at the governance or advisory level.
  • Don’t expect one person to be the answer or conduit for everything Māori. If you have engaged someone to look after a particular element of your festival or venue, don’t add all Māori related relationship matters, translation, karakia on that person.  It’s not fair.
  • Don’t lump Māori and Pasifika interests and outcomes together. While there is obviously a shared heritage, Māori are tangata whenua, and in Ōtautahi, that means Ngāi Tahu and the six hapū represented by papatipu rūnaka within the Christchurch takiwā or area. If you are investing for Māori outcomes it’s a good idea not to make your very next question “but what about Pasifika?” –   It’s the wrong question at the wrong time.  Obviously, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider how you also engage with Pasifika communities.
  • Be open to Māori leading all or some parts of your programme-even if you feel unsure about what that means. Toi Ōtautahi has invited us to do things differently after all.
  • Get advice from the right people. If you are seeking mana whenua input make sure are you asking the right people.
  • Is your organisation open to thinking about how you can involve Māori in a truly inclusive way? Be honest about what understanding and relationships are missing.
  • If it feels difficult or slow don’t give up – show commitment and stay in for the long haul.

A truly reciprocal partnership has benefits for everyone, regardless of who that partnership is with. But ‘engaging with Māori’ should be a given in Aotearoa and it’s not enough to just ask if a group or individual is doing this.

The real question is ‘how are you engaging with Māori?’ and it should be a question that doesn’t just have one stock answer.

A note about tangata whenua vs. mana whenua:
Tangata whenua was the main pre-European term describing local people belonging to a place. Tangata whenua stood on the tūrangawaewae standing place of their ancestors, maintained ahi kā fires and as haukāinga were one with the whenua.
Mana whenua is a new term that first appeared in 1904 when Ngāti Kahungunu sought to delineate tangata whenua authority over their territories relative to the government. In 1991, the phrase entered a wider Māori parlance through Dr Cleve Barlow’s Tikanga Whaakaro analysis of mana as authority from mana ātua (gods), mana tūpuna (ancestors), mana whenua (land) and mana tangata (people).
From Ihumātao | Tangata Whenua vs Mana Whenua, Dr Rawiri Taonui

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