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Building relationships with mana whenua

Building effective and ongoing relationships with mana whenua is essential; find out how to begin this process in this article.

Arguably some of the most important connections for us are those with mana whenua, the local Māori tribe or subtribe that hold the authority over your local area. Building a relationship with mana whenua is important and takes time, and it should always be an organisation-wide approach.

Who are we building a relationship with?

There are several terms that describe our partners in these types of relationships:

When the purpose of our mahi | work or the purpose of a specific project is Māori generic or affects Māori across the country, we might engage in a relationship with a group that is representative for Māori in general. These might consist of respected experts, kaumatua and kuia | elders, kaimahi Māori | Māori staff members and other stakeholders, from the local rohe | area or from further afield.

When we are concerning ourselves with projects that concern a specific region, it would be best to engage with the iwi or tribe for this region.

With a local project, or when we are looking at a specific small local areas, such as the rohe our culture and heritage institutions is located on, we want to engage with the local hapū or subtribe. There might be more than one local hapū in your area, so you might be engaging with more than one group.

Most hapū have several marae associated with them, and you might be engaging with representatives or committees from these marae.

Tangata whenua is one term that is used to describe the people that are indigenous to Aotearoa New Zealand or to a local area (it can also refer to the hosts for a hui or meeting). Depending on the scope of your mahi, this could again be several hapū.

Mana whenua commonly refers to Māori people that have the traditional right to occupy and use an area of land.

As you develop your relationship, ask your partners how they would like to be referred to. For this article, we have adopted the expression mana whenua.

What is the purpose of our relationships with mana whenua?

A relationship with mana whenua needs to be beneficial for them as well as for us. We need to consider carefully what kind of engagement suits the particular context. Māori advisory groups are busy people, and we don’t want to waste their time; ensure that your approach of mana whenua does not double-up on other approaches from your organisation or from organisations you are closely associated with. Relationships do not need to be initiated by you, mana whenua could also approach you to support them.

These are the three main ways of engagement in a culture and heritage context:

1) Consultation: We approach mana whenua for feedback, advice or clarification on an issue that concerns Māori interests amongst other interests. An example of this could be the review of a policy.

2) Collaboration: We work together with mana whenua to determine the problems and develop solutions in regards to a particular issue or a specific project. While this is often limited in time and scope, it might lead to an ongoing relationship that allows for a true partnership or co-design. You might use this approach when you redesign learning programmes, or when you strengthen the stories you share with learners. Mana whenua might also approach your organisation, for example to collaboratively develop a resource with them for their tamariki and rangatahi.

3) Partnership or co-design: Through an on-going relationship, mana whenua and our culture and heritage organisation identify problems and develop solutions that are mutually beneficial to mana whenua and others. The combined work is significantly beyond what each of the partners could do on their own (or as Ken Blanchard called it, “One plus one is a lot greater than two”). As we had discussed in Step 5.14, these partnerships are usually formalised, and are of an ongoing nature.

How do I identify the right partner?

Regardless of what approach you take, building relationships with mana whenua takes time.

Many culture and heritage organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand have a iwi liaison person or a iwi advisory board. They should be your first port of call: Describe to them what your issue or concern is, what kind of engagement with mana whenua you are seeking. Are they aware of existing relationships, or parallel approaches from other departments or from other institutions? They will be able to advise you how they can support you.

If your organisation does not have a liaison person or an advisory board, and if they are on the beginning of their journey to engage with mana whenua, start by identifying those members of staff or from your volunteers, who have connections to mana whenua. Build a group who is committed to meaningful engagement, and be guided by those kaimahi.

If this approach does not work in your context, identify your local iwi and approach them. They will be able to refer you to people who can help or at least further refer you until you have the right party at the table.

Be prepared for mana whenua to not be available at this time, or not be available to support you to the degree you have in mind.

How do I develop a meaningful relationship with mana whenua?

You might find this collection of guidance documents helpful as you develop your relationship with mana whenua:

Some common threads include:

1) Begin with and continue to work on your relationship with mana whenua. For meaningful engagement, you need to be prepared to invest time and make this an ongoing commitment.
2) What do you bring to the table: Who are you personally, what brings you to the local rohe? For mana whenua, the divide between professional and personal person does not exist to the same degree; learning about your will help build trust. You need to contribute to the trust relationship before you can ask for support or contributions from your partners.
3) Listen to the kōrero of mana whenua which will often be very frank and might sometimes feel confronting. By being prepared to listen before you list your concerns and requests, you will learn a lot about your future partners, and possibly about yourself. At the same time, you show that you value their time and their contributions to the partnership.

When establishing meaningful relationships with mana whenua, you are entering a space you might be less familiar with, te ao Māori or the Māori world / world view. Part of this are tikanga | customs and kawa | protocols and te reo Māori or the Māori language. While a guide (as suggested in the resource from Auckland Council) will be very helpful, you committing to learning te reo Māori and upskilling on tikanga will go a long way to strengthen the relationship with mana whenua and help you to better appreciate te ao Māori.

Further information

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