Local Government Magazine

Why better relationships with Māori are vital

Walking hand in hand. Involving Māori in local government decision-making is not a tick-the-box exercise, says Rina Douglas. It’s essential to the economic growth of our regions and everyone who lives there.

Rina Douglas
Rina Douglas

Iwi, hapu and whanau who have settled their treaty claims, or are on the verge of doing so, continue to be a rising force in heartland New Zealand. These organisations, be they trusts, incorporations or other entities, are more resourced then ever, and are constantly striving to bolster their internal capacity with an array of business, economic development and other technical skills.

No longer are they ‘one-man-band’ organisations. They are multifaceted business-like structures with diverse economic, social and cultural aspirations. They are developing strategic plans to cement their futures and are hungry to prosper, thrive and deliver on their kaitiakitanga obligations to the generations that will follow them.

Why should this matter to councils? Māori organisations such as Post-Settlement Governance Entities (PSGEs) are economic powerhouses in their own right, with huge potential to inject value into local economies. These burgeoning organisations have similar motivations for their people and many of ‘their people’ are also council ratepayers.

The rise of PSGEs presents significant opportunities for local authorities to partner up on projects with shared outcomes. By combining resources 
Māori organisations and councils can create a step-change to regional economies through industries such as agriculture, tourism, aquaculture and natural resource management.

However, many local authorities are reluctant to engage early in processes outside established channels such as committees, iwi liaison officers or designated kaumatua. This is often borne out of fear of offence, hesitation to be flexible with process timeframes or simply being unaware of the benefits from engaging with Māori.

To seize on these opportunities councils need to have early discussions, whether formal or informal, at the inception stage to explore the possibilities of coming together. This requires a change in mindset from local authorities, a willingness to see beyond the status quo, and changes to the way that local authorities perceive and engage with Māori organisations.

Local authorities will benefit from embracing the vitality and energy that many Māori organisations have. And if there is genuine engagement, those strong relationships will ultimately benefit the entire region.

After all, the goals of local authorities and Māori organisations are often the same, and can be summarised in this often cited whakatauki or proverb: He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, the people, the people.

Common pitfalls

At Giblin Group we often work with groups who feel that, had they been involved in the very early stages of a project as opposed to being invited to contribute towards its latter stages, they could have provided great insight and injected significant value into the project.

Some of the other issues we have encountered include:

  • Local authorities failing to understand the differences between iwi / hapū / whānau;
  • Inability to identify a clear or mandated spokesperson;
  • Fear, to the point of paralysis, of causing cultural offence;
  • Overly rigid timeframes for consultation. Not understanding that iwi / hapū / whānau representatives are required to get a mandate from their people;
  • Seeing iwi / hapū as one-dimensional. Not understanding that they are complex, strategically-driven organisations; and
  • Failure to understand the importance to Māori of building holistic relationships.

Good ways to work together

  • Create an organisational culture that understands that building relationships takes time and effort, and that there is value in investing that time;
  • Build in time at the very beginning of a project or process to identify appropriate groups within your area;
  • Invite relevant groups into the tent early. You might be surprised at what innovative ideas they have to bring to the table;
  • Stocktake the ‘status’ of groups in your area, ie, where are they at with settlement claims?
  • If you need to, get external assistance with managing relationships, ie, someone who has the trust and confidence of these groups 
and can act as a ‘connector’;
  • Encourage staff to see engagement as an opportunity to build a strong relationship into the future on a broad range of topics; not 
just a one-off interaction specific to a particular project.

This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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