We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Elliot; Little Giddings

This is not a new consideration but one that has sat in the background and foreground for all my professional life.  Likely it is the same for all of you too.  What does it mean to be a tangata whenua ‘ally’; what are our responsibilities as tangata tiriti?

As said, this question is one I often ponder, and I have been sitting on this blog for some months while the question has ruminated.  I am sure there are no easy or black and white answers to the question and many days I think the more I am getting close to an answer then the less I know the answer.  My pondering has renewed this week while watching news reports on the passing of Moana Jackson and Tā Tipene O’Regan receiving his New Zealander of the year award today.

As I cast my eye back on my now nearly 30 years of social work practice it is good to see what has changed and what has remained the same in my understanding of being a tiriti partner.  I notice that in many ways my understanding has come full circle.

I began my social work education in 1989; that auspicious year that the ground-breaking CYP&F act came to fruition; although I did not understand that in 1989, nor fully appreciate how hard fought the realisation of the legislation had been.  I arrived at my first year, as a white middle class English immigrant girl from a sheltered Christian background, ironically
from a community with high Maori and Pacific population but with no real understanding that three of my closest friends were Maori and what that meant.   My mantra in those early years was that everyone would be treated with ‘respect‘. 

How would I work with Maori?  Well I would respect them, like I would anyone else.

Biculturalism was the language of the day and I entered my social work practice able to articulate how consideration of partnership, protection and participation met my treaty obligations.  I could stand and speak a shaky pepeha when needed, knew to take my shoes off at the door, not sit on pillows and had a basic idea of which iwi came from which area.  I had even gone back to find out which iwi my school friends were from. 

So was this Bicultural practice?  Was I now being a good ally and treaty partner?

Then somewhere further down the road the ‘3 P’s’ began to fade out of vogue.  (Let’s face it, they are an invention to make working with Te Tiriti ‘easier’).  Enter instead discussion about the articles of te tiriti and how our actions, policy and behaviour support the articles to exist in real time.  This was an exciting change and invited me deeper into thinking beyond how I encouraged participation, protection, and partnership to thinking more practically about what had been agreed to in each article and what responsibility I had to engage in behaviour that responds to what had been promised in 1840.  This required slightly more thought-out answers than perhaps the ‘3 P’s’ had encouraged.

And in more recent times the focus has changed again.  I have supervised social work students on placement recently who are discussing how to implement concepts such as  manaakitanga, wairuatanga, tino rangatiratanga, whanaungatanga in their practice.  Articles, dialogue, and research are talking about decolonisation, and how as Maori and Pakeha we need to decolonise our thinking and our realities.  This invites a deeper realisation about how much of my education, practices and experiences, our systems, processes, and organisations come from a Pakeha lens and how important it is to decolonise this for myself (while also being careful of any appearance of cultural appropriation!  Kia Tupato!)

So into the supervision room?  What am I discovering about being a good te tiriti partner? 

Yes, it is creating space for karakia, waiata, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga.  And it is also asking questions that create the space to know answers from a Te Ao Maori framework.  It is encouraging supervisees to consider whether kaumatua or kuia should be consulted, it is encouraging supervisees to consider what iwitanga, or tikanga or maraetanga can support learning and direction.  It is being okay with having absolutely NO IDEA what the answer maybe when you ask whether there are Maori models or approaches that will be helpful.  And it is being humble and tentative and honest in any question that takes me outside my Pakeha view of the world, as I ‘dance’ around the edges of encouraging Matauranga Maori to be more present in supervision conversations.  In addition it is knowing who you are working with in supervision and where they are in their journey as Tangata Whenua or Tangata Tiriti. 

And so this has been my journey, well a brief overview.  There were many courses, reading, hui, and mistakes; not to mention the numerous gracious, patient and kind tangata whenua who have taught me, guided me, (and continue to do so) and allowed me to learn.    And I feel like I have come full circle. 

It is still about respect…..

However in 1989 it was about respect for an individual; in 2022, it is about respect of Te Ao Maori, Tikanga Maori, Matauranga Maori, and respect to wish for a society where these things are as dominant and utilised as Pakeha approaches. 

So I end this blog with a paraphrase of the words from Tā Tipene O’Regan this morning; Te Tiriti is not just for Maori, it is for non Maori too.  We each have a role and responsibility in being in relationship with each other under a tiriti that evolves and helps us know how.

So while this journey never arrives at a final destination, I hold faith that I will continue to discover new ways of being a Treaty partner/Tangata Tiriti and we will all collectively walk closer to honouring promises made in 1840.


Ngā mihi nui

Karen