As a second language learner of te reo Māori - someone who, for 30-odd years has grappled with regaining one of my native tongues (I’m English, Irish, Nordic and Māori, which means the native languages of my tīpuna are varied) - I have often considered my duty to te ao Māori when it comes to my profession.
Thankfully, it was my own iwi leaders who told me not to feel whakamā about my inability to kōrero Māori. They said the priority was to use my skills (that is, my knowledge in and around navigating the political ecosystem) to get our people better outcomes. It was our Arawa rangatira, Taa Toby Curtis, who told me the language would come.
When it comes to ensuring government relations is accessible to all - especially underserved communities - my first priority is making sure that those with whakapapa Māori understand the nitty-gritty of this system. Because, shock-horror, when you understand how a system works, you’re better equipped to hold that system to account.
As part of their review into political lobbying, the Ministry of Justice held a series of engagement hui earlier this year. One such hui was with Māori and Iwi. It was an interesting discussion, but it concerned me somewhat because there were no post-settlement governance entities (PSGEs) present. PSGEs are the ones who have the right to engage with the Crown - that’s right, engaging with iwi Māori is not a nice to have, it is a right protected by te Tiriti.
I am a firm believer that those with whakapapa Māori are some of the best lobbyists in Aotearoa New Zealand because many of the advocacy efforts by Māori have been a direct response to challenges perpetuated by the Crown. At the same time, during that hui, I was confronted with another perspective that holds merit and requires us to give additional thought.
One attendee said that in te ao Māori, discussions are inherently transparent - they’re shared openly with everyone. “We are open and transparent people and there are no hidden agendas. We want to be kanohi ki te kanohi and to be up-front.” Another said that statements are made on the marae ātea, using whakataukī to anchor the merit of what’s being said. “It is heard by everyone. I have never heard of a lobbyist in a marae as it is not how our culture operates.”
These are both valid points that require further interrogation as we build the pipeline of confident, competent lobbyists, who understand te ao Māori while embracing transparency and direct communication to advocate for their priorities.
So, how can you use reo Māori in your government engagement? Very carefully. We have the resource below to empower people with fundamental reo Māori words and phrases to use in their engagement. Please download, share, and save for future use, but keep in mind its limitations.
Holly Bennett (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao) is the Founder and an Approved Facilitator of Engage.