Five tips to engage with Māori

By Atawhai Tibble

Number 1. Nā Wai (as in Nā wai te hui i karanga? or who set up the hui and why?)

First things first, the purpose of any engagement is critical. So, who set up the engagement, and what is their purpose?  Why do they want to meet with Māori? What are their objectives? What does success look like?

You need to clarify this up front. This may be iterative. But you need to land on this as soon as possible.

Number 2: Mō Wai (as in Mō wai te hui or what is the benefit for Māori?)

This is really the flipside of the first wai – it’s about clarifying the benefit of your meeting for Māori.

Now it’s one thing to go out there and think that you can talk to Māori because you want to help them, and so they are benefitting from talking to you. Yet one of the funniest sayings in Māoridom is “We are from Wellington and we have come to help!” Māori don’t believe that sorry. In fact, too often, Wellington people stuff things up. A key reason for this is that they don’t pay enough attention to clarifying Māori needs.

So, when you are planning a trip to visit Māori or Māori groups, get really clear about the benefits for the people you are visiting. Be sensitive to their needs. Try to understand these.

Also, don’t be a seagull: don’t just drop in and take off. If at all possible, stay as late as possible. Don’t leave early to catch a plane. If you can stay to eat together, do it. Māori really respect this, and never forget it. 

Finally, it’s even better to make yourself well known. If you want to have a long term relationship, then don’t just go once. Reconnect. Go back.

Number 3: Me Wai (as in Kei te hui tatau me wai?)

Given the purpose, who do you need to see?

Be really clear on the Māori groups you need to connect with, and this includes looking for opportunities to include things the agency is already doing or wanting to learn.

Number 4. Ko Wai (as in Ko wai kei te honohono, kei te tuitui i a tatau?)

One of my key tips is that you absolutely need a key link person – a Māori connector or navigator. They will guide you and show you around. But they will also keep you safe. 

Sometimes it is someone in your office. Other times, and most of the time, there is a local person who is a well known connector.  They can tell you who is who out there, who the real chief is (including the chieftanesses), and what is going on.

If you are heading out to see Māori in the regions, make sure you have one of these. Find that person. Help them to help you.

Number 5. He Wai (as in He wai or a song?

Make sure you know your marae 101’s: mihi, waiata, hongi.

Be prepared.

Its 2015 people! The haka has been nationalized. It’s viral. 

Doing a mihi (which is not only greeting, but letting people know who you are, via your pepehā or cultural gps coordinates), being able to hongi (it’s a nose press, not a head butt), and singing a wai: all of this stuff is standard.

Have a go, cause it’s cool to korero!

But being prepared also means knowing when to – and when not to. Sometimes there may be a very formal welcome. Other times you may go straight into business. All that may be needed is a simple mihi. Trust your local guide or navigator as they will ensure you do the right thing at the right time – or in other words, get the tikanga right.

So…follow these tips, understand your 5 Wai’s, work with your team of Māori advisory and support staff, and go for it!

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