Forging a relationship with Iwi

New Zealand’s public service has been on a mission to move out of monocultural mode for decades, and there’s still a long way to go. But a partnership between Ngāti Kuri and Auckland Museum is providing a possible model for government agencies.

In the latest issue of IPANZ’s Public Sector Journal, we have spoken with Ngāti Kuri board member Sheridan Waitai about the relatively new partnership between the iwi of approximately 6,500 people in the Far North, and the Auckland Museum.

One of the iwi’s primary goals is to completely rejuvenate their lands and oceans, bring back taonga species, and transform 33,000 hectares of their rohe into an eco-sanctuary, protected by an 8.5 kilometre predator-proof fence — and the museum partnership is absolutely central to that.

The partners have developed a shared-work programme, which continues long-term land and ocean studies and kicks off new studies such as a stocktake of Ngāti Kuri taonga species.

To take the workload off Ngāti Kuri and to co-ordinate the scientific research within their rohe, Auckland Museum now brokers contact between Ngāti Kuri and New Zealand’s scientific institutions such as NIWA; Landcare Research; and Auckland, Otago, Massey, and Canterbury universities.

Museum staff  regularly run “bioblitz” events in the Far North, teaching Ngāti Kuri kids how to survey pest and taonga species and monitor the health of ecosystems such as freshwater streams.

Ngāti Kuri objects that are in the natural science collection are now catalogued in both Western scientific and mātauranga Māori terms, while new exhibitions exploring the natural sciences from a Ngāti Kuri worldview are in train.

Auckland Museum Head of Natural Science Tom Trnski says the four-year partnership has completely transformed the way his team works with Ngāti Kuri and done wonders for the museum’s understanding of how to work successfully with iwi.

Lil Anderson, Chief Executive of Te Arawhiti, the Office for Māori Crown Relations, says government agencies can learn a lot from partnerships like the one between Ngāti Kuri and Auckland Museum.

“What’s clear is that central government needs to follow suit. We need to completely rethink the way we engage with iwi. I’m talking about everyone from leadership to policy makers to people delivering services in the regions,” she says.

“We need to engage more, and we need to change the way we engage. We need to explore the institutional racism and unconscious bias within our agencies. We need to rethink our organisational processes – from the way we govern to our hiring practices. And we need to identify the ingredients of successful partnerships and embed them in our agency practices.”

In July, Te Arawhiti launched a new online portal called Te Haeata outlining the Crown’s Treaty commitments to Māori. Next year, the portal will become open to the public and give everyone a way to track an agency’s progress towards meeting its Treaty commitments.

Meantime, Te Arawhiti has started documenting the Crown’s iwi partnerships (and what’s being achieved within each one) as another way to track progress and share good practice.

You can read more about the partnership between Ngāti Kuri and Auckland Museum, initiatives being taken by other museums including Te Papa, and public service initiatives towards biculturalism in the full article in the Public Sector Journal here: