Te puna kōrero

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Te puna kōrero is a place to share Māori perspectives on issues past, present and future. Our content is designed to spark conversations, provoke thought, discussion and learning. Ultimately it aims to celebrate the diversity of views and experience within our communities - while challenging us to think, act and be Māori.

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The power and potential of whanaungatanga

By Katrina Smit

Last year Tokona te Raki, a Ngai Tahu-led collaborative launched their approach to increase Māori participation, success and progression in education and employment outcomes. It’s an inspiring approach to fixing a system that continues to deliver poor outcomes for Māori. Their ambition has challenged me to think about how I personally contribute to addressing the inequity for Māori so that the fortunes of living in Aotearoa can be shared by all of us, not just some of us. I work in the public service because I believe systemic change is needed to stop the bleeding of Māori potential. I believe we can, and have to, do better.

I often think about all the energy that we, as Māori collectively and individually, churn through. Working to create change in a system that is so rigid and unwieldy, so slow and reluctant to share the power to change. A lot of the time it feels like we stand around the big black hole throwing good energy into a bottomless pit but not seeing the change that we want to see.

But then I also think about our connectedness, our shared experiences, support for one another, strength, responsibilities and commitment. When I turn away from attempting to'fix' the big black hole what I’ve come to recognise is that these things as the markers of another system – whanaungatanga.

Whanaungatanga has been described as the ‘cement that holds Māori things together’, it is not static, passive or descriptive. It is brought into being through continuous interweaving of processes, responsibilities, relationships and purpose*. Or as Judge Joe Williams has said “Whanaungatanga is what makes us Māori.” 

Here are some of the things that I understand characterise ‘the system’ of whanaungatanga – everyone has a role, it is people centred with careful attention to relationships above all else, complexity is celebrated, trust and reciprocity is at the heart of it, it’s dynamic, and best of all - it belongs to all of us.

So with design thinking front and centre, the question that keeps challenging me is “How might we activate the system of Whanaungatanga, to improve social outcomes for Māori by focussing our attention on what is already inherent to our culture (building on something that already belongs to us) so that we can achieve the goal of all Māori living lives that we value?

And this is the answer that has emerged for me. We underestimate the power of our connectedness. We breathe out a sigh of relief when we feel our jobs are good enough, our kids are educated enough, our homes are fancy enough and the welfare system is far enough away that we won’t be tarnished by being included in the bad statistics. Whether or not it’s intentional, we’re operating from a scarcity position, becoming opportunity hoarders for ourselves and our whānau.

What would it look like to be connected with each other with the intention of sharing opportunities, supporting young people to transition from education through to employment? To weaving them into our professional networks (with other Māori and Pakeha) so that they don’t fall through the cracks but are supported and SEEN for all they have to offer? What if we all strengthen our connections with each other through friendship, kindship, sports groups, kapa haka, school communities so that as a collective whole we can achieve mauri ora for all? What could we achieve if we act from a position of generosity as opposed to scarcity?

Without the fanfare of a name or a brand, a group of us are starting by giving our ‘attention to this intention’ to see where it can go. It doesn’t need funding or a website (ever heard of the old boys network? That’s the model we’re using) and we don’t need an ‘authorising environment’ to do it. There’s no membership beyond putting your hand up, saying count me in and be willing to meet and connect face to face. Like I said, the strength of this is whanaungatanga and it already belongs to us.

If you’d like to talk more about being part of this activation please contact me or message me on Linkedin.

*These descriptions are from Wayfinding Leadership by Dr Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and John Panoho

*Watch Judge Joe Williams talk about whanaungatanga here.

Katrina Smit (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rakaipaaka. Ngāti Matangirau) has a professional background in marketing and communications, relationship management and service design. Connecting people and ideas to increase access and participation is at the heart of the work she does.

Katrina holds a Masters of Art History from Auckland University which focussed on demystifying European representation of Māori in relation to New Zealand nationalism.

An obsessive jewellery, accessories and fashion magnate, Katrina lives in Lower Hutt with her husband Tim and children Arie, Tai and Fernanda.


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+64 22 5227827


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