Whakawhanaungatanga, Not Engagement

Aimee Matiu & Tūmanako Fa'aui - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

Much is written on the importance of engagement with Māori and the value of mātauranga Māori in research relationships. Strategies have been created to ensure that universities are working towards authentic relationships with Māori so as to ‘unlock’ the potential in creating a better future for Aotearoa in working together (Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, 2015). However, the practicalities of how to engage effectively and what a relationship embodies for tāngata whenua remains somewhat elusive.

From a te ao Māori lens, engagement is whakawhanaungatanga; the building of an on-going and reciprocal relationship. In a research context this relationship would be grounded in a shared take (subject, issue or concern) that has the potential to give life to a mutually beneficial research arrangement with favourable outcomes for all involved. Contrary to western research collaborations, publications and associated outputs are not always desirable outcomes for tāngata whenua. While this may be of professional benefit to Māori who may be involved in research collaborations or at an organisational level, research outcomes for tāngata whenua are for tāngata whenua to decide - acknowledging the diversity of context and perspectives. Therefore, effective engagement necessitates negotiation of what the take is, how the take will be approached and the required results. The mana of all those engaging must not merely be included and acknowledged, it must be upheld. Asserted over thirty years to the Māori advisory group for the Royal Commission on Social Policy in 1987, the poignant words of Māori Marsden are just as relevant today:

“we are not here simply to provide ‘cross-cultural education’ or ‘Māori perspectives’...for to accept that perception is to deny to ourselves as tāngata whenua the status of ‘equal partners’’’ (Marsden, 2003)

Perhaps, one of the missing keys in ‘unlocking the potential’ of Māori knowledge, people and resources (Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, 2015) is in moving towards spaces where mana meets mana. Research projects can be a
platform for genuine collaboration between researchers and tāngata whenua, which can then lead to potential further collaboration in the future. The true value of this approach comes in the reciprocal nature of the relationship, where students and researchers are able to experience ‘authentic engagement’, and tāngata whenua are able to identify and incorporate their ideal outcomes. A final year civil engineering student project working with tāngata whenua which embodies the theme of whanaungatanga will be presented in this paper.