May 16, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

What’s Required From Tangata Tiriti

3 min read

For many reasons today I was thinking about a hui I was at some time ago with some researchers who had come to ask our community if they could do some work with us (Source:

We were discussing intellectual property and my Aunt said something that has stuck with me over the years since:

“Stop trying to be Maori, I don’t need you to be Maori – I’ve got that covered. I need you to be a good treaty partner”.

Now, I’m blessed to know quite a few wonderful Tangata Tiriti, some of them have been so for decades in fact. A number of qualities occurred to me today about what I expect to see in a good Tangata Tiriti. Let me say before we go any further – this is not an exhaustive list, it doesn’t shortcut the work Tangata Tiriti have to do to figure out their responsibilities. I’ve been asked a few times “What do Maori want” – its a rude and reductive question, and not one that I recommend anyone ask… because WE are not the problem and what we WANT is not the point. The real question to be asked is – what does justice demand of us? And what follows are just a few things that justice requires of Tangata Tiriti.

  1. Be tau (at peace) with your position. You need to be able to speak frankly about the process of colonization that created the space for you to be here in Aotearoa.  Not ridden with guilt, and not trying to explain it or evade it, but ready to respond to the legacy of that story. Be aware of your own privilege that has descended down to you by virtue of that process. Even in describing your own class, gender, ability or sexuality based oppression, you should know how the legacy of colonization influences your experience of that oppression.
  2. Respect boundaries. So much space has been taken from us, so primarily you need to respect our boundaries where we lay them down. Don’t argue with us when we insist on our own spaces. Don’t make it about your hurt feelings, or your need for inclusion.  Don’t paint it as divisive. If you are mourning the space we have just reclaimed for ourselves, be comforted by the fact that pretty much the entire rest of the world is either yours, or shared with you. We require safe spaces to speak, just us. That will also require you to self identify and self vacate at times. Be proactive. Read the room. Remove yourself out of consideration for the space we need to safely continue a conversation.
  3. Be prepared to make sacrifice. If you understand the story of privilege that has shaped Aotearoa you will understand there has been a mass transfer of power. Justice cannot be restored without addressing the power imbalance. 
    If you are only interested in discussing the past but not responding to it, then you are of no use to the process of restoring justice, and I do have to question whether you are really adverse to racism and the benefits you enjoy from it.
    This will mean learning the art of saying no. No to sitting on panels on Indigenous issues. No to occupying roles and positions where you are paid to impart (and judge) Indigenous knowledge. No to opportunities where systemic failings allow you to accept funding to lead Indigenous projects. 

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