Research experts - Co-governance integral to establishing equality for Māori

Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: He Kāinga Whakamana Tangata, Whakamana Taiao National Science Challenge Co-directors Ruth Berry (left) and Rihi Te Nana. Photos: Louise Thomas (Ruth) and Desna Whaanga Schollum (Rihi).

Leaders of a national research entity operating under a Treaty-based co-governance structure say it’s an important step towards establishing genuine equality for Māori.

Building Better Homes Towns and Cities (BBHTC), a National Science Challenge dedicated to exploring sustainable housing solutions, is led by Tangata Tiriti and Tangata Whenua co-chairs and co-directors who share equal authority and accountability.

BBHTC (Tangata Whenua) co-chair Gena Moses-Te Kani and (Tangata Tiriti) co-chair Hope Simonsen say political attacks on co-governance encourage ignorance and fuel racism.

“What it does is it reinforces racism. Saying that we are getting something that no one else is getting is throwing shots without understanding any of the detail whatsoever. It’s undermining and annoying,” says Moses-Te Kani.

Tangata Tiriti co-chair Hope Simonsen says co-governance supports the evolution of an imbalanced western-dominated system.

“It’s just absolutely ridiculous to think that we can work within the confines of a western structure and get good outcomes for Māori. We’re not going to make a difference or change the picture for Māori at all, unless we change the way we are governing and managing.”

Moses-Te Kani says co-governanceis a challenging journey that takes time and patience, but establishing a shared vision and working together at the same pace benefits Māori and Pākeha.

“I was one of two Māori on the board when I joined BBHTC and we focused on creating a balance of representation and actually took the board on a journey. As positions on the board became available we repopulated it with a balanced number of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti representatives.”

Simonsen says a big part of moving forward together is stepping backwards to unpick outdated and restrictive policy.

“We had to acually come back and change the constitution of the governance group to actually allow for co-chairs. It had originally been set up as having just one person as the main decision-maker. We had to go backwards and actually undo some stuff to make sure it was embedded within what we we’re doing now.”

BBHTC co-directors Rihi Tenana and Ruth Berry say Māori community research partners have generated mountains of evidence demonstrating the value of Māori and community-led solutions.

Tangata Whenua co-director Rihi Te Nana says, “the state has no idea what’s good for us, we have all the ideas of what’s good for us. The issue we have is the lack of treaty relationship and partnership for us to enable our own ideas, our own tupuna and ancestral innovations to occur in this space.”

Tangata Tiriti co-director Ruth Berry says western systems will struggle with the concept of sharing authority.

“I think from a Tangata Tiriti leader perspective you have to have a degree of selflessness and you have to really acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Our Māori communities are an absolute treasure and their knowledge should be respected.”

Moses-Te Kani says tackling the key barriers to progressing meaningful change for Māori has always been an uphill battle.

“Fundamentally we are a racist nation. It’s very hard to do anything without acknowledging that first, whether it be personal racism or institutional racism. Those are the barriers to everything that we do as a nation. We need to overcome and address racism.”

Simonsen says inflexible support mechanisms will continue to shut down the progress of innovative solutions.

“I’ve seen some really great ideas come through, but progress would get bogged down in this terrible decision-making framework, which just prohibited things from happening. Everyone was so risk averse and that risk has always been defined by western culture.”

Public consultation on co-governance as outlined in He Puapua is expected to begin later this year and BBHTC is encouraging organisations already championing this approach to step forward and highlight the facts to help drown out the divisive discourse.

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Date posted: 14 April 2022