Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending a meeting with our organisation’s Te Ara W?nanga, a critical friend grouping of M?ori leaders that provides advice and guidance to Manat? Taonga on M?ori cultural issues. I’ve attended their meetings before and always value the opportunity to listen directly to people like Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Karl Johnston, and others.

This w?nanga was a little bit different in that it included kaihaut? from our partner organisations, Ng? Taonga, Te Papa, Heritage NZ and DIA, as well as most of Manat? Taonga’s senior leadership and third-tier management teams. One of the main topics was looking at Te Ara Taonga and better approaches for the cultural sector, and government in general, to engage with iwi.

Te Ara Taonga has seen these five cultural sector agencies (or six if you count DIA as National Library and Archives NZ) come together and jointly engage with iwi. Iwi have responded positively to this; it saves time, it means they only have to tell their story once to all agencies at the same time, and iwi and agencies can collaboratively work out who’s best to respond to iwi needs around the same table.

I came away inspired and feeling that maybe New Zealand is on the cusp of generational change in Crown-M?ori relations. Certainly sitting around a big table talking about these issues together, openly, honestly and in an atmosphere that encourages people to contribute and listen, is a great space to be in.

But I also came away wondering what the role is for P?keh?. Listening is one part, and an important part, but it’s got to be more than that (and no one’s going to argue with that, right?).

P?keh? need to do more than listen. They need to do the some of the hard mahi, not as leaders but as workers taking direction and instruction from the actual leaders in this space: M?ori.

There aren’t enough kaihaut? to do all the mahi on their own. That’s true in the cultural sector and it’s true right across government. It’s probably also true for many iwi. The pressure on a handful of M?ori who know how to work in the space occupied by Crown and M?ori interests is huge and well-known. For those in government, they need genuine support that comes from an entire organisation behind them.

But P?keh? need to step back and let M?ori lead. P?keh? need to follow, and that means follow instructions. In this world P?keh? don’t get an automatic spot on the paepae. They need to start in the wharekai before they can enter the wharenui, and earn our stripes in a different way to fit into a different world.

For some P?keh? it’ll be a huge challenge to give up leadership and accept authority from someone else. For some they’ll complain that it’s not in the spirit of partnership for P?keh? to take a back seat. But to embrace partnership we have to learn a new way of working and learn from the people who know this part of our culture.

Only when we’ve learned from M?ori, and M?ori have the space to lead, can we think about leading together in partnership. I look forward to that day, and in the meantime I’m looking forward to learning how to make an honest and genuine contribution to getting there.