Opinion: A few years ago at a hui, a respected kaumātua voiced his frustration regarding the frequent use of the term “engagement” by local government in relation to tangata whenua. With that cheeky weathered kaumātua wit, he asked when the long-awaited “mārena” or marriage would actually occur, highlighting the fact we have been engaged for over 200 years.

Laughter erupted but gradually subsided as the stark realisation sank in: one day, we ourselves, or worse, our moko, will be this kaumātua. Will we feel as hōhā about the number of times we must “engage” before our partners were ready to embody the genuine relationship we agreed to in 1840? 

Will we find ourselves knee deep in water that has breached the doors of the marae, or will the erosion of the scant remaining whenua we have deprive us of any ground to stamp, as we tirelessly repeat the same kōrero, knowing it will fall upon a fresh set of deaf ears? Surely not, because if the impacts of climate change do not force us to take this relationship to the next level, I am not sure what will.  

We find ourselves in what most couples therapists, as well as our friends and whānau, would label as a toxic relationship. Many would have advised us to let go and move on a long time ago. A toxic relationship is one in which healthy communication and connection between two individuals are lacking, leading to frequent conflicts. In such relationships, at least one person tends to minimise the other’s perspective while promoting their own. Sound familiar? 

It is crazy to me that in 2023 we are still discussing Western science vs mātauranga Māori and how to incorporate our knowledges into Western thinking

Building and maintaining healthy communication and connection between tangata whenua and local government is as rare as a rain-free day here in Tāmaki lately. In the numerous “engagement” hui I have attended we are subjected to the same old excuses from local government regarding the challenges they face in “engaging” with hapū and iwi. It is hard to take the claims of limited resources seriously, or time constraints, or not knowing who to communicate with. Tangata whenua have always been and will continue to be available to try and make this relationship work. Our survival and well-being depend on it. 

Furthermore, the energy and emotional labor we invest in constantly explaining and justifying the wealth of knowledge and observations accumulated by tangata whenua and Indigenous peoples worldwide is draining. No one possesses a deeper understanding of te ao tūroa (the natural world) than us, and our mātauranga has the potential to fundamentally transform climate change adaptation and mitigation, benefiting not some, but all of us. 

Māori environmental experts foresaw the impending floods earlier this year. They observed an intriguing phenomenon: the Pohutukawa blossoms, known for their connection to seasonal patterns, mysteriously turned away from the sun. This unexpected deviation from their customary orientation held significant meaning, as facing the sun traditionally symbolises the arrival of a dry season—a tell-tale tohu, if you will. With this natural sign as their guide, Māori environmental experts ventured to estimate the approximate timing of the floods. Aligning their calculations with the Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, their foresight proved accurate. As predicted, catastrophic floods ravaged Tāmaki in the Tamatea phase of the Maramataka.  

It is crazy to me that in 2023 we are still discussing Western science vs mātauranga Māori and how to incorporate our knowledges into Western thinking. We need to come together not merge the two because these knowledges are valid and valuable. Difference is not to be feared! Difference provides a conducive space to look at the world through the eyes of others and exchange ideas, if we can lean into our differences and see each other as equally valid and valuable. We cannot afford to spend any more time going round and round in circles wasting time arguing about who is right or who knows more, while climate change erodes the little we have left.  

We have the perfect framework to help foster a healthy and functioning relationship in He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti. In the relational sphere between tino rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga is a space for us to meet as tangata whenua and tangata tiriti. We need not only acknowledge the mana me te rangatiratanga of tangata whenua but act accordingly. 

Dare I mention the “c” word? No, I don’t mean colonisation, but co-governance, which seems to send many into an irrational, ill-informed frenzy of panic induced vitriol. However, it is not co-governance or the sharing of power and decision-making with tangata whenua that one should fear but the dire climate consequences we will all bear should we remain in this dysfunctional relationship. The seas are elevating as are the temperatures, the extreme weather events will get worse and become more frequent so it’s a matter of urgency for us all. 

Now is not the time for old and outdated arguments against the mana and mātauranga of tangata whenua. Now is the time to have a cup of tea or two and discover that having an authentic relationship with us is neither costly nor challenging, to honour our mutual commitment, to work toward our “marena”. Moreover, we might recognise that our aspirations align. Though we may hold differing perspectives, it’s possible we share more common ground than anticipated. We must focus on those commonalities and embrace the differences to rekindle this relationship and find the solutions we need.

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