Mana Whenua and the Human Rights Commission


This case study is about the manaaki policy of the Human Rights Commission Te Kāhui Tika Tanagata (the Commission. The purpose of the policy is to provide clarity around the protocols that are used by the Commission to provide manaaki (meaning respect, to make people feel welcome and to show kindness towards people).

The Commission offers this story as an example of how deeply-felt issues can be worked through to create workplace practices which include all cultures. This is a case study of a three way relationship – the Commission with Māori staff, and the Commission with Mana Whenua.


The place of religion and religion-based rituals (such as waiata and karakia) within the Commission was an issue for a number of staff of different or no religion. Commission-wide discussions led to a mediated process where staff reflected that the issue involved the right to have freedom of or from religion, respect for others and the desire to keep the Treaty of Waitangi at the heart of all Commission practices.

The mediation involved balancing the place of religion and the expression of culture. As a result, it was acknowledged that the Commission works within a secular State and does not give priority to one religion or belief system over another. Religion and beliefs can however still be accommodated as long as Commission practices allow for a range of belief systems to be included and expressed. An insight gained was that tikanga Māori protocol requires that the kawa (lore; rules) of a ceremony is followed but that its expression is chosen by the speaker and owned by him or her.

From these discussions and with the support of the Executive Director, the Commission’s Uepū Māori (comprising Māori Commissioners and staff) advised that the Powhiri Policy should be revised and expanded, and the Executive Director asked them to do this collectively. The group outlined manaaki in the Commission, explaining what it means and how it is expressed. The final policy went through the usual organisational decision making procedures, with the addition of consultation with Mana Whenua and ensuring that Uepū Māori were happy with the final policy.

What happens

The project grew into a policy and a set of guidelines. The policy sets out the principles and procedures to be applied when conducting activities (such as whakatau and pōwhiri) and includes the processes to be used, how tikanga Māori is incorporated and the roles and responsibilities for arranging events.

The Commission has established relationships with mana whenua in each rohe (region) where offices are located – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The iwi are: Ngāti Whātua in Auckland; the Tenths Trust/Te Atiawa/Ngāti Toa in Wellington; and Kai Tahu in Christchurch. The foundations of the policy were established in discussion and engagement with mana whenua.

Mana whenua shared their kawa with staff and Commissioners and provided the benchmark for tikanga (practice of kawa; custom or ritual) to be applied for ceremonies in the office. The kōrero between staff and mana whenua in each area included why and how certain kawa and tikanga were developed. The issue of who sits where was brought up in all the offices and, for example. Kaumatua Sam Jackson from the Tenths Trust in Wellington was able to explain the reasons and traditions behind why men in his iwi generally sit in the front row at pōwhiri. He also told of how, in today’s environment, he is able to cater to this particular kawa while also keeping himself and all involved safe.

After the consultation with mana whenua staff workshopped the policy and further talked through the concepts. A final document and guidance notes were then produced.

The policy ensures that protocol around Commission activities reflects the Commission’s values, respects all beliefs and recognises that wairuatanga is an important part of tikanga Māori. If tikanga is to be incorporated into Commission practice then aspects of wairuatanga (such as karakia and hīmene) are also to be respected.

The policy and guidelines cover:

  • welcomes
  • farewells
  • gifting
  • food
  • openings and closings
  • celebrating achievements
  • supporting people
  • events – cultural calendar
  • consultation
  • other events involving external visitors.

Points to note are that pōwhiri are more formal gatherings held strictly on mana whenua terms. Whakatau held in the offices are less formal, allowing for a wider range of expression, and the tikanga reflects this.

Another point is the use of te reo Māori in ceremonies. The manaaki policy encourages people to start ceremonies in te reo and to continue using languages of their own. Te reo is an important part of tikanga and is also a way of integrating the use of the Māori language into the workplace.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The rights of indigenous peoples to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies is outlined in article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while article 15.2 encourages States to “take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to … promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.”

What is working well

The process followed to produce the manaaki policy and the guidance notes were carefully thought out, clear and consultative. Mana whenua, Uepū and the Executive Director worked together to ensure this. The policy works well because the process followed to produce it ensured that staff have ownership of it.

Meeting with mana whenua was a great chance for staff to engage, hear the stories of the rohe and ask questions relating to tikanga. It was through these discussions that staff have become comfortable; understand their roles and can see that the policy reflects the Commission, respects mana whenua and also tries to incorporate everyone’s beliefs.

By ensuring Māori language was an important part of protocols the use and interest in te reo has increased in the Commission. Staff are increasing their own learning of the language and the Commission’s internal reo programme is popular.

The Commission’s New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights includes the goal that New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty Waitangi in 2040. The Commission therefore has a responsibility to contribute to the growth in the use of te reo Māori and the manaaki policy is a tool helping to build capacity around the use of te reo Māori in its offices.

Looking ahead

The Manaaki policy is relatively new to the Commission and will take time to be entrenched into everyday practice. Before the policy was established there was a tendency for these events to be left up to Māori staff to organise and lead. This is in the process of changing and with the continued support of Uepū it will hopefully become second nature and accessible for all staff.


Last updated 22 July 2009

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