How Pākehā can better honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi

How Pākehā can better honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi

CW: Racism, colonisation, discussion of Pākehā dominance 


Pākehā: English, foreign, European. Despite the claims of some non-Māori speakers, the term does not normally have negative connotations.

Tauiwi: foreigner, European, non-Māori, colonist.

Tāngata Tiriti: Treaty partners, Pākehā and tauiwi (all ethnicities).

It’s Saturday night. The stars are out, the music is pumping and the vibe is on. We’re all at Te Roopū Māori prepping our kapa haka bracket for Relay for Life. We go outside for a run-through: waiata-tira and a couple ā-ringa. As we’re singing, a group of drunk Pākehā boys saunter past. They start to mock, “ehhhh haka haka haka! Go on, show us a waiata, give us a haka graaahhll.” Everyone goes quiet. “Haere tonu, keep moving!” in other words, move the fuck on, call out a couple of people from our rōpū. Crap, should I do something? Say something? As the rōpū whakanoa with another waiata, I’m struck again by what has been confirmed before me — the Pākehā Problem is alive and kicking in dirty Dunners.

My name is Tess and I’m Pākehā. I love learning te reo, performing kapa haka, and am inspired by the holistic mātauranga (philosophies) of te ao Māori. Since taking Māori Studies at Te Tumu, my eyes have been opened to a different Aotearoa and my place in it.

That night, my mates were verbally targeted for being who they are, Māori. This was only a small example of what tauira Māori experience daily, whether it’s racist assumptions from non-Māori lecturers or Pākehā medical students whining about how Māori get “special treatment”. Because of my Pākehā-ness, and the undeserved privileges that our settler society/systems uphold, I’ll never share the same experiences as Māori. Prior to University, I barely had any understanding of my place in relation to te ao Māori. If you had asked me four years ago what my thoughts on Pākehā were, I would have felt very defensive.

Growing up in suburban Wellington, te ao Pākehā was my world. Like most Pākehā, I only glimpsed te ao Māori through school waiata or learning about the Treaty of Waitangi (not Te Tiriti). However, as I grew up, my intuition sensed something really off. This ‘something’, I came to realise, is colonial violence in all its forms: white supremacy, Eurocentricity, racism, Pākehā privilege, white fragility, dispossession of Māori whenua. The list goes on. 

I was 16 when I first experienced a pōwhiri. The hau kāinga (local people of a marae) were open and warm, but I felt nauseous. Our family was at Pipitea Marae “showcasing

New Zealand” to my German host sister, but we’d never genuinely engaged with te ao Māori ourselves. It wasn’t right. As the day ended, a kuia took my hand and looked me straight in the eye. “E hine,” she said. “Our people have to work together.” My stomach flipped. In that moment, she personalised the Te Tiriti relationship with her manaaki into a single imperative that turned my intuition into action. From then on, I was determined to start educating myself, which is a life-long journey e hoa mā. I make mistakes and by no means have I got it all figured out. I unlearn and relearn every day. I aspire to become a solid haumi, a Pākehā ancestor that my descendants and Aotearoa can be proud of. Although te reo Māori me ōna tikanga is part of this journey, there is a much bigger issue for Pākehā to address: the need for us to understand what it means to be Tāngata Tiriti. 

As Ani Mikaere (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) points out, “there is nowhere else in the world that one can be Pākehā. Whether that term remains linked to the shameful role of the oppressor or whether it can become a positive source of identity and pride is up to Pākehā themselves.” Below are ten important kaupapa that we as Pākehā can do to help honour Te Tiriti. If you share any of my experiences, chances are you also weren’t taught this enough at home or school.

1. To be tau (at peace/chill) with our position as Pākehā. 

We need to be able to speak frankly about the violent genocidal process that has, and continues to occur in Aotearoa: colonisation. Not ridden with guilt, and not trying to explain it or evade it, but ready to respond with honesty and integrity. Even when describing ourselves in terms of gender, sexuality, ability or class, awareness of colonisation, past and present, is critical.

2. Respect boundaries laid down by te iwi Māori.

So much space has been taken from Māori by Pākehā. It is not appropriate to argue when Māori insist on Māori-only spaces. It’s not about Pākehā “hurt feelings” or our need for inclusion, those responses need attention but therein lies the work. The crux of it is to know our tika (right) place as Pākehā. It’s not divisive, it’s honouring He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Niu Tireni (1835) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840).

3. Read the room. This requires Pākehā to self-regulate in Māori spaces. 

At times it may be appropriate to remove ourselves or remain silent and listen. This gives Māori the space to continue a conversation safely without Pākehā taking up air-time.

4. Understand how privilege has shaped Aotearoa.

Over the last 250 years, a mass transfer of power has occurred. Pākehā have and continue to withhold, abuse, and assume power. Without addressing these power imbalances, justice cannot be restored. Examples include: the return of whenua, prison abolition, and constitutional transformation e.g. Matike Mai Aotearoa (Iwi Chairs, Margaret Mutu, Moana Jackson mā).

5. Understand that learning Māori content and experiencing what it is to be Māori are two completely different things. 

Learning te reo Māori or taking MAOR102 does not equate to permission to explain Māori culture to Māori. We cannot assume ourselves to be included in closed practises e.g. karanga (call of welcome to visitors onto a marae), tā moko (Māori tattooing for face or body done under kawa/tikanga/traditional protocols). These are tapu (restricted, set apart, sacred) and not for non-Māori to take.

6. Learning te reo is NOT a get-out-of-Treaty free card.

Te reo Māori is a right for Māori and a privilege for Pākehā. Be aware of tokenism. You should know: you never buy pounamu for yourself (it’s always gifted), never sit on tables, whētero (protruding of tongue e.g. in kapa haka) is only for tāne and Pākehā/tauiwi women shouldn’t karanga. (But note that the decision-making for these practices always lies with mana/tangata whenua).

7.  Don’t expect Māori to know everything about te ao Māori. 

Colonisation has made and continues to impact kiritanga Māori (identity). It’s difficult enough for Māori without having to explain everything to Pākehā. It’s okay not to know, it’s okay to be curious, it’s okay to have questions, but the most important thing is to go about it the right way. Can you talk to another knowledgeable tauiwi/Pākehā? Can you find Māori content online? There are so many excellent resources. Māori Dictionary is a great start for kupu Māori. Keep the tab saved on your electric brain/rorohiko e hika mā.

8. Don’t expect praise for doing the right thing. 

Mahia te mahi. Period.

9. Embrace the discomfort of doing the work. 

Pākehā mā, our work is critical but it is not much compared with what our fellow Tiriti partners are dealing with. There are countless injustices that are not taught in mainstream schooling. It’s on us to learn Aotearoa’s true hītori. Asking “what do Māori want?” is a rude and reductive question. A better question is “what does justice demand of us as Pākehā/tauiwi/tāngata Tiriti?”

10. Stand with Māori for land rights, language rights, for health rights, for the rights of tamariki and wāhine Māori. 

We cannot continue perceiving Indigenous rights abuses as an Indigenous problem. These issues are colonial inevitability and part of the Pākehā Problem.  

It’s on us to actively engage in the process of decolonisation by working with each other on how to reckon with the historical injustices, their establishment, and, of course, what to do about it. This means going beyond Treaty/Tiriti articles, or provisions, or principles. Privilege. Power. Bias. Racism. 

So, this Te Wiki o te reo Māori, move beyond the tokenism of “kia ora”, “kōrero”, and “mahi”. Lean in to what it means to be Pākehā. By the way, e hoa mā, mahi has two short vowels — a and i not maaahiii. Don’t elongate where there isn’t a tohutō/macron. Te reo Māori isn’t just “another language”, it isn’t something to “tick a box”. Te reo Māori is a taonga tuku iho that deserves the utmost respect. It’s the first and official language of this whenua, handed down by tūpuna Māori for te iwi Māori. 

Pākehā mā, our priority is to start understanding our role as Tāngata Tiriti before we enter into Māori spaces. We all know those Pākehā who deliberately or mockingly butcher place-name pronunciation. This demonstrates you don’t care enough to uphold the mana of the place name and the whenua it comes from. E te whānau, this behaviour is not acceptable, nā reira, check yourself. Whether it’s at your flat, home or hall, call out your fellow non-Māori. Make the effort, e hoa mā. This work is too important, too serious, too urgent to ignore. 

If Aotearoa is your home, you have to know who you are in relation to this whenua. We can turn this Pākehā problem into a Tāngata Tiriti solution. All it takes is a leap of faith: commit to our own unlearning, and above all, commit to Te Tiriti.


Koia nei he mihi aroha ki a Te Roopū Māori rātou ko Te Tumu, ko Ngāi Tahu mā

Kai ngā kaitātaki, kai ngā poutoko o tēnei hunga tauira, ko Te Roopū Māori! Ko koutou ngā tuākana e whakatauria ai te ara whakatika o te pae tāwhiti ki a mātou, te hunga tauira Pākehā mai, tauiwi mai. Ia tau, ia tau tipu haere ai au nā ō koutou manaaki, nā ō koutou aroha e rangatira ai te noho o te ākonga ki te Whare Wānanga. Ka whakatinana ki tēnei whakatauki, Mā te tēina e tōtika te tuākana, Mā te tuākana e tōtika te tēina. Aroha mutunga kore ki a koutou e te whānau.

Kai ngā pouako, mōu i pungatia te tumu herenga waka, te tumu herenga tāngata kia

kotahi te hoe kia kotahi te karawhiu i tā tātou wānanga i ngā kai a te mātauranga Māori. Waihoki, ehara au i te tangata mātau ki te reo Māori, he kākano noa iho, engari mei kore ake ko koutou rā kua pai taku tirikohu atu ki te reo Māori. Mai i taku akoranga tuatahi ki Te Tumu o taku tohu paetai, e kore rawa i whakaaro ka tae atu au ki te karaehe o Te Māhuri, ngā pepa ‘08 rānei, ki te haka i te taha o ōku hoa. Nā reira he nui āku mihi ki a koutou e āku rahi.

Kai ngā rūnaka katoa o Kāi Tahu whānui, e korowaitia ana te manaakitanga ki te hapori o Ōtepoti, e mihi ana, e mihi ana. Nōku te hōnore nui kia whakapakari i te hononga i waenganui i a tātou ki te ara ako; ko te reo Māori, ko ngā tikanga Māori me te hītori Māori. Ko tēnei, te tīmatanga noa iho o tōku haerenga roa, nō reira nōku te hōnore nui, e kore e mutu te whakamānawa. Ko te mea whakahirahira – me whai ake mātou ko Ngāi Pākehā te hautūtanga o te iwi taketake kia whakamana ai ngā tāngata whenua o Aotearoa, He Whakaputanga me Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Ki a Ngāi Māori, kia kaha kia māia kia manawanui, ko koutou ngā Rangatira mō āpōpō haere ake nei. Nō reira, tēnā rā koutou katoa.

Nā Tess


References and useful resources for Pākehā/tauiwi ki te mahi

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are soooo many more, these are to help you get started.

Tina Ngata – What’s required of Tangata Tiriti 

Land of the Long White Cloud Series 

The Citizens Handbook  

What really happened at Waitangi (Parts 1-7) 

Land Wars Tainui

Land Wars Waitara

Land Wars Ruapekapeka

E-Tangata – Online Māori and Pasifika Sunday magazine

How to Pākehā – online group aligned with principles of Matike Mai for Pākehā to work on being Pākehā 

Ted Talks

1. Andrew Judd – Lessons from a Recovering Racist

 2. Tame Iti – Mana: The power in knowing who you are 

Instagram Accounts

@saf_te_pia – activism, whakaaro/tikanga/reo Māori, Te Tiriti 

@tamathapaul – activism, whakaaro/tikanga/reo Māori, racism

@deconstruct_nz – tauiwi activist on decolonisation needed from Pākehā/tauiwi

@ asians4tinorangatiratanga – activist community organisation Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga

This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2021.
Posted 3:10pm Sunday 12th September 2021 by Tessa Dalgety-Evans.