Te Tiriti o Waitangi at the board table

Reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi relationships in the governance of your organisation.

Learn how to apply the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi in governance and decision-making.

More and more, community organisations are seeking to establish governance structures that reflect the commitments of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. These approaches usually involve equitable and shared decision-making power for tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti (non-Māori) at the governance level. This includes co-chairs for the organisation’s governing board or committee.

Pou (Structure)

Incorporating Te Tiriti o Waitangi into our everyday work includes:

  • Improving our understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and what it means to all staff.
  • Learning more te reo Māori and using it when speaking and in writing.
  • Normalisation of tikanga Māori within the organisation.
  • Identifying new ways to partner with Māori, hapū, marae, Māori groups, and Iwi within our individual roles.
  • Understanding the meaning of a treaty partnership.

What can you do to be a good partner?

For non-Māori organisations, learning to be a good treaty partner is essentially about relationships and ensuring these are well looked after. At a co-governance level, such as the partnership of Crown to Māori, this should be equality at the board table. When relationships or partnerships falter, this is usually because good faith through poor decision-making has occurred. As with any trust-based relationship, once trust is lost this can be hard to rectify.

Do your best to understand te ao Māori, the culture, tikanga, and kawa as it is integral.

Having some understanding of te ao Māori will provide you with a skillset for how to be an effective treaty partner. For example, familiarise yourself with the historical and contemporary history of the people, land, and area that you are working in. This will give you the relevant context to support you in the decisions you are making or contributing to.

Educate yourself on the differences between the terms commonly used: tangata whenua, mana whenua, iwi, hāpu, and ahi kā etc.

Seek advice early and don’t be afraid to ask mana whenua. Who are the iwi leaders that you could seek guidance or advice from? Do you already have relationships with them?

At the board table

For non-Māori organisations, to be a good treaty partner at the Board table you could:

  • Appoint a Māori board member with relevant skills and experience at governance level.
  • Connect with mana whenua and create a permanent seat.
  • Connect with iwi leaders – ask your local or regional council if they have appropriate cultural advisors who could help you connect.
  • Arrange treaty workshops and/or cultural training for your board members.
  • Partner with a Māori trust or board in your locality.
  • Understand where you are, the region you are in, who are the mana whenua and local iwi.

Setting up your structure

Embed within your constitution or create policy that enables co-governance opportunities in decision-making.

  • What can you do as a not-for-profit and what resources do you have to contribute?
  • Who can help internally within your own organisation?
  • Is there opportunity to bring Māori through the organisation that could provide support to senior leaders and the board?

Key tips


  • Be real in your commitment to understanding and applying te ao Māori and te Tiriti o Waitangi principles.
  • Avoid just “dialling a Māori”.
  • Don’t be surprised if involving people with skills in te ao Māori comes at a cost, just as it would if you were sourcing legal technical expertise.
  • Create a pathway for Māori – from operational to governance leadership level.
  • Have reasonable expectations of your Māori board member – don’t expect your Māori advisor to be your sole advisor for Māori views.

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