iwi comanagementMali Ahipene wears two hats. She heads Tai-ranga-whenua, which supports the council’s co-management arrangements with local iwi and leads policy and strategy work aimed at growing capacity to engage with Māori. She is also head of Democracy Services, which, among other things, manages the elections for the council.

I hadn’t been here long when all of our democratic services were put to the test. This was the day in 2012 when the council voted eight to four in favour of creating two Māori constituencies for the 2013 triennial elections. The decision impacted our local government procedure for staff and councillors alike. But, on the other hand, it broadened Māori participation in democracy.

No other council had introduced Māori constituencies under the Local Electoral Act and that’s an important part of our history right there.

It makes you appreciate the importance of how the democratic process works.

We now have co-governance partnerships with Waikato River iwi. Key to the relationship with iwi is to understand the rules of engagement and the legislation that governs our respective entities. Then you need to know how to weave all the strands together. It’s like a korowai or a cloak, you have to learn the art of weaving the strands correctly otherwise it’ll unravel. And it takes a lot of time and a lot of practise to get the tension of the weave right.

Weaving the cloak of partnership isn’t foreign for iwi who have already negotiated their Treaty settlement with the Crown.

For the council, it began with the establishment of the two Māori seats in Chambers back in 2012. I believe the foresight our councillors had six years ago gave our relationship with local iwi the kickstart it needed.

We now have five joint management agreements and one co-management agreement with Waikato River iwi. They are with Tūwharetoa, Maniapoto, Te Arawa, Raukawa and Waikato-Tainui.

The first joint management agreement (JMA) was signed in 2012. From experience, we now know the initial phase of JMA development is hard work. However, once implemented, the agreements have proved to be beneficial to the council by enabling collaboration with iwi.

The council has become more confident in working in partnership with iwi. We should always strive to do more because it is the sum of all parts that gives substance to Māori participation.

The Treaty settlement legislation was the catalyst to forging long term partnerships with iwi. But I firmly believe the glue to working in partnership with iwi was the introduction of the river settlement legislation.

I see the relationships continuing to grow. We haven’t stopped at Treaty legislation. We haven’t thrown in the towel developing joint management agreements. We haven’t given up the chase since the introduction of Māori seats in council.

At the beginning, we didn’t have the trust and confidence in each other. Over time, with maturing of that relationship, we started moving more in sync. To achieve that, you need skin in the game. You’re no longer just looking to meet your statutory requirements, you’re actually looking for greater opportunities to work together. There are huge benefits for the council, communities and iwi. You only have to look at the environmental and social impacts that occurred from the late 19th century after iwi were excluded from local decisions. The wider community has a lot to benefit from iwi values and approaches towards managing our natural resources.

Just like a family, everyone comes with a different personality, different needs and different aspirations. It’s the same with iwi.

What we’re doing differently with Hauraki is that we’re doing some pre-Treaty settlement work with them beforehand. By the time we get to the settlement the plan is that both parties have grown our existing relationship. It’s that relationship which will provide the substance and the glue.

It doesn’t matter what you have in a joint management agreement. If you can’t adopt the right mindset at the beginning and make an effort to understand each other’s values, it’ll put unnecessary strain on the relationship.
Iwi and councils have different skills and a different knowledge base about the catchment. Working together means that we are able to maximise opportunities of mutual benefit.

Iwi organisations aren’t resourced in the same way as council, so we need to factor that in the way we work with iwi. It’s not realistic to expect iwi to jump into the partnership boots and all. They have other obligations. We need to accommodate that, acknowledge it and to plan for it.

We have so many legislative requirements and obligations that aren’t as important to iwi. So we do have to be prepared to engage in a way that iwi can respond, do it in a way that allows them to feel heard, acknowledged and respected. To help with this, we developed an award winning app, Kawe Kōrero, to help our staff and others confidently engage with Māori.

Waikato Regional Council has come a long way in delivering on its Treaty obligations and growing its partnership with iwi for the benefit of the wider community.

The river settlement legislation for the Waikato River set the precedent for the co-management of the river, giving stakeholders a vision and leadership around what was best for the river. When it came to Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: Proposed Plan Change 1 for the Waikato and Waipā rivers, iwi were given the mana to sit at the table alongside councillors. They had an equal number of votes on all decisions relating to this ground-breaking policy. However, the journey is far from over.

I believe council can look forward to forging mutual partnership arrangements in light of:

1. the recent Tūwharetoa settlement

2. the pending Pare Hauraki and Maniapoto settlements

3. the outstanding Waikato-Tainui Treaty settlement for the west coast harbours of Raglan, Aotea and Kāwhia.

I’m convinced the drivers for change will emerge from this space.

I think we will see a future where iwi Māori are enabled to engage and participate effectively as an equal partner and there is a focus on joint projects and ventures that are effective and valued by both parties and the wider community.