Being Pākehā, improving relationships and exploring bicultural philanthropy

What does it mean to be a good Pākehā?  How do we build better relationships with Māori?  And how might this play out in the world of funding?  Here are my thoughts.

A few years back I set myself on a journey to be a better Pākehā.  For me, this means questioning what it means to be a white person of European descent born in this land of Aotearoa New Zealand. It means learning some tikanga and Te Reo Māori (Māori language).  It means playing my part in addressing racism and inequity. And it means reflecting on and strengthening my relationships with Māori.

The thing is though, there are quite a few ways in which we non-Māori miss the mark in our relationships with Māori, often despite our best intentions.  I’m not talking full-on racism, which sadly still exists, but that is a topic for another time.   Instead I am talking about the wide spectrum of ways in which try to do the right thing but it just goes a bit wrong. Here are seven examples:

  1. Unconscious bias – “we would have liked to employ someone Māori but no-one who met our criteria applied
  2. Paralysis – “I know I am pretty ignorant about things Māori and I’m scared of getting it wrong so I will just try to avoid engaging
  3. Paternalism – “I want to help those poor Māori people
  4. Tokenism – “we’ve just appointed someone Māori to our board – phew – job done”
  5. Idealising – “oh your culture is just so deep and spiritual – it’s the answer to all the world’s problems”
  6. Smugness – “I can speak some Reo and I know something about Te Ao Māori – I can’t wait to show you how cool I am
  7. Cultural appropriation – “I’ve found meaning in your culture – it’s mine now too”

And, truth is, I think I’ve done all of the above at different times.  So what might a better relationship look like?

My friend and colleague Marcus Akuhata-Brown describes this insightfully: “Maori need to feel free to be Māori and to enjoy high-trust relationships with Pākehā without leaving our Māori selves at the door.  Also Pākehā need to be able to share power – and sometimes cede power.  That’s when the going can get tough.”

This high-trust, respectful, power-sharing relationship between Māori and Pākehā is perhaps the kind of relationship envisaged in our founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.   So how might this play out in practice?

Philanthropy is dear to my heart – but most foundations operate according to imported, overseas models.  Thinkers like Dr Manuka Henare and Dame Anne Salmond have questioned this, and, along with other funders, the small philanthropic trust my husband Dave Moskovitz and I set up over a decade ago is trying to do things differently.   Our Trust Te Muka Rau has a specific focus on social cohesion, respectful relationships and the central place of Te Ao Māori in Aotearoa, and we try to model this in the way our trust works.  So far this process has involved:

  • Moving to a bi-cultural governance model with two Māori and two Pākehā trustees
  • Being gifted a new name Te Muka Rau, meaning “the many strands,” to replace the previous name of “Thinktank Charitable Trust”
  • Aligning the way we run trustee meetings with tikanga, including karakia, wānanga and a shared meal. We are also finding ways to acknowledge and nurture the wairua of the trust and its work
  • Experimenting with making grants on the basis of a conversation between people requesting funding and our trustees, with the required checks and balances and paperwork managed internally.
  • Not asking for written reports on grants and instead meeting face to face
  • Offering non-financial support like advice on fund-raising and technology, writing articles, and providing intros to others
  • Considering the role of reciprocity in philanthropy to better align with giving in Te Ao Māori.

My path to being a better Pākehā is a long one, and I am not very far along it yet.  Nor has our trust Te Muka Rau gone far along the path of becoming a bi-cultural trust.  But both paths are exciting, challenging and enlightening – and I am loving the journey.

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  1. Kate, what a very insightful piece. I like the idea of talking through needs face to face. It makes sense, but it’s very challenging for many people, I am sure. Kol hakavod to you and Dave for the work you do with the trust, and everything else!

  2. Open and honest reflecting is key to growing and moving forward – great how you model this Kate. My hunch is that our next phase will entail us as Pākehā learning how to challenge and disagree with Maori (in a Treaty honouring way …) and a deeper appreciation on when / how our own cultural identities are changing and how we are separate and connected.

  3. Well said Kate. I like the way you outline the ways in which your Trust has gone about creating respectful bicultural relationships. It’s practical and clear.

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