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The 5 Wai’s of Māori engagement that lawyers should consider

30 June 2017 - By Nick Butcher

There are many specialist law firms operating around the country, including those that represent specific cultural and business interests, such as Māori.

Tukutuku panel
Photo by Aidan Wojtas

But if a law firm has had little experience in dealing with Māori legal issues, which are often complex, historical and can sometimes include multi-million dollar land resources, how should it go about engaging with the potential new client?

Atawhai Tibble is a principal advisor at Treasury, and a former lawyer.

In Rotorua at the recent ILANZ conference, Mr Tibble presented to lawyers what he termed ‘The 5 Wai’s of Māori Engagement’.

The following is a recap from his presentation that was given to about 340 in-house lawyers. Mr Tibble says these are the themes lawyers should think about when approaching Māori business clients.

Nā Wai: What is the purpose of the meeting, who set up the hui and why?

Ko Wai: Who are these people that you want to work with, and what is their background and board structure?

Mō Wai: What is the benefit of your meeting with Māori, as in what will they get out of this relationship?

Me Wai: Who is your navigator? Who is the person that will help both parties connect which might be a Māori elder or Kaumatua? It could also be a staff member from the law firm that knows someone within the local iwi.

He Wai: How can you authentically connect culturally? Do you know your marae 101 such as a mihi (greeting), hongi (nose press greeting), or waiata (Māori song)?

It’s a lot to remember…

Atawhai Tibble stresses that people shouldn’t feel intimidated by Māori protocol.

“The point of the framework is to provide questions and themes to think about. Sometimes all the Māori client wants is the best business people possible. They’re not hiring a law firm because they saw a legal team do a haka or because they can sing waiata. It’s often more a case of these people are experts in this area of law and that’s why we’ve got them,” he says.

Mr Tibble says the ‘5 Wai’s’ are there for people to get some understanding of what Māori clients need so that they don’t embarrass themselves when meeting them.

“It’s about getting as much information beforehand so that you can build that business case because the truth is, cultural authenticity is about knowing when to and when not to engage in the culture.”

Mr Tibble says a lawyer or firm won’t be hired because of how they look, such as displaying Māori tattoos, jewellery or if they’re wearing traditional Māori attire.

“They’re hiring you because they know you’re the best team in town that can do the work. But everybody likes a group that turns up and has made an effort to learn about who they’re working with and to try and understand their culture. It means you’ve done your research,” he says.

Last updated on the 30th June 2017