New Zealand Law Society - Māori values are the heart of our culture

Māori values are the heart of our culture

Māori values are the heart of our culture

“To oohonga ake i taku moemoeā, ko te puāwaitanga o te whakairo.” Dreams become reality when we take action. — Te Puea Herangi

A sentiment which Renika Siciliano, the newly appointed Executive Director of McCaw Lewis lawyers, believes in wholeheartedly. Renika considers it a privilege to lead an organisation with over 100 years of history and as the firms first wahine Māori Director and now Executive Director she is excited to build on and add to the accomplishments of the firm and their vision as a Māori commercial firm.

In 2019 McCaw Lewis celebrated its centenary. Over the last 100 years the Hamilton based firm has changed significantly, evolving to reflect more modern values and practises. It’s also had a growing focus on incorporating Māori values into its core practise, encouraging and enabling its 45-strong team of people to not only understand the culture of so many of their clients but to respect and value those cultural beliefs.

“At the heart of the change in our practise has been our values. These are values/concepts that have strong roots in te ao Māori, but at their heart, we believe they’re common values that apply to all people – certainly to our whānau anyway. They’re about guiding us in how we want to engage with each other, and as lawyers with our clients,” explains Renika.

Working with a te ao Māori perspective is not a new practice for this firm. Since the very early Treaty settlements and Māori land matters, McCaw Lewis has represented Māori on a number of these fronts, primarily through their Māori Legal Team (now with 11 lawyers).

In 2016 the Directors made a conscious decision to cement their identity as a Māori commercial law firm. They retained all core services including property law, commercial, dispute resolution, employment law and asset planning to complement this new identity. This vision was successfully driven by former Managing Director, Aidan Warren. As new Executive Director Renika Siciliano explains, this has been about the evolution of how they deliver to clients across the whole firm, not just in one dedicated area.

“This means that no matter what assistance you are seeking, we will treat you as our whānau.”

It’s been a significant journey for many of the staff at McCaw Lewis. As Renika explains, the majority of staff are non-Māori so there were a lot of people who weren’t immediately familiar with the concepts, pronunciations and protocols embedded in Māori culture and language.

“Our clients have never said to us that they need “Māori lawyers” for “Māori issues”. And we love that. For us, it’s about having the people with the right skills, knowledge and understanding working in their areas of expertise.”

“We work with a lot of Māori clients, across different teams at different levels. We have a Māori Legal Team dealing primarily with our iwi, hapū and whānau clients but it’s important that – regardless of the work area – everyone across our firm understands and feels comfortable working alongside Māori clients.

“When we made a conscious decision to put more resources into this space in a really deliberate way, there was a lot of discussion about our values and our story. Understanding the background and meaning is absolutely key for any collective goal. Those additional resources included running monthly te reo sessions at different levels covering those who were starting, those who knew some basics and those of us who were more advanced.

“It wasn’t compulsory, but almost everyone did it and the feedback was great.

“Our firm has been grateful to visit our local Marae including Kirikiriroa Marae in Hamilton and Tūrangawaewae, Ngāruawāhia. The purpose of this was to help our staff to feel comfortable in those spaces and to embed the importance of matters of tika such as karakia, mihi and waiata.”

Underpinning the practice of this firm are the values of whaia te iti Kahurangi, manaakitanga and kotahitanga.

“It’s not so much about the Māori or tikanga aspect, it’s that value of manaakitanga and demonstrating care for those around you regardless of a person’s cultural background,” explains Renika.

“It is also about kotahitanga, which is about working together as a whole firm to deliver for our clients. And working as one with our clients.”

Sitting alongside these values is the passion for excellence demonstrated in the value of “whaia te iti Kahurangi”.

“We know that our clients deserve the best and ensuring we have a constant passion for excellence enables us to show our clients how we care.”

Cultural practise across the legal profession

“As a wahine Māori I am excited to lead McCaw Lewis into the future and to continue to go from strength to strength in the development of our reo and tikanga within the firm. We have come a long way, but there is always more to be done.

“Law firms are certainly becoming more and more culturally responsive and I see a lot more out there about te ao Māori, celebrating te reo Māori and the role of tikanga/kawa.

“But it’s like many things, in some pockets there is very little and others a lot and it is important that we both as individuals and as a collective can support and uplift the journey of our colleagues in Te Ao Māori.

“When our team attends the annual Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa conference, we are encouraged about the advancement of reo, tikanga and its incorporation into Te Ao Ture and it is uplifting. It also makes you realise that some of us are privileged to work in the spaces we do with the support of colleagues and clients around us to continue to help us build our capabilities. This is particularly important for the times when we find ourselves in environments where reo and tikanga are less commonplace and I think it is important that in those times we take the opportunity to show manaakitanga and kotahitanga to people.”

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