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Why is it so important to get indigenous engagement right?

Updated: Aug 6, 2023


According to the United Nations, there are nearly 500 million indigenous peoples worldwide, comprising approximately 6 percent of the global population. In Aotearoa NZ, the Māori population stands at 775,000, which accounts for just over 15 percent of the country’s total population. Interestingly, there are approximately 160,000 Māori residing in Australia as well.


The Māori economy has shown significant growth, with a 2021 Chapman Tripp study estimating its worth to be almost $70 billion. Considering that Māori make up only 15 percent of the population, this is a substantial figure. Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson believes that Iwi, who have amassed assets and wealth, play a crucial role in shaping Aotearoa NZ’s financial future.


Over the past couple of decades, the Māori economy has expanded from $16 billion to $70 billion, with a projected 5 percent annual growth, set to reach $100 billion in assets by 2030. The Māori contribution to the country’s economy spans various sectors, including the primary sector, natural resources, enterprise and tourism.


The multitude of reasons to engage with indigenous communities becomes evident, as they bring an intergenerational presence that holds the potential for boundless possibilities when engagement is done right. Building a genuine relationship with indigenous stakeholders is vital for endeavours like Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) that seek to authentically showcase their regions, as cultural tourism is a key differentiator for Aotearoa NZ. Whilst connecting with Iwi (or Hapū) is essential, achieving successful engagement can be challenging, and few DMO have mastered it thus far.


Treaty settlements have propelled Iwi into the national and regional economic development landscape, offering compelling investment prospects. With their financial resources and long-term vision, Iwi make promising investment partners. However, forming a respectful and meaningful relationship is fundamental for sustainable commercial engagements.


The importance of the relationship can be summarised in one word: trust. Building trust is crucial for successful business dealings with indigenous stakeholders. The provided model illustrates indigenous engagement for non-indigenous parties, emphasising the significance of establishing strong relationships with indigenous communities. Though it may be uncomfortable at times, cementing this trust-building aspect can lead to achieving remarkable outcomes and possibilities in collaborative business ventures.

Indigenous Engagement Model 1.0

In Indigenous Engagement Model 1.0, we explore the key aspects that underpin a successful business relationship. Three fundamental elements shape this model: the time invested in building a connection, the exchange of information throughout the engagement, and the ultimate outcome – the ability to do business or generate value. We represent these elements graphically with “engagement time to be invested” along the horizontal axis, “amount of knowledge to be shared” along the vertical axis, and at the heart of it all, the crucial concept of “trust / relationship possibilities” – the ideal intersection of the two axes.


In this comprehensive model, we delve into the key elements that contribute to a successful business relationship between a specialist and an indigenous stakeholder.

  • Engagement Time Investment – This element focuses on the specialist’s willingness to invest significant time and effort in establishing a solid foundational relationship with the indigenous stakeholder. The depth of commitment and dedication displayed by the specialist is crucial in building mutual trust and understanding.

  • Knowledge Sharing – The model acknowledges that there may be a knowledge gap, either on the part of the indigenous stakeholder or the specialist, providing an opportunity for a valuable knowledge exchange. Whether the specialist offers expertise or seeks to learn from the indigenous stakeholder, this exchange benefits both parties and fosters a more informed and empowered relationship.

  • Trusted Relationship – Ultimately, the objective of engagement and knowledge sharing is to cultivate a trusted relationship between the specialist and the indigenous stakeholder. Through this ongoing process, a foundation of trust is established, facilitating open communications, respect, and mutual growth.

  • Starting Point / Deficits – The model recognises that the non-indigenous specialist may start from a position behind or below the main axes intersection. This is due to historical factors like colonisation, which may lead to a trust deficit from the indigenous populations’ perspective. It is vital for the specialist to acknowledge and adhere to cultural protocols, ensuring a safe and respectful environment during the initial engagement phase.

  • "Too much too soon” – The orange box represents a scenario where the specialist rushes into knowledge sharing without establishing essential relationship foundations. This approach risks overwhelming the indigenous stakeholder, potentially leading to mistrust and hindering the relationship’s development.

  • "Sweet spot” – The green box represents the ideal relationship from an indigenous perspective. In this scenario, the specialist has taken the time to understand the indigenous stakeholder’s needs and cultural context. Together, they have mapped out the optimal knowledge transfer process, fostering a balanced and beneficial exchange.

The model highlights the importance of patience, cultural sensitivity, and genuine engagement for specialists seeking successful relationships with indigenous stakeholders. By focusing on building trust, understanding knowledge-sharing dynamics, and respecting cultural protocols, specialists can navigate the journey toward the “sweet spot” – a mutually beneficial and enduring partnership with indigenous communities.


A Collaborative Vision

What does successful indigenous engagement entail? At its core, genuine engagement is a two-way process, where both the indigenous stakeholders and specialists actively seek to collaborate. It is essential that all parties involved acknowledge and accept their shared history, regardless of its nature – be it good, bad, or indifferent. Only then can the relationship reach its optimal starting point, represented by the intersection of their interests and values (the blue intersection).


When both parties find the “sweet spot” and establish high levels of trust, the possibilities become limitless. Collaboration becomes more effective, and opportunities for meaningful and positive outcomes abound. In such an environment of mutual understanding and respect, extraordinary progress can be made towards shared goals and aspirations.


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7 Comments


Elisapeci Waqanivala
Elisapeci Waqanivala
Nov 01, 2023

Kia ora,

This is a superb framework designed from an Indigenous Maori - Tangata Whenua Model.

Well done. It was an honour to meet with you via my dear friend, Dr Anne Phillips at the VUW Distinguished Alumni Event in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara.

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Wayne Eltringham
Wayne Eltringham
Aug 04, 2023

This is an excellent model - deep and powerful, yet simple to understand. I can see myself in this and know I often jump to the 'too much too soon' space way to easily; something I know I need to work on and this has shown me how I can hold myself to account and when I do, understand how I can navigate towards that 'sweet spot'.

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simon.phillips
Aug 04, 2023
Replying to

Yeah Wayne, the model is applicable to any industry or kaupapa where there are indigenous people involved. Hell, it'll work if they aren't indigenous, the world is run off the back of relationships Bro.😀

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William Stewart
William Stewart
Aug 03, 2023

Great model Si. Really like how it emphasises the value of patiently and meaningfully establishing solid relationships with indigenous groups founded on trust before looking to move forward with leveraging that engagement to achieve an output. ‘Too much, too soon’ is real!

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simon.phillips
Aug 04, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for your understanding perspective Brother! 💯

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Kristy Hicks
Kristy Hicks
Jul 30, 2023

I love this and the ethos of your ideas expressed really resonate with me :) As a teacher of our tiniest humans everything I do is anchored in trust relationship and the sharing of knowledge between me the teacher / specialist and the family who know their there children best. We always start with the getting to know process which is full of talking and a lot of listening on my behalf. For most families I am the first person outside the family to care for their child so the trust has to be established before anything else can progress. If I get this right then everything else falls into place and it becomes a safe relationship to share on…


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simon.phillips
Jul 30, 2023
Replying to

When I put this model together, tourism was uppermost in my mind. However, when I put it together, I looked at it and I could see it applied to any industry. I’m glad you understand how it fits into your mahi e hoa.

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