WakaNZ – Navigating with Foresight

Mar 25, 2018

n November, 34 rangatahi Māori aged 18-25 were brought together as part of the WakaNZ: Navigating with Foresight workshop. The workshop, hosted by the New Zealand Treasury and the McGuiness Institute “think tank”, focused on vision, foresight, and strategy to explore preferred futures for a post-Treaty settlement New Zealand. Kaituhi Alice Dimond was selected to take part, and shares her thoughts on how we could use foresight in our iwi.

WakaNZ participants with Dame Patsy Reddy and Sir David Gascoigne at Government House.

Throughout my reo Māori learning journey the words “mua” and “muri” have consistently confused me. Two seemingly simple words made harder to grasp, because the thinking behind them is in contrast to the way we think as English language speakers.

In English the future is always discussed as something that is ahead of us; always in our sights as it approaches, while the past recedes into the distance. This thinking is turned on its head when we speak about the concept of time in te reo Māori.

“Muri” is a location word that means “behind” or “at the back of”. However, in the abstract it can also mean “afterwards” or “the future”. Muri or the future is behind us; we know it’s coming but we are not completely sure what it is going to look like. The word “mua” has the opposite meanings of “in front of”, and also “the past”: it is right in front of us in plain view, able to be studied, discussed, and used as a means to predict the obscured future.

During the workshop I found my mind kept returning to the concept of mua and muri and differing perceptions of time. The workshop challenged us to use foresight to explore our preferred future for a post-Treaty settlement New Zealand. It was held over four days and aimed to empower rangatahi to explore preferred futures, and to formulate and voice ideas. Day One was an opportunity to listen and learn from Māori leaders, such as Donna Flavell, Sacha McMeeking, Te Aopare Dewes, and Te Ururoa Flavell. Day Two was more hands-on, and was facilitated by Dr Richard Kaipo Lum, who is of native Hawaiian descent and is founder and Chief Executive of Vision Foresight Strategy.

The workshop concluded with a group presentation at Government House to Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, and a public presentation at Te Papa on our shared understanding and hopes for the future.

When we explore our preferred future as an iwi, we should first look at all the possible futures we can identify … As an iwi, we need to consider what resources we have to fund the innovation and creativity of our people, and what avenues exist for whānau to share their dreams for the future.

Before I attended this workshop, the concept of “our preferred future” in a post-settlement era seemed reasonably clear to me. I had been working at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu for two years and felt I understood our desired outcomes for Iwi Māori. In my role in Iwi Capability I support programmes that assist individual tribal members in their personal and professional development, to realise their potential as Ngāi Tahu. Throughout the four days of discussion at WakaNZ it became increasingly apparent that I had been suffering from tunnel vision, and hadn’t quite understood how rapidly our world is changing and our ability to be influencers in future outcomes.

Māori have suffered a lot at the hands of our colonisers, and it is clear that the mamae or pain our predecessors went through is still present amongst our rangatahi. We were not at the workshop merely representing ourselves; we were there representing our tūpuna, our collective whakapapa and collective histories. We were all incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to come together to discuss and debate, but this also came with a sense of responsibility to uphold the mana of our people.

All the rangatahi I worked alongside at WakaNZ were amazing and very similar in many ways – passionate and determined to reach better outcomes for our people. Yet as a group it was hard to reach a consensus at times, because our passion would often manifest as overprotection of our ideals.

For example, I had previously thought the debate regarding whether te reo Māori should be compulsory in schools had a clear-cut answer for Māori – of course it should be. However, others at the workshop felt that forcing our language into mainstream schools could be dangerous, and that the place for revitalisation was in the home.

WakaNZ rangatahi hear from panel speakers at Te Herenga Waka Marae.

As a second language learner who was the first in my extended whānau to regain te reo Māori, I feel learning it in the home would have been an almost impossible feat. I don’t feel I could have done it myself without formal learning, and the fact others couldn’t understand this was frustrating. I was projecting my desires for what I would have wanted for my own past onto what I saw as our preferred future. With a culture that means our past is sitting right in front of us, it is only natural that we still feel emotionally bonded to it in this way. We need to avoid facing this same problem as an iwi so we are not prevented from being future-thinkers. The key is to move ourselves forward as an iwi, in a way that honours our traditions and tikanga.

To explore our preferred future we need to trust each other, and at times it appears that we may be finding it hard to let go of past grievances and do so. Trust is crucial if we want to be change-makers.

Our losses have made our people resilient and innovative, and if we trust each other and ourselves we can leverage these skills to do things in the way our ancestors would have.

The whakaaro, “The future does not exist – we are all helping to create it,” was reinforced many times by Dr Richard Kaipo Lum. This struck a particular chord for me as a Ngāi Tahu staff member, working in a team that aims to create positive outcomes for all whānau members.

I wonder if we have been stuck in a “business-as-usual” approach and have lost our sense of autonomy in creating our own future. Although we are doing some amazing things at Ngāi Tahu, we need to constantly review and critique our programmes to keep up with social, economic, and technological changes. We then need to act on the critique with urgency, rather than being fooled by the concept that merely talking about change is sufficient evidence that we are change-makers. When we explore our preferred future as an iwi, we should first look at all the possible futures we can identify. As we are now a billion-dollar organisation, the concept of a “possible future” is reasonably expansive for us; we no longer need to be dictated by the status quo. It is said that it is not the smartest one who wins, but the one who is able to adapt to change.

As an iwi, we need to consider what resources we have to fund the innovation and creativity of our people, and what avenues exist for whānau to share their dreams for the future. I believe that our rangatahi can add value to this space, as young people often have an expanded notion of “possible” futures and are more progressive in their thinking.

Our tribal philosophy is, “Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei – For us and our children after us”, which proves that our iwi is invested in intergenerational thinking. However, this philosophy does not specifically articulate the future we envision for our descendants. As an iwi, we should be having ongoing discussions about possible futures, creating a tribal vision that is informed by purpose, foresight, and aspiration.

This vision should be consistently reviewed and the underlying assumptions questioned to ensure we keep up with the rapidly-changing world. We need to refuse to be left behind again, and to use our power to create the future we desire for our iwi and for our country. I don’t pretend to know the answers, and in fact my experience at WakaNZ left me with more questions than I had before. But it also filled me with confidence that change is within our grasp if we utilise the greatest resource we have – our people.

It is my hope that our generation, the rangatahi of today, will be the generation that learns to trust each other again. It is my hope that we will be bold enough to challenge assumptions and create healthy debate, while remembering that everyone is on the same waka, working towards shared outcomes. It is my hope that we will bring the concepts of mua and muri together, as futurists who respect and embrace the work of our tūpuna, our collective histories, and tikanga.

This article is written on behalf of my rōpū at WakaNZ Ngā Pītau Whakarei. Many of my thoughts here were formed as a collective and it is important that they too are acknowledged.