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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/practice-framework/whai-matauranga/knowledge-and-research/indigenous-theory/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Whai mātauranga

Last updated: 30/08/2021

Indigenous theory

Indigenous theory introduces cultural concepts of equity and wellbeing. It aligns with our practice approach.

What indigenous theory is

Indigenous theory looks at the historical and contemporary issues affecting Māori, who are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

It talks about the need to understand that people come from different backgrounds, histories and cultures, and these shape who we are and affect what we do.

Why it's important

We cannot see the tamariki and whānau we work with through our own singular cultural lens.

There is much to learn about people’s unique contexts, histories, values and beliefs, including:

  • tangata whenua Māori, who have experienced first hand the impacts of colonisation and the loss of their culture and identity
  • Pacific peoples, who are indigenous to small Pacific nations and who experience the challenges of being a cultural minority in Aotearoa.

Key points

Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) lays the foundation for relationships between:

  • Māori
  • Tauiwi — all cultures within Aotearoa who are not tangata whenua Māori.

Te Tiriti guides the political and social responsibilities we have as bicultural partners.

Te Tiriti has participation, partnership and protection as its key principles. These provide the path to a bicultural partnership that ensures positive, equitable outcomes for Maori communities, iwi and hapū.

Colonisation and its effects

Following the colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand, outcomes for Māori reflect other colonised indigenous groups across the world.

The historical loss of cultural, political and social stability for Māori has had far reaching effects. Colonisation has resulted in historical and intergenerational trauma for Māori with long term, continuing impacts.

Māori are over-represented in areas related to:

  • poverty
  • deprivation
  • lower educational achievement
  • poor health
  • mortality
  • incarceration.


Decolonisation is a process focused on addressing inequities for Māori. It prioritises deeper, more authentic partnerships with Māori that involve power-sharing, autonomy and leadership.

It also prioritises restoring Māori language and identity and ensuring Māori cultural perspectives are used to shape and lead solutions fit for purpose for Māori communities.

It includes opportunities for Māori to be self-determining and to have agency to make positive decisions for their own lives and their own communities.

Māori concepts and worldviews

Effective practice with tamariki and whānau Māori incorporates Māori concepts and worldviews. Maori concepts of wellbeing have been present for a very long time.

  • Mana is the inherent strength and potential within all tamariki from birth. When tamariki are mistreated or harmed, their mana is trodden on and tāpu (a form of sacredness and prohibition passing through generations) is violated. Restoring mana is an important part of healing and wellbeing.
  • Tāpu, mauri, oranga, whakapapa and whanaungatanga are important concepts connected to wellbeing.
  • Communal and tribal ways of life are central in Māori views of the world. Tamariki Māori are born into and belong to whānau, hapū and iwi. Whakapapa and whanaungatanga represent belonging and collective responsibility for tamariki in their safety, wellbeing, identity & connectedness.

Working with Māori: Te Toka Tūmoana

Whakamana te tamaiti

Pacific concepts and worldviews

As part of Tauiwi, Pacific communities are also community based with identity, culture and language central to belonging. Pacific communities are diverse in their makeup.

Pacific values include:

  • guardianship
  • the child’s best interests
  • respect
  • dignity
  • humility
  • relationships
  • responsibility
  • spirituality.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Critical analysis and reflection

Practitioners need to critically reflect and challenge their cultural biases in practice which may be conscious or unconscious.

Critical analysis and reflection are also part of the decolonisation process.

Cultural supervision