Maori concepts for social and community work
For those working in Māori communities or organisations, it is important to understand some of the inherent Māori cultural concepts that are important to those contexts. Many groups and projects have struggled to involve Māori people and communities, often because of a lack of understanding of important Māori values and processes. As a Māori person born and raised in Otago but belonging to the Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato Iwi of the North Island, I know what it is like to learn the hard way about Māori processes. When I was growing up, issues around tapu and noa were translated as cleanliness, or showing respect; mana was not necessarily talked about, but was interpreted as politeness, respect and good manners. I seemed to know a lot of the right things to do, but not why, even though there were times where I felt paralysed in my ignorance. At the age of 21 I moved back to my tribal area for 12 years to work as a youth worker and learnt a lot from the families and the communities I was associated with, as well as from my hapū and relatives. That gave me confidence, so that when I moved back to Otago, I was in a position to learn even more from the communities and people in that region. I came to realise that Māori social and community work is multi-layered and complex. Māori communities are not homogenous and sometimes have competing factions, histories and approaches. There may be differing perspectives between mana whenua and mātaawaka, rural communities and urban ones, traditional and modern, those who speak te reo and those who do not, those who have succeeded in education and those that have not and those whose primary identification is tribal (Iwi), ethnic (Māori), half-caste, or national (Kiwi). One extended family can reflect all these differences and variations, despite this, there are values that are arguably integral to most social and community work involving Māori. Therefore, I will highlight some important Māori concepts and constructs that affect how Māori may view or be involved in community development or community organisations. The following concepts are not necessarily used in social and community work per se, but are concepts that need to be understood for good community work to take place. I will use some of my personal experiences to explain some of the underpinnings of why, in Māori social and community work, we do what we do. The definitions and explanations are, by necessity, brief and may not necessarily give justice to what can be very deep concepts. Some concepts may differ between Iwi as they are multi-layered, so that the more you investigate them, the deeper they go. Therefore, the end of this article will provide further reading for those seeking a greater understanding. It should be noted that while very basic at times, (and I apologise for this), the purpose of this article is to be explicit about the meanings of different values and concepts that I wish had been spelt out more clearly for me as a young youth worker and community worker.
Publisher: Otago Polytechnic
Keywords: Maori; Social Work; Community work
Research Type: Journal Article
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