I’ve been thinking about funder relationships with indigenous communities and the ways in which we get this wrong and right, and what role transparency can play in strengthening these efforts.

My cultural context is Aotearoa New Zealand and here the term most commonly applied to settlers is Pākehā — which usually (but not always) also implies that you are white. Indigenous people are Māori, or Tangata Whenua — People of the Land.

I am Pākehā, and a few years back I set myself on a journey to figure out what this means and how to be better at it. This has involved learning some tikanga (customs) and Te Reo Māori (Māori language) — why should all our interactions be conducted in the language of those who colonized the land? It has involved questioning my own identity and heritage. It has involved playing my part in addressing racism and inequity. And it has involved reflecting on and strengthening my relationships with Māori — in my work in philanthropy and in my personal life.

The thing is though, there are quite a few ways in which we Pākehā miss the mark in our relationships with Māori, often despite our best intentions. I’m not talking blatant racism, which sadly still exists, but that is a topic for another time. Instead I am talking about the wide spectrum of ways in which we try to do the right thing but then it just goes a bit wrong. Here are seven examples from my cultural context:

  • Unconscious bias — “We would have liked to employ someone Māori but no one who met our criteria applied.”
  • Paralysis — “I know I am pretty ignorant about things Māori and I’m scared of getting it wrong, so I will just try to avoid engaging.”
  • Paternalism — “I want to help those poor Māori people.”
  • Tokenism — “We’ve just appointed someone Māori to our board — phew, job done.”
  • Idealizing — “Oh your culture is just so deep and spiritual — it’s the answer to all the world’s problems.”
  • Smugness — “I’ve been learning to speak Māori — I can’t wait to show you how cool I am.”
  • Cultural appropriation — “I’ve found meaning in your culture — it’s mine now, too.”

And, truth is, I think I’ve done all of the above at different times. So what might a better relationship look like?

Read the full article about indigenous relationships by Kate Frykberg at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.