From your research in relation to te Tiriti, what is the most significant idea of relevance to Treaty application in community organisations?

My research explored the Playcentre Federation as a case study in applying Te Tiriti o Waitangi, from the 1989 commitment to biculturalism through to the election of Tiriti-based co-presidents in 2011 (Manning, 2014). A further study looked at the biculturalism evident in Playcentre Awareness Week posters from 1990, 2006 and 2010 (Manning, 2013).

PAW 1990From these analyses I have come to the conclusion that Tangata Whenua representation in governance structures is vital to effective implementation of Te Tiriti in community organisations. There is no substitute for people who have the lived experience of being Māori being present at the decision-making table, and this representation needs to be built into the organisational structure so that it is not having to be re-negotiated at every election. Even with the best intentions from Pākehā, it is easy to overlook the Māori perspective when it is not something that one lives with on a daily basis. Pākehā need to be reminded, and a Māori presence in the governance structure provides that reminder.

Achieving representation in governance, however, is generally a long process and relies on other important factors. One of these factors is education, mostly (but not exclusively) directed at Pākehā. In order to accommodate kaupapa Māori, Pākehā need to understand something of Māori culture, and of the history, significance and philosophical implications of Te Tiriti in this country. To be a Pākehā New Zealander, rather than simply a colonist, one has to embrace this history and come to an understanding of how it affects contemporary social, political and organisational contexts. Further, there needs to be a critical mass of people in an organisation who share these understandings in order for progress towards applying Te Tiriti to be made. The bulk of the membership must accept the need for Tangata Whenua representation in order for it to be a positive experience. Time and education are therefore necessary pre-requisites.

One last thought is that a community organisation needs to question its traditional ways of operating as to whether these methods help or hinder the application of Te Tiriti. One of the key changes the Playcentre Federation made was to move from simple majority voting to consensus decision making. This changed the focus of delegates from devising winning strategies to compromise, dialogue and negotiation. With consensus decision making, reasons for viewpoints were as important as the viewpoints themselves, and this allowed space for new understandings. There is a commonly held belief in many Pākehā-originated community organisations that democracy is the best way for everybody in that organisation to contribute to decision making, yet the conflation of democracy with voting often means that minority views are simply ignored. Consensus decision-making can help include more people’s voices, and in turn, allow the organisation to consider different governance structures such as Tiriti-based co-presidents. Such dual structures can be seen as non-democratic because they give weight to a particular group of people which is not automatically open to everyone, yet in the cases I have analysed, it is these dual structures that resulted in more effective application of Te Tiriti. It comes down to the priorities of the organisation.


Manning, S. (2013, November). Presenting Playcentre to the public through posters. Poster presented at NZARE conference, Dunedin.

Manning, S. (2014). Democracy meets rangatiratanga: Playcentre’s bicultural journey 1989-2011. History of Education Review, 43(1), 31-45. DOI: 10.1108/HER-10-2012-0033

This commentary gives my answer to the question at the top, in preparation for the researcher discussion being conducted by the Treaty Resource Centre/AWEA.


  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi, between the Māori chiefs and the British Crown, 1940
  • Tangata Whenua – “people of the land”, that is, the indigenous people
  • Māori – the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Pākehā – white New Zealanders
  • Kaupapa Māori – a Māori way of doing things