Category:
Expert Voices

Indigenous Leadership

Hinga atu he tētē kura, ara mai he tētē kura. 
When one chief falls another rises. As a dead frond falls, a young shoot uncoils.

On the 7th of October, The Mind Lab hosted a Fireside Chat titled; Learning from Indigenous Leadership. This was part of a panel series connected with our newest Postgraduate Certificate, Leading Change For Good. Our programme equips people with a toolkit to lead change in their communities and workplaces and works to incorporate learning from indigenous leadership.

We were honoured to invite four exceptional leaders in their fields as panellists for our chat; Peter Elbourne – Director of Hoopoe Limited, Niko Toluono – Managing Director of 36 PRESENTS, Riana Manuel – CEO at Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki, and Dr Byron Rangiwai – Lecturer – Master of Applied Indigenous Knowledge. 

The discussions were robust and could have easily carried on into the evening given the opportunity. Our experts came from a variety of backgrounds, offering us insight into their work and how indigenous leadership models weave into and enhance their practice. As usual, time flew by quickly and we were left with a few questions from the audience we didn’t quite get to. In response to this, we were incredibly lucky to have our panelists answer the questions following the event. Summarised below are their responses and further insight;


Is there a place for both indigenous and contemporary leadership? How do they work together?

Arguably, all indigenous leadership is enacted through connection to land, to waterways, to the spiritual, alongside a foundational responsibility to serve for the wellbeing of communities. Many indigenous leaders certainly exhibit attributes that connect with contemporary leadership traits. Often there is the assumption that indigenous and contemporary leadership models clash, as though the old and new world are incompatible, however, we believe they can work perfectly together and even compliment one another.

Increasingly, values-based leadership is a preferred contemporary leadership model and this is central to indigenous leadership. Effective indigenous leaders are often authentic and transformational. They are charismatic and effective and prioritise the wellbeing of the collective. These attributes serve any context from the corporate world through to a social enterprise and then naturally through to your local marae committee. 

Does indigenous leadership only exist in relationship to colonisation?

In short, no. Colonisation has certainly had lasting effects on indigenous leadership through the effects negatively influencing the capacity for indigenous peoples to be self determining. This has hindered the ways that traditional wisdom and leadership models can be sustained. However, indigenous leadership and the embedded attributes have prevailed and continue to grow and adapt in the face of adversity. There is caution needed to critically consider traditional values in indigenous leadership and ensure that they have not been coloured by colonial influences. Writers like Ani Mikaere have been addressing these key issues within our indigenous communities.

Can indigenous leadership be achieved without knowing the language of the indigenous place / people?

Language carries culture and so any authentic encounter with indigenous leadership starts here. The nuances and cultural values are deeply embedded in language first and it is the responsibility of everyone in Aotearoa to support the development of our indigenous language.

Indigenous leaders carry an important role in promoting indigenous capabilities and the foundation of this is made up of language, culture, tikanga (protocols), and purakau (stories). By drawing on our metaphors, such as navigation and utilising the maramataka (traditional lunar calendar) indigenous leaders are supported to position and ground themselves in the treasures that have been passed down to them. These treasures not only benefit indigenous people but the entire population. 


We wish to thank the panellists for sharing their wisdom with us on these key issues that hold such importance for our peoples. 

E rere atu nei ngā tai o mihi ki a koutou, o tātou mātanga, mō ta koutou takoha wā ki te wānanga i ēnei kaupapa whai tikanga ki ō tātou hapori, ki ō tātou whānau.

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