Tikanga-informed practice within community services is vital – especially for the future of our tamariki Māori.

Loosely translated, the word tikanga refers to Māori customs and traditions – the Māori way of doing things. For Māori, to act in accordance with tikanga is to behave in a way that is culturally proper or appropriate.

Tamariki Māori make up only 25% of all children in Aotearoa; however, they represent 68% of all children in state care. With so many tamariki Māori in state care, it is crucial that those working with tamariki Māori and their whānau are familiar with tikanga in order to create long-lasting and beneficial outcomes for all involved.

So, what exactly is tikanga? And, more importantly, how can we make sure that we’re putting it into practice?

One theoretical principle of tikanga is whanaungatanga. A foundational value for Māori, whanaungatanga is created through forming, sharing, and maintaining close relationships and ties with people and communities. In working together to embody the principles of whanaungatanga, we provide the basis and framework for a sense of belonging and unity – an integral part of any child’s development, particularly for tamariki Māori.

When tamariki Māori are deprived of whanaungatanga, this has a significant impact not only on their cultural heritage, but also on how they think, act, and develop. Whanaungatanga equips tamariki and rangatahi with the valuable skills needed not just to survive but to thrive. When working with tamariki Māori, we need to make sure that we’re forming connections and building social networks around them that will both support and create a community.

Another example of tikanga is the principle of manaakitanga. This means to nurture others and extend aroha (love and compassion) to others, whether that be to a loved one or a complete stranger. Manaakitanga is particularly important for Māori as it secures and ensures the strength of whānau (families) and communities.

Manaakitanga creates a feeling of support, belonging, and worth – all of which are needed for tamariki to thrive. By embodying manaakitanga in our practice, we give tamariki hope that self-reliance is attainable.

Finally, another important aspect of tikanga is kaitiakitanga. Kaitiaki means guardian in te reo Māori and kaitiakitanga refers to the guardianship, management, practices and processes involved in looking after our environment. In embodying this tikanga and teaching our tamariki ways, we too can protect and respect our land, allowing our tamariki to remain connected to their environment and culture.