Written by Andrea Brewster, Director at Brewster & Associates
I arrived in Auckland the day before our hikoi North, full of anticipation and looking forward to seeing my Leadership NZ whānau. Connecting with my triad again was a great chance to download what was ‘on top’ for each of us, and a reminder of the unique strengths and experiences we all bring. We all remarked on how we can already feel the space for growth, with each other and in ourselves, that Leadership NZ is creating. It was with the same open heart and calmer mind that I approached the larger group early the next morning.
The journey northwards was a mental journey too. As the bus took us through the lush greens of Te Tai Tokerau we discussed our worldview, what shaped it, how open we were to others, and a particularly challenging question – what is my relationship with Te Tiriti o Waitangi?
It was a confronting realisation that I had never given much thought to, and one which set the tone for our weekend at Kohewhata Marae. We were being challenged to understand not just te ao Māori, but te ao Pākehā, and what it means to be a New Zealander today. On that bus and ever since I have found myself reflecting on the values I hold dear, where they come from and the strong influence my childhood had on the person I am today. I became aware of my Pākehā-ness as I thought about our lack of a distinctive cultural identity, particularly contrasted with the richness of history all around us at Kohewhata Marae.
The wharenui was a visual reminder of the rich and incredibly strong relationship Māori have with their tīpuna. It felt like we were being embraced as we slept under their rara, the symphony of snoring a reminder of our togetherness in a new place. This whanaugatanga was always present and growing, through trips to the hot pools, coffee stops, sharing kai, surprise challenges and spontaneous waiata. The safe, caring space created by the group provided a cushion for some powerful stories and challenging work. I am starting to understand what Sir Bob Harvey meant about ‘getting naked’!
The mihi whakatau we received was a taste of what was to come. I felt immensely honoured and in awe of those who spoke on our behalf with fluent and melodic te reo. A common theme during the korero was the need to heal intergenerational trauma, and move forward together.
During guided meditation Louise invited to explore our own whakapapa and examine what might be held there, spilling over into us. I found myself exploring things that I had never considered before. Previous participants had talked major life changes after the Programme – I wonder how many pilgrimages to ancestral homelands have there been?
I also spent some time considering Te Whare Tapa Whā, the te ao Māori holistic model of wellbeing. I am conscious of my disconnection with one of the whare walls; wairua or spirituality, and this retreat was a good opportunity to discuss different perspectives on faith. I am truly thankful for the diversity of experiences, worldviews, cultures and thoughts in the group which makes for such stimulating conversations.
On the sacred ground at Waitangi, our speakers breathed new life into the historical context of te Tiriti. The challenge set was to think about what it really means to be tangata Tiriti, that we all have a responsibility to uphold and build its principles into our everyday actions. I know I am only at the beginning of my journey into both te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā, one which could take a lifetime to reconcile, but the Leadership NZ waka is a strong vessel.
‘What is it the time for?’ was a question which echoed in my mind. I can see that in this generation we are creating a new multicultural nation, and it needs leadership that is understanding of all worldviews. My overwhelming takeaway from this retreat was a sense of hope, for a new future where collective healing is not only possible but celebrated proudly.
This responsibility to help forge our path as a nation for future generations weighs heavy on my mind, but I also know we have an incredible opportunity in this moment to really test our collective wisdom and leadership. I am reminded of the Ngāi Tahu proverb, which I have heard so many times in Otāutahi but takes on a new meaning and becomes much more personal with this realisation.
Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei - “For us and our children after us"