Cultivating Cultural Respect

By Morgana Watson, Iwi Liaison and Māor Engagement Lead

Māori make up 11% in the construction industry and there are even less Māori women. With multiple genders, ethnicities and classes to consider, it can be a little daunting for employers to make sure everything is in ship-shape for a safe space for these wāhine.

Dave: How can I be more welcoming and respectful to wahine māori who wanna work in the trades?

Wāhine māori are often placed lower in the perceived hierarchy of western society and this is evident in how things can be unintentionally overlooked or offensive. Let’s have a look at the situation and continue to seek solutions together.

Tikanga | Te Ao Hou | Whakatika

Here is some insight into traditional māori worldviews, modern worklife and solutions for everyone:


Ancestral names hold weight and are gifted for many reasons. They have deep connections to real people who lived a time ago and are a source of identity, familial alliances, tribal narratives and whakapapa among many other things.

When names are mispronounced, it can be hurtful and disrespectful; especially over a long period of time. It can be exhausting for the person to constantly correct people and so they give up – this in turn damages what could be really great working relationships.


Asking the person to be patient while you make huge efforts to get their name correct, is a good start. It can take up to 100 times of saying a word to get it right. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat the pronunciation of their name.

Sacred sites

Traditional places have great spiritual and environmental meaning. What happened in these places is what has given them their sacred status. The protocols and practices set in direct relationship to those sacred sites or wāhi tapu were upheld – not for superstitious reasons – but for safety and practicality.

All plans and documents undergo rigorous testing and analysis, so there should be plenty of time and warning if the space is indeed a ‘wāhi tapu’. If this is the case, the responsibility is with the company to provide cultural safety for all who enter the site.


You may not understand the cultural implications but that’s ok. You don’t have to know everything, just accept that it is different from what you’ve experienced. Make it common practice to provide a large water bowl or separate water bottle/container that is NOT for drinking. This can be assigned to the ‘wāhi tapu’ for washing, sprinkling over one’s head.


Māori culture is gender-neutral and matrilineal. Living in these belief systems meant that the western social biases related to gender, eg. men and women, did not apply in traditional māori life. Everyone had a role to play to contribute to the village, regardless of their physical gender. Women and girls held the same status as men and boys and this was reflected in all spectrums of leadership and work.

Wāhine Māori face additional prejudice in society. There are damaging behaviours such as exoticism and misconceptions about Māori women that make it difficult to build trust with people. These are social constructs created out of colonisation and repeated in all types of media, cultural misappropriation and intergenerational teaching.

Allow wāhine the space and time to build their skills and believe in them. Do not assume superiority or a hierarchical stance. Treat them as you would another non-māori, male co-worker.

Cultural safety

Every member of Māori society was encouraged to study and follow a path of talent or interest that they showed an affinity to. It was common practice for the kaumātua (elders) to observe toddlers and young children then assign them mentors and teachers that would build those skill sets. Not all people became tohunga or experts but also people were not expected to do things that were out of their depth or knowledge base.

Not all Māori people know everything about Māori culture. This is a direct result of colonisation and assimilation. Let’s not assume that the one Māori in the group knows all things ‘Māori’ therefore asking them to perform cultural consultancy when it is not in their job description can be harmful and unsafe for all involved.

Where cultural consultancy is required, even at a minimal level – a professional consultant should be hired. Maintain the trust and protect the relationship of your māori workers by dispelling these expectations.