Poutaki Mātauranga Māori applying Māori knowledge and insight to services and projects

UniServices, the research application and commercialisation company of Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, has appointed two senior Māori leaders to work with the design and delivery of the portfolio of services and projects it manages.

Tama Davis
Tama Davis

Tama Davis and Bernie O’Donnell share the role of Poutaki Mātauranga Māori, which focuses on bringing a Te Ao Māori and tikanga Māori lens to UniServices-managed business units that provide research-informed services to the education and health sectors.

“Our role is about helping UniServices step into the journey Waipapa Taumata Rau has started in examining its relationship to mana whenua and to Ti Tiriti o Waitangi,” says Tama. “It’s about examining how we implement the vision of being a tangata Tiriti organisation – a good treaty partner – and what that looks like through our policies, our practices and our accountability to legislation such as the health reforms.”

“Our job is to hone in on the areas where we can apply a strategic lens from a Māori point of view,” says Bernie. “We have an opportunity to apply research and service methodologies that have a uniquely Māori or Pacific lens rather than retrofitting programmes to encompass Māori and Pacific cultural elements.”

Tama is of Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Haua and Ngāti Tuwharetoa descent. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge in governing large health organisations, previously the ӰAPPDistrict Health Board, and now Comprehensive Care Primary Health Organisation, Emerge Aotearoa and ӰAPPHospital Foundation. He is an elected member of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust Board, and whanau director of its social development arm, Whai Maia.

Bernie O'Donnell
     Bernie O'Donnell

Bernie is of Te Atiawa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāi Tahu descent. He is chair of the Manukau Urban Māori Authority, a director with the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency; co-chair of the board at Te Mātāwai, which promotes te reo Māori; and chair of the board at He Whenua Taurikura, New Zealand’s National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

In their shared role, Bernie and Tama support the UniServices business units , , , , , , and . They also support related projects including the , and .

“As Bernie and Tama have pointed out, services for Māori have largely been based on a deficit model – helping Māori who are behind,” says UniServices Executive Director of Business Units Toni Laming. “While that remains important, we believe there are opportunities to lead in areas where appropriately applying Māori knowledge can bring benefits to Aotearoa and the world.”

Tama was born and grew up in the whanau village around Ōrākei Marae, shaped by tradition manifested in waiata and pūrākau. He was five when the historical events of Bastion Point changed New Zealand’s perspective on Maori-Pākehā relationships. It changed his perspective as well. After training as a teacher, he moved into mental health and addictions support. He worked in this field for more than 20 years, from kaupapa Māori organisations through to the NGO sector and the Waitematā District Health Board.

“That’s where I started to shape my understanding of the inequities that face our communities,” says Tama. “The system didn’t recognise the historical trauma that clearly impacted why people were in services. That’s why I got into governance – to have the influence to shift the dial on the systemic processes that have for 180 years disenfranchised a community.” 

Bernie was born in Taranaki but mostly grew up in Tāmaki Makaurau. He worked as a forklift driver until he was 34, when he spent a year studying te reo Māori full time in Taranaki. He followed that up with media studies and ended up becoming manager of the local Māori radio station. After some time in Wellington setting up a national advertising agency for Māori radio, he returned to ӰAPPin 2001 to manage Radio Waatea, including setting up and running its national newsroom, which was established in 2004. 

“My goal was to reflect Māori news and issues in a way different to the negative portrayals our people were subjected to in the mainstream media,” says Bernie. “I’ve always questioned why we were at the bottom of the heap. When my mokopuna were born, I wanted to make sure everything my generation struggled with wouldn’t be repeated in their generation. If they end up facing the same issues, I’ve done nothing as someone who’s been empowered to make changes in this world. I want a world they can see themselves in, hear themselves in and that elevates their learnings.”

Monique Pihema, Dawn Freshwater and Tama Davis
     Tama Davis, right, with Monique Pihema and Dawn Freshwater
     at the signing of the Kōtuitanga with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei

Both Tama and Bernie returned to studies later in life. Each separately completed a postgraduate diploma in Māori development and then an MBA, both at Waipapa Taumata Rau. 

A major part of the pair’s role is to ensure that UniServices and its business units embrace the Māori world and its knowledge without appropriating it.

“We have to be mindful that anytime we’re using Indigenous intelligence, the IP sits where it belongs,” says Tama. “For a long time, Māori intelligence outside iwi and hapū spaces was typically owned by universities because that was where mostly non-Māori researchers did research on Māori. For a tangata Tiriti organisation, there needs to be accountability on the framing of mātauranga Māori.” 

Another goal for Bernie and Tama is to increase the visibility and influence of Māori across all levels of the organisation. 

“What would be a win for me would be more Māori in key positions to influence the processes and to make sure we’re holding each other accountable to the legislative requirements around Te Tiriti,” says Tama.

“At the same time, we want to increase accessibility,” says Bernie. “We want to build structures that send signals to the whole community that Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of ӰAPPisn’t some high-falutin’ establishment but one they can see themselves in.”