Leadership for good.


In Greek the mythological Thea (Teah) was Greek goddess of light and mother of the sun; moon and dawn.

Hmmm I will take that.

I am passionate in a gritty kind of way, a mix of passion and perseverance, about the continued advancement of Māori and Indigenous peoples, and see it as an honour and responsibility to contribute to solutions that build mana motuhake (self-determination).

My view on hauroa (health and wellbeing) is that it is an all-encompassing way of being, not necessarily the goal or end game. It is part of the pathway towards Indigenous emancipation. 

So I see my contribution towards change in roles that play through art, writing, academia, and most importantly being a māmā.

Working in the health sector, allows me the space to innovate, create and transform. It helps that my mahi is diverse; every day is different and I’m surrounded by inspiring, motivated people who are passionate about a future for our mokomokomokopuna, future generations to come.

But I am always drawn to learning and growth and I have been stretched to consider concepts and practices around leadership. If I am to enact any form of change for the betterment of my people, I feel a calling to learn about ways to lead, reflect and stay grounded.

Authentic leadership.

Ive been reading about authentic leadership and I figured out why authentic leadership makes me want to vomit.

It’s about not being fake right? Being who you are. It sounds like being a 100% of something, like the label “100% genuine leather.”

A quantifiable commodity of judgement and labeling. The opposite of how I want to experience life and leadership.  I often witness leadership in te ao Māori as “its just what you do”. Very matter of fact and fit for purpose. Leadership that is chosen by the people, for the people. People – the collective who push and nudge individuals to represent and stand, as well as tell them to shut up and sit down! And sometimes leadership means to speak into the very being of a child/person to set intentions of whakapapa and mana.

I have grappled all my life with being ‘authentic’- having both Māori and Pākehā whakapapa. Not speaking my language, being light skinned, not fitting in with either culture and just all-round not feeling enough.

What I have come to understand is that these impacts are based on the colonial project, cultural genocide. And it’s worked/working very well as its flourishing today. Being ‘authentic’ is representative of a system that I do not fit in. The system does not resonate with my knowing and being of this world – it makes me feel less than. Not only am I Indigenous, I am a woman in a western patriarchal society. So, to be ‘authentic’ is a privilege.

I believe authenticity denotes objectivity – as we are always political whether we like it or not.

To be authentic with western imposed standards means taking risks, risking my health, wellbeing, relationships with others and even my financial stability. Being authentic in a safe, supportive loving environment looks vastly different from the mainstream/whitestream society – at risk environments that are everyday.

When I consider leadership, I do not consider striving towards or embedding practices of ‘authenticity’, it may or may not be an unintended outcome that is highlighted and reinforced by the people. I think ‘authenticity’ is not something to be claimed or quantified.

My position on authenticity is the opposite of how it is described in whitestream literature. An example below.

“Why are we drawn to authenticity? Part of it is an attempt to individuate ourselves and find something that’s different and more appealing to us than it is to the masses. We all do that. We find satisfaction and gratification in it. And I think that’s fine. There are theories that it has to do with the loss of identity in mass society — that we’re all trying to individuate ourselves. But the irony there is that you can predict how people are going to individuate themselves pretty much by their social class, their upbringing, where they live, stuff like that” (Carroll, 2016).

Firstly, I’m not drawn to authenticity when it comes to leadership. And my Indigenous experiences of the whitestream world shows me every single day is that I am inherently ‘different’ so why would I find satisfaction and gratification in it?

If not authentic then what?

Grounded Leadership.

To me its not about authenticity its about grounding. Grounded Leadership. To first know yourself, how you relate to the world and drive with passion.

But more importantly being grounded seems to capture the breadth and importance of whakapapa – knowing your history, connection to land, your people and what you are protecting and nurturing for future generations.

Whakapapa encourages us to regard wisdom and knowledge as collective, with each new idea or concept building upon the layer before it. Wisdom is not about perfection or getting things right; it is about applying tīpuna knowledge to our generational context in light of our own needs and development. This understanding guides us to strive not for perfection but instead for the wellbeing of our people, to account for their complexities and diversity.

Whakapapa is about understanding connection to your words, perspective, relationships with the environment and the universe and knowing where you fit in the scheme of things. So if we ground our leadership we can then determine good.


What is good? For whom is it good? and why is it good?

I saw my classmates grapple with this task – the go to approach seemed to be exploring shared values and principles.  Seems like a logical one but I feel like its more simplistic and practical than than that.

What values are important to us as a society? To list a few: aroha, manaaki, rangatiratanga, freedom, choice, faith, community, and honesty, the list can go on but what is at the core of all values?

I think ‘good’ is bigger than values for example lets work with one – honesty.

In our current Westminster system, I would not get far if I was to be ‘honest’. At one point I did not disclose my living circumstances because I would not be entitled to resources and support. Not being honest meant that I was able to get medical access, enough kai, pay my utilities and rent in an unsafe scary environment that I was trying to crawl out of.

This example played out publicly in a violent and traumatic way for Matira Turei. The previous co-leader of the Green party admitted publicly to not disclosing to Work and Income (the benefit administrators) that she had a flatmate, at the time when she was receiving living support allowance, as a single parent. She told the public that she was advocating to raising benefits as a human right to be sheltered, safe, warm and dry just as she had experienced herself many moons ago. This ‘honesty’ cause outraged amongst the masses, where it actually cause relief amongst my whānau and friends as we realised we were not alone trying to survive. She was sent death threats, abused, and traumatised. The abuse towards her whānau was the last straw – when she decided to step down as the co-leader, left parliament and politics.

When western terms, definitions, and approaches are utilised in Indigenous communities, they can reinforce colonial power processes by legitimising western systems of ideas such as honesty in this example.

What I know is the system is designed for me to not succeed, so I must find ways to get around that and to navigate and does that make me dishonest?

Does that make me bad as opposed to good?

I believe it depends on who is setting the rules.

I know that ‘good’ is found in its collective common foundation. A foundation that what is good for me – is good for you – is good for Māori – is good for Pākehā– common good for all.

I believe that everything and anything Māori and Indigenous is good for everyone, particularly for health and the environment. ‘Good’ means planetary health as we are of this earth and beyond.

Identifying, naming, and defining are powerful acts that can change perceptions and determine who and what is ‘good’ and then drive subsequent actions that we may take.

Ka ora te Whenua, ka ora te tangata.

The whenua, Papatūānuku, is the source of all life.

She is the Mother.

Ka ora te Whenua, ka ora te tangata.

Caring for the whenua is the first priority.

Everything else must be measured against this.

Ka ora te Whenua, ka ora te tangata.

‘Good’ is about promotion and reclamation of Te Ao Marama – our world/Aotearoa as a space for Māori to be ourselves, on our own lands, a space that is negotiated, adaptive, and shaped by people, whānau, and communities. And that asserts the value of kaupapa Māori in addressing issues of self-determination.

I propose that, rather than rejecting Western terms and approaches, we can cautiously reclaim ‘good and authenticity’ or any other term if we remain grounded and committed to Ka ora te Whenua, ka ora te tangata. As Māori and the Crown have a political, legal, and spiritual covenant of equitable partnership through Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Henare, 1987).

E tipu e rea i ngā rā o tōu ao. Ko tōu ringa ki te rākau ā te Pākehā hei oranga mo te tinana, tōu ngākau ki ngā taonga ā o mātou tīpuna hei tikitiki mo to māhunga, a ko tōu wairua ki te Atua nāna nei ngā mea katoa.


There are very few western scientific traditions that allow us to think about health and wellbeing in the above Indigenous ways. Indigenous science has been trivialised with political/on-going colonial agendas.  

So what is ‘good’ is indigenisation, it’s good for humans, it’s good for our environment, it’s good for the universe. And importantly how can you deny thousands upon thousands of years of generations they have tread lightly on this land and lived in harmony with the world. And only in the last few 180 years when colonisation arrived on our shores of Aotearoa has that synergy with the our whenua become undone. Great technological advancements have been made in more recent history but it has been at the expense of the environment and life systems and I don’t think for a minute we want to continue to perpetuate that devastation.

The best insurance for the health and wellbeing of your whānau is to ensure the health of Papatūānuku. Everyone has a right to a healthy existence and everyone has a responsibility to care for the land which sustains us all. Our whakapapa connects us directly with the land. Whether you subscribe to a Western scientific account of creation, a Christian account of creation or a Māori account of creation, at some point we are all of the earth.

Kerridge, 2020

Our evolution as humans entangles and entwines with Papatūanuku and Ranginui.

When the world was created, Ranginui was pressed against Papatūānuku, the earth mother. Their children did not like living in the cramped, dark space between them, so one of their sons, Tāne, the god of forests, lay on his back and pushed up against the sky with his feet. The sky was ripped away from the earth, and Tāne planted poles to hold them apart.

Taonui, 2006

The Māori creation story reminds us that we are all related not just the humans but to every living being. It reminds us that we are children of this planet and further children of the universe made from the materials of the stars – travelling here on the back of a comet. So we can’t get away from that interconnection with all things. ‘Good’ is intimately intertwined with everything – an important part of and belonging to an ecosystem.

Papatūānuku does not exist for us alone. There are many others to consider who depend on her for their existence. Humankind are behaving more like spoilt children who want more than their fair share. We have become more like a cancer within the whānau rather than contributing members of a wider community. In her last blog post before her death, researcher and social commentator Celia Lashlie said “let us hope that the rest of us do not leave our run to heal too late,” which I think also applies to the human race as a whole in relation to our actions towards our mother earth.

Kerridge, 2020

I can hear the land crying …This is something that more and more people are saying, in many different ways. They are saying it spontaneously, people from lots of difference places and walks of life, without reference to each other. They can hear the Earth, the whenua, Papatūānuku, crying. The land is not just crying; it is calling us to action.

McGowan, 2020

If we consider where we are now in terms of planetary health and the kaupapa of sustainability is that ‘good’ enough anymore as a goal – as a value. Is it enough to sustain this present tense/reality?

The Earth is losing the power to heal itself. Slips and landslides remain bare years later, or covered in nothing but weeds; rivers and lakes no longer come clear after a storm; the coast never overcomes the pollution that is constantly seeping in; life once so abundant and so diverse is fading; so many different signs that even the most unobservant are beginning to notice. How can we be well when the whenua is unwell?

McGowan, 2020

So are we at the full flourishment of the world? Are we now in deep descent and decline of that flourishment– a horrible truth.

Has this little blue/green diamond in amongst all darkness in its full vulnerability is had its full expression of itself as a singular entity we owe it to ourselves and everything around us to wake up and indigenise!

We don’t need to look for a new system, we don’t need western sciences to explore anything more about the how’s and why’s.  We need to nurture what we know and embrace mystery. Be content and allow ourselves to become in awe of our planet and work on healing her.



Henare, J. (1987). Address to David Lange’s cabinet. Affidavit for New Zealand Māori Council v the Minister of Finance (CA. 54/187). Wellington, New Zealand.

Kerridge, D. (2020) . Everything is related: an introduction to rongoā Māori medicine. Retrieved from: https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/13-10-2017/everything-is-related-an-introduction-to-rongoa-maori-medicine/

McGowan, R. (2020) Tiwaiwaka. New Zealand: Robert McGowan.

Taonui, R. (2006). ‘Ranginui – the sky’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ranginui-the-sky (accessed 3 November 2020)

Published by Tākuta Teah

Indigenous woman, partner, māmā, sister, daughter, aunty, artist, story catcher/teller, researcher, evaluator and academic. I draw on these identities to express, connect and articulate kotahitanga, mana motuhake and aroha.

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