Dispute Resolution - A Tikanga Based Approach

When I was a principal an urgent call came through. I had to get to the science classroom fast. The teacher and students had locked themselves inside. Outside was a former student who had come into the school wanting to sort out a student in the class. Armed with a brick he bludgeoned the door trying to force his way in. Then he threw it at the walls smashing holes.

It was a whirlwind of aggression. He sprinted out of the science corridor to the road then turned and faced the school shouting, swearing and challenging the student to come out.

The situation was eventually calmed down. Sometime later, I called a hui (meeting) of the parties involved. Tensions were still high, and the people gathered were edgy. I had to manage the situation confidently. I didn’t want a brawl to erupt.

Create a safe space - Whare tūpuna

Conduct hui in a Māori setting and preferably on the marae. The attitude and wairua (spirit) of participants changes when we are surrounded by Te Ao Māori - to be respectful and conciliatory. If this is not possible then create a wairua Māori (atmosphere/vibe) using the steps below.

  1. Tautoko / Supporters - Include whānau or associates of the affected parties to come along to provide moral support or evidence if required.

  2. Karakia - Always start with karakia. It calms the mood and settles the wairua (soul). People are transported into the spiritual world, to the domain of the atua tūpuna (ancestor god) Rongo and peace. When we karakia we know automatically to be respectful and quiet.

  3. Mihi / Whakawhanaungatanga - All people present acknowledge who they are through greetings, name, pepeha and whakapapa. Those disconnected from their Māori world who cannot do this, support them to do as much as they can anyway. We do this because on the marae no business starts until the formal procedures of welcome, connection, whakapapa (genealogy) whanaungatanga (relationships), hongi and kai is completed. This process also tones down any agitation.

Arrange seating accordingly - Tikanga a noho

Arrange seating in a circle. Explain to the parties that a circle encourages a sense of community, inclusivity, ‘we and not me.’ Our tūpuna were group focused and community-minded with everyone working for the benefit of everyone else because survival depended upon it. It also opens up the space for everyone to participate should they wish to.

  1. Rau Aroha - A symbolic branch (preferably kawakawa, ponga or any other native plant) of peace is laid between the participants. Later this will be the exchange of the koha aroha (gift of peace) to symbolise the dispute being settled.

  2. Tikanga - Set down the rules for engagement particularly around how to address the gathering.

For Example:

  • All kōrero is confidential and remains in the whare/room.

  • The domain of Rongo must be adhered to. Kōrero is calm and respectful

  • When someone speaks they have the rakau kōrero (figuratively). As with whaikōrero when someone has the rākau kōrero there are no interruptions.

  • When speakers speak, they turn and address the facilitator of the group and not across the circle to the other party. This will help reduce tension.

If one chooses to not follow this tikanga the following will happen:

  • One whakatūpato - A warning to check their behaviour.

  • Should the misbehaviour occur again the person will sit outside the circle with no further interaction or involvement in the decision-making.

  • Should the person continue to interrupt they will depart the whare and wait outside with no further interaction/involvement.

Given that people are there to ‘hohou i te rongo’ (settle the peace) they will have been strongly influenced by the tikanga (rituals) performed beforehand and will be locked into the wairua of the whare so the process will be positive. Additionally, people want to be part of the decision-making, so sitting out or leaving is not an option for them.

Questions and response - Tu atu / Tu mai

Using a restorative justice structure ask the protagonist the questions below:

  1. “Tell us what happened ...name…..” Here we get a breakdown of how the issue began and how it went.

  2. “ What were you thinking?” This question opens up the person to understand their motivation for their behaviour.

  3. “What was the impact (on the other party)?” This is the part where mana is upheld. The protagonist is asked to explain the impact of their actions on the other party. Usually they will have no understanding. The affected party now describes in detail how they feel. The power is theirs to tell it how it is. They give a voice to their pain. The protagonist will ‘feel’ first hand how the other party has been affected.

  4. “How can we fix this?” Plans and strategies are put in place to address the issues. Unprompted parties will shake hands at this stage and even apologise.

  5. “How can we be sure this won't happen again?” The protagonist is asked how they can be trusted that they won’t make the same mistake again. In front of everyone they voluntarily make the commitment not to raise the issue again.

Settle the peace - Rau aroha  

Tūpuna exchanged taonga once everything was concluded. The rau is the symbol of rongo (peace). Split it and share it between the central figures to keep as a signature of reconciliation. Hongi to seal the pact.

Conclude with a karakia, all participants hongi, hariru (shake hands) in the process of bringing everyone together. Kai is the final tikanga to lift tapu, ‘hohou i te rongo’ (settle the peace) and acknowledge whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and aroha.

This is a very empowering process that gives everyone involved an opportunity to speak, be heard and be part of the solution. Mana is something we all have and it is important to remember this. Upholding mana is key to bringing about an outcome that sits well and is lasting. This structure drawn from principles embedded in Te Ao Māori combined with contemporary restorative justice practices, will ensure that mana is upheld.

To learn more about how to implement dispute resolution from a tikanga Māori approach check out our wānanga.