Work with, Not Do to Indigenous Peoples

Interview with Chelsea Grootveld, Trustee of the J. R. McKenzie Trust

Photo of Chelsea Grootveld: Rucha Chitnis

The J. R. McKenzie Trust has a long legacy of giving in Aotearoa New Zealand. Established in 1940 by Sir John McKenzie, the Trust is one of the oldest philanthropic groups that have had a significant evolution in its strategy and governing structure after engaging in a process of self-reflection and learning. In 2003, the Trust’s board launched a strategic review of its philanthropic practice and learned that only 2-3% of its funding went to support Māori development; there was also a stark under-representation of Māori in the Trust’s governing structure. The Trust established Te Kāwai Toro, a proactive subcommittee, whose leadership and guidance increased board representation of Māori and prioritized Māori development in its grantmaking.
In 2012, Te Kāwai Toro also commissioned a survey on philanthropic giving to Māori. The report revealed “philanthropic funding to Māori in 2012 totaled $289 million or just over 12 percent of the total philanthropic funding.” Funding to Māori was lower on a per-capita basis than funding to other population sub-groups and did not fare well when measured against relative need and the development aspirations of Māori.  Chelsea Grootveld is a Māori Trustee of J. R. McKenzie Trust, who joined the IFIP Pacific Hui in Otaki. Her tribal affiliations are Ngaitai, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui, Whakatōhea and Te Arawa.
In this Q&A, she shares her thoughts on the need to prioritize inclusion and diversity in decision-making structures of philanthropic groups to achieve its vision of social justice and equity.
Q: How did you get involved with the Trust? 
Chelsea: I grew up away from my tribal homelands in the eastern bay of plenty New Zealand, in a coastal town north of Wellington. My professional background is in education and health, and I completed my doctorate in Education in 2012. I was involved with the Trust for six years prior to joining the Board in 2016. Previously I was contracted by the Trust to help develop a strategic plan for Te Kāwai Toro and develop a draftevaluation framework to measure the impact and what difference we are making to Māori communities through our investment in Māori development.  
Q: The Trust has undertaken a proactive effort to increase its giving to Māori and make shift to its governing structure to include Māori voices. Can you share more about this process?
Chelsea: There were Māori people who were on board before me, like Pania Ellison, Che Wilson, and Marama Takao, who were instrumental in setting a plan and recruiting more Māori into the governing structure of the Trust and advocating for increased investment in Māori development. We also had non-Māori trustees who have been very supportive. What we are striving for is a bicultural model of leadership and governance, where Māori are leading the way and non-Māori are supporting the journey.
Q: What has been the impact of embracing a bicultural model of leadership at the Trust?
Chelsea: As per the requirements of our constitution, we have some 13 trustees who are representative of rotary, etc. The Māori strategic committee, which Marama drives, is a strong committee comprised of a diverse group of people with a range of skill sets and experiences who are progressing Māori development and increasing investment. We went from having zero Māori trustees to four today. Our strategy is underpinned by research that tells us that what’s good for Māori is good for all New Zealanders.
Q: What does it mean to operationalize inclusion within the structures of a philanthropic entity?
Chelsea: What this means is sharing power with Indigenous Peoples. Today we are fortunate to have Māori sitting as trustees at the governance level. However this has been a deliberate and purposeful strategy and has not happened by chance. We are helping to set the strategic direction of the organization, and Manaia King is our deputy chair. This would be unheard of seven years ago.  The trust is recognizing that Indigenous values are universal values, but how you practice those are another thing.  As a board we have engaged in decolonization trainings, cultural responsiveness workshops and conversations on what it means to work with Indigenous Peoples, not do to them.  In Aotearoa New Zealand We have a long history of Māori being told how to do things, in order to build nationhood we need to work alongside each-other and not be afraid to have the awkward and hard conversations about power, privilege and inequity.
Q: What have been some of the key takeaways of this reflection and learning process at the Trust? 
Chelsea: We are now moving away from “I will help you” to power sharing. It’s about education and understanding and seeing that value of doing that for the organization and achieving our vision of a socially just New Zealand for all. We are recognizing the importance of building relationships, getting to know people and understanding where they come from. There is now a culture of openness in the Trust and willingness to listen and learn. We know that we can’t work in silos anymore; the world seems fragile and the only way to move forward is by co-creating a sustainable future. We have come a long way. After all, we are still trying to heal from the devastating impacts of colonization – past and present, and undo generations of colonized thinking among both non-Māori and Māori. This takes time, it takes hard work, it takes perseverance and commitment. It is awkward at times and often uncomfortable but if we buy into and commit to a shared vision, we know we can work together and be courageous for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and future generations.