A Bay of Plenty iwi has teamed up with Contact Energy to help Kenya's semi-nomadic Maasai people get a better deal with power generators in the East African country.
Ngati Tahu and Contact Energy will share their experience in engaging indigenous communities in geothermal energy projects in a year-long exchange programme.
Geothermal power is quickly expanding as a source of generation in energy-hungry Kenya.
Recognising the parallels between New Zealand and Kenyan indigenous cultural beliefs in geothermal activity, Power Africa and its partners, the United States Energy Association (USEA) and the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), approached Ngati Tahu to share best-practice strategies with the majority state-owned Kenyan power company, KenGen and some of the Maasai population, which numbers about 1.3 million in Kenya and northern Tanzania.
KenGen, has recently encountered project delays or cancellations because of disagreements with tribal communities.
To the Maasai, areas of geothermal activity within Kenya's Rift Valley hold cultural and spiritual significance, much like New Zealand's Maori tribes, who view geothermal resources as presenting more than simply a source of electricity but a sacred gift from the gods, used for centuries to prepare food, treat illness, and in religious ceremonies.
Olkaria, host to one of the world's premier geothermal resources, is also home to a large population of Maasai. Tribes people had been displaced and according to Aroha Campbell, a trustee of the Ngati Tahu Tribal Lands Trust and member of the Ngati Tahu Landowners Collective, they have been on the back foot.
''There are parallels in terms of what the land means as Maori they have the same values - the challenges that they have are much deeper than the ones we've had,'' she said.
Iwi have recognised rights and past injustices recognised under the Treaty of Waitangi but there was nothing similar in Kenya where several geothermal projects are being developed in the Maasai's Rift Valley stronghold.
Representatives of Ngati Tahu and Contact recently returned from their second exchange to Kenya (and fourth exchange in total), where they have been working with Maasai communities and KenGen, 70 per cent owned by the state, to support both parties in growing their relationships around the geothermal resource in Olkaria.
"As an iwi we have a long history of working with energy companies, and we've learnt a lot. So for us this exchange was an opportunity to share our learnings, to support the Maasai build a more equal and empowering relationship with KenGen," Campbell said.
''Ngati Tahu's aspirations for our whanau and whenua are beyond just cultural. We have economic, social, and environmental aspirations that we want to realise.''
The iwi had built a relationship with Contact around the Ohaaki geothermal field and worked together towards achieving individual and collective aspirations.
''This approach is what we shared in Kenya with the Maasai communities," she said.
Campbell and Contact generation general manager Jacqui Nelson said the relationship between the company and Maori had not always been perfect but the key to improving it was acknowledging what had happened in the past and trying to improve for the future.
Nelson said the Maasai were at a Mexican standoff with KenGen which had built a village for displaced Maasai that wasn't appropriate.
From the exchange programme, the Maasai have developed a strategic plan to 2050 to support them to achieve their social, environmental, economic and cultural aspirations, and to support them to better engage with KenGen.
KenGen is working towards formalising a new values-based community engagement framework, and supporting the Maasai to build capacity towards achieving the aspirations articulated in their community strategic plan.