At last week's full Whangārei District Council meeting, elected members voted in favour of supporting the formation of Te Kārearea Strategic Partnership Standing Committee.
This is a significant milestone, which will see ngā hapū o Whangārei and Whangārei District Council come together to create pathways for Māori participation in decision making.
While Te Huinga and Te Kārearea have existed for more than a decade, hapū have not historically had decision-making delegations.
Since the beginning of this term (October 2019) there has been extensive korero between hapū and council around how to build on the historic partnership, starting the journey towards a Te Karearea Strategic Partnership Standing Committee.
Our process included working through draft terms of reference and running an extensive hapū-led consultation process (organised and led by Te Huinga) to discuss how a proposed standing committee would work.
Among many other points, it was recommended that meetings continue to rotate between council chambers and marae, with marae-based meetings being run in accordance with tikanga by a hapū chair. While only council-based meetings legally constitute a "Committee of Council", the marae-based hui are a critical means to connect with the community.
After a long and robust process, we landed on the purpose of the committee being to provide a platform for strategic discussions and priority setting between the partners.
I am happy to say that preference will be given to kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) and preserving tikanga, which is so important in hapū participation.
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The standing committee will focus on participation (identifying the cultural, economic, environmental, and social decisions of council that are significant for Māori in our district) assurance (making sure council complies with statutory provisions that refer to Te Tiriti o Waitangi), and direction (agreeing to mutual strategic priorities).
During the process of setting up the standing committee, we recognised that sometimes the committee will be advising instead of decision-making. As a result, the committee's responsibilities have been clearly split into areas where it will be providing advice and recommendations, and areas where decision making powers would be delegated.
This new standing committee will enable council and hapū of Whangārei to achieve a shared vision "He Whenua Rangatira - Whangārei, a district of prosperity, wellbeing and empowered communities" and mission "Ka tūtuki te Kāwanatanga ā-rohe, ka puāwai hoki te kotahitanga me ōna tini kaupapa - local government that works through effective partnership and shared decisions to provide practical solutions".
I'm really proud that our council has made this significant move toward addressing Local Government Act requirements for Māori participation in decision making.
We have been building to this day for many years and I pay tribute to the many people who have contributed to laying the foundations for this important, courageous and progressive step.
• Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei.