A Māori development leader says the Whanganui River tribes have helped bring attention to global perspectives on indigenous knowledge, collaboration and trade.
Te Puni Kōkiri regional director for Te Tai Hauāuru, Jessica Smith, was in the United Arab Emirates at the end of 2021 to support the visit of Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta for bilateral talks and the indigenous and tribal ideas symposium Te Aratini.
She said New Zealand was able to bring Te Aratini delegates to meetings with Emirati government agencies, including Ātihau-Whanganui Incorporation's Mavis Mullins.
"We were fortunate that we had so many progressive Māori businesses, entrepreneurs, leaders in attendance.
"From a government perspective when we were having our government-to-government discussions we were able to reach into the experience of those delegates, like Mavis [Mullins}, and get them to attend some of our government-to-government meetings."
Emirati government leadership welcomed thought leaders from Māori communities to the table, Smith said.
"It made the meetings a far richer experience. The Emiratis have a Ministry for Possibilities, a Ministry of Culture and Youth, and a Knowledge and Human Development authority – that says something about where their thinking is at."
Smith said the story of the fight for legal recognition of Whanganui River rights has been central to exposing indigenous approaches and perspectives at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Te Awa Tupua legislation is the theme of the Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion experience at the world expo and was highlighted at Te Aratini in a presentation by Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chair Sheena Maru.
"Te Aratini, which was the first indigenous symposium ever held at a world expo, not only has benefit for Te Awa Tupua, for Whanganui, but for all indigenous people across the world. We're a part of a world-first, created for indigenous knowledge," Smith said.
"It also shows how innovative we are as a people, as Whanganui, as Te Awa Tupua. We've created something unique, a never-before piece of legislation, and this is just one of the many manifestations of our ability to be innovative."
Smith said the impetus for events in Dubai is trade, but for Māori the world expo and indigenous symposium were, more importantly, an opportunity to build relationships and understand shared value systems.
"Indigenous dialogue is not really interested in transactional relationship but in understanding that shared value system so that as we look at opportunities, it's based on an equal space of moving forward, of mutual benefit, and there's that reciprocity and value system in place to build a strong foundation for a good relationship.
"The expo is just one of the many international platforms where we're able to create space for indigenous dialogue and show examples of excellence to support indigenous people across the global community."
Expo 2020 Dubai runs until March.