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InPsych 2012 | Vol 34

Psychology in current issues

Reconciliation lessons from across the Tasman

In Aotearoa New Zealand, as in Australia, the nation’s first peoples were dispossessed through early white settlement, and are now among the most disadvantaged and are over-represented in health, mental health, incarceration and unemployment statistics. This despite the Treaty of Waitangi being signed in 1840, which affirmed Maori rangatiratanga (independence, autonomy) and promised Maori would have the same citizenship rights as other New Zealanders. Although those commitments were not honoured, in the 1980s New Zealand reaffirmed a commitment to the Treaty that has resulted in the inclusion of obligations and some efforts to achieve equity for Maori. In this context, over the last two decades many public agencies and professional associations in New Zealand have committed to forms of organisational change intended to provide for the rights and aspirations of Maori, who comprise over 14 per cent of the New Zealand population.

In 1991 the New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPsS) committed to encouraging policies and practices which reflect the spirit and intent of the Treaty of Waitangi, involving a bicultural approach that gives equal recognition to the culture and tikanga (right practices) of Maori and non-Maori (Pakeha) New Zealanders. It appears the NZPsS has gone a considerable way to achieving this aim, so Associate Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora and Dr Raymond Nairn from Aotearoa were invited onto the Working Group overseeing the development of the APS Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) that aims to maximise psychology’s contribution to the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. InPsych spoke to them about their experiences and insights of a psychology that is now more reflective of New Zealand’s cultural diversity.

What are the key issues contributing to Maori disadvantage where psychological knowledge and practices can make a difference?

Psychology brings an important disciplinary perspective along with ways of working with Maori to reduce disadvantage at the individual, community and societal levels. Psychology is ideally placed to develop analyses of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, discrimination, violence and pathology that emphasise the substantial and too often neglected impact of systemic oppression that continues from colonial times. The critical challenge has been one of refocussing psychology and psychologists to a broader view that appreciates the contextual, historical, political and ecological. This means that we have to address issues of disadvantage with each presenting client as well as in the contexts in which they live their daily lives. This is a task we should not shy away from nor underestimate the powers we have as professionals to enact social change.

What structures within the NZPsS have guided the initiatives to promote biculturalism?

There have been a number of initiatives and sites of activity. For example, in the 1990s, the NZPsS established the National Standing Committee on Bicultural Issues (NSCBI), which has since been integrated within the Society’s sense of itself. Its Executive has two Bicultural Directors who report to and are driven by issues and concerns filtered through the NSCBI. The Society has sponsored hui (conferences) for Maori and Pacific psychologies (2002, 2007, 2012), and supported NSCBI representation on working parties for tasks like reviewing the Society’s Code of Ethical Practice. None of these changes could have been achieved without Maori and Pakeha within and outside the Society supporting these initiatives and wanting change to happen.

What are some of the significant achievements in this area over the last 20 years?

‘Significant’ suggests major change which we are not really able to claim. However, a number of cumulative changes have arisen from people slowly but surely chipping away at important tasks. One of those is the Code of Ethical Practice which is framed by the Treaty of Waitangi, and the recently completed translation of the Code into te reo (Maori). Other achievements are The Practice Handbook (2007), much used by practitioners and students alike, and the publication of past bicultural keynote addresses (1989-2009) which are a standing feature of the Society’s annual conference.

How many Maori psychologists are there and what initiatives have been put in place to increase these numbers?

This is a tricky question as the only count of psychologists is the registrations, and academics only have to be registered and hold a practice certificate if they are training practitioners. A workforce survey was sent out with annual practising certificates in 2009, and of the 1,225 psychologists who completed it, 1,089 (88.9%) identified as ‘NZ European’ or ‘European’, 65 (5.3%) identified as Maori, and the rest as ‘Asian’, ‘Pacific’ or ‘Other’.

Like most countries, training psychologists is seen as the domain of universities, and the pathway through which professional societies like ours gain our membership. In New Zealand, the University of Waikato has forged the way by changing how universities support and train Maori psychologists. Waikato was the first to appoint Maori to their tenured academic staff, the first to appoint staff to support Maori students, the first to include Maori-focussed courses and tutorials, and the first to establish an entity to research issues of concern to Maori. These initiatives have been followed at other universities, some more than others. Even so, much more is required by way of curriculum development and the opening up of professional training programs. The critical issue here relates to the under-resourcing of programs and the related need to cap enrolments.

Have any measures been introduced to foster New Zealand psychologists’ awareness of Maori cultural issues?

Beyond criteria set by the New Zealand Psychologists Board and the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act with respect to cultural competence, the main instruments used by the Society to increase awareness are professional development activities, annual conferences and publications. The NSCBI has a regular column in the Society’s Bulletin (now Psychology Aotearoa), there are invited bicultural keynote addresses, and bicultural or Maori symposia at conferences. Conferences regularly begin with mihi whakatau and have a formal closing that draws on poroporoaki (protocols of farewell). The NZPsS has published a number of handbooks and critical articles, and has information about Kaupapa Maori psychology, bicultural issues, cultural competency and Maori psychology workforce development available on its website. Professional activities such as the Treaty Training and Bicultural Practice workshop run by Dr Ingrid Huygens and Aroha Waipara-Panapa have been offered around the country since late 2010.

What key ingredients have helped to drive bicultural approaches within psychology in New Zealand?

Change is reliant on sustained commitment to this goal by individuals within the NSCBI, the NZPsS, and in universities like Waikato. It is also important that many psychologists are willing to hear the challenges, take on board new information and perspectives, and seek to integrate them into their practice and identity as psychologists. Also, as we mature in our ability to recognise that Western psychology is a cultural product, we are better able to make room for other psychologies and to value what we grow ‘here’ in the various complicated contexts in which we reside.

How has the Treaty of Waitangi changed the Maori experience?

As the Treaty was dismissed by settlers, particularly after they were granted ‘responsible settler government’, and declared a ‘legal nullity’ by the Chief Justice in 1889, it did little to alter the colonial takeover. Concurrently, Maori saw the Treaty as recognising their status as tangata whenua (the indigenous people) and as sacred undertakings made by the Crown on which it should deliver. Since the late 1970s there has been extensive Maori agreement that constitutional arrangements and Crown practices should be grounded in those Treaty promises. From the early 1980s the Treaty has been central to Pakeha efforts to have New Zealand become a culturally just, Treaty-based society. For Maori, the Treaty provides a framework for partnering with Pakeha and Crown organisations as well as presenting a way to structure relationships that are equitable, workable and successful. This can only be achieved if all involved commit to common goals of Maori development: to move Maori beyond the activities of basic survival; to ensure the uniqueness of Maori as an indigenous people; and to make this place a better one for future generations.

What lessons have you learnt from efforts towards Maori self-determination that you can share with the APS as we develop our RAP?

One major lesson is that if we allow our socialisation as psychologists and citizens of a Western social democracy to direct our actions, we will merely fiddle with the details. To ensure there is creative change we have to work in respectful relationships with indigenous peoples, which means we have to accept their invitations to enter their world on their terms. It also means being willing and able to work under indigenous authority when asked or required to.

What have you learnt from Australian reconciliation initiatives within psychology that might be applicable for New Zealand?

One of the most striking things is the extent to which the APS and APS members are able and willing to engage with reconciliation without the Win-Lose thinking that seems to underpin much of the resistance to Treaty-based change. That is positive in circumventing the settler discourses that enable the relentless marginalising and disparagement of Maori people, practices and culture. It could be negative if, whether by intent or sheer weight of numbers, reconciliation is shaped by settlers and their priorities. That would be a tragedy, as reconciliation – “making friendly again after an estrangement” (Oxford Reference Dictionary) – would benefit if the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to Australian society, knowledge and social practices, were received with respect due to the indigenous peoples of the country.

Thanks to Heather Gridley for arranging this interview

For more information on the APS Reconciliation Action Plan, go to www.psychology.org.au/reconciliation/


Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on August 2012. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.