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Reflecting on Matariki: Cultural Awareness for Māori Clients

In the diverse and multicultural landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand, providing in-home care presents a unique opportunity to connect with clients from various backgrounds.


Arguably most integral to our work providing in-home care in Aotearoa is recognising the foundational importance of Māori culture in this country; as support workers, understanding, respecting and embracing Māori culture is not only essential for building meaningful relationships but also for delivering effective and sensitive care. The recent celebration of Matariki makes it an ideal time to reflect on the importance of cultural awareness for Māori clients.

Matariki, also known as the Pleiades star cluster, is a significant celestial event celebrated by the Māori community. It marks the beginning of the Māori New Year and holds immense cultural and spiritual importance. Traditionally, the appearance of Matariki in the pre-dawn sky was seen as a time of remembrance for those who have passed, as well as an occasion for planning and preparation for the year ahead.

It is crucial to recognize, however, that cultural awareness goes beyond merely acknowledging dates like Matariki. It involves an understanding of Māori customs, values, language, and traditions. Demonstrating cultural awareness fosters trust and respect between support workers and their Māori clients, leading to a more effective and compassionate caregiving experience.

1. Honouring Whānau (Family)

Family, or whānau, plays a central role in Māori culture. Understanding the significance of familial ties and respecting the roles of different family members can greatly influence the quality of care provided. Inclusive care involves not just the client but also their whānau, making them feel valued and involved in the caregiving process.

2. Embracing Te Reo Māori

The Māori language, or Te Reo Māori, is an integral part of understanding Māori culture - understanding a language can give you valuable insight into the unique cultural perspective of its speakers. Even if you're not fluent, incorporating simple greetings and phrases can make a significant difference. It demonstrates respect and shows that you are making an effort to connect on a deeper level. Reo Māori has some awesome resources to help you get started.

3. Respecting Tikanga

Tikanga refers to customary Māori practices, or the correct and culturally appropriate way of behaving in Māori terms. A good starting point for understanding Tikanga is observing the concepts of tapu and noa; tapu refers to sacredness, while noa means normal or ordinary. Certain objects, places, or practices may be considered tapu and require particular respect. Understanding and adhering to these cultural concepts can help ensure the comfort and well-being of Māori clients.

Quick, practicable overviews of Tikanga can be found here and here, but it is worth noting that different iwi, hapū and marae may observe slightly different variations.

4. Recognizing Cultural Practices

Cultural practices, such as karakia (prayers) or hongi (traditional greeting), are important aspects of Māori life. Respectfully participating in these customs, when invited to and when appropriate, can create a sense of trust and familiarity.

5. Learning About Matariki

Although Matariki has passed, it's never too late to learn more! Familiarize yourself with its history, customs, and how Māori communities celebrate this special time of the year. A quick overview can be found here.

Caring for Māori clients requires a heartfelt commitment to understanding and embracing their unique cultural identity. Cultural awareness is not a one-time event; it's an ongoing journey of learning, respect, and appreciation. The passing of Matariki serves as a reminder that incorporating cultural sensitivity into your caregiving practice can profoundly impact the lives of your Māori clients and their whanau. By honouring their cultural values and traditions, you can foster a deeper sense of trust and provide care that truly makes a difference.