Te Rūnanga ō Ngāi Tahu has signed an agreement with Oranga Tamariki in Wellington to work together where Ngāi Tahu children are concerned.
About 200 tamariki and young people who affiliate to the South Island tribe are under Oranga Tamariki, rūnanga chief executive Arihia Bennett said.
"We really are interested in stepping up and building a strong relationship with the department that will enable us to support our whānau to reconnect back with their whānau, hapū and iwi," she said.
"We have a richness of our own whakapapa knowledge and information."
The strategic partnership is the first of its kind under new Oranga Tamariki legislation introduced last year.
Ms Bennett said it paves the way for the ministry to notify the rūnanga if a descendant of Ngāi Tahu comes to their attention.
However, that notification will not be automatic and will be at the discretion of Oranga Tamariki.
Ms Bennett said the rūnanga will work with ministry staff in the southern region, to increase their knowledge and sense of connectivity with Ngāi Tahu.
"We know that if we strengthen and build that relationship with staff, that will enable staff to become a lot clearer around the whakapapa and relationships that our tamariki in care actually have."
As of July, there were 4346 Māori in state care, making up nearly 68.3 percent of all children and young people in care.
In the past year to August, 200 tamariki Māori had been uplifted by Oranga Tamariki.
Deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert welcomes iwi engagement and wants to see more of it.
"We need tamariki, rangatahi Māori being more engaged with whānau, hapū, iwi," he said.
"Different iwi around the country have different aspirations for how they want to work with us. For Ngāi Tahu, particularly in the short term, they have expressed an interest working in the care system."
He said iwi are finding innovative ways to support tamariki, including in Waikato-Tainui where they are recruiting Māori caregivers.
Ms Bennett said it is still early days but the rūnanga is hopeful about the future relationship with Oranga Tamariki.
"It becomes a solid relationship where we can ring one another and have these discussions to assist and help young people reconnect with their whānau. "
The two parties will be working through the details of the agreement in the coming months.