May 12, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Whaanau Ora Heralds a New Era (Tukoroirangi Morgan)

4 min read

It is my fervent desire and belief that the launch of Whaanau Ora in this country will come to be viewed by history as one of the great milestones in modern Maaori social and economic transformation. I applaud the tenacity and vigour of the Maaori Party in bringing this policy to life.

For the 25 providers who have been selected the hard mahi (work) now begins. I do not think that it is overly dramatic to state that the hopes and aspirations of a nation Maaori and Paakeha rest on our collective shoulders. For Waikato-Tainui in particular, Whaanau Ora is particularly poignant. Certainly we do not regard it as a new policy. To us it is something far more significant. It marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle by Waikato-Tainui to be recognised, and acknowledged as the rightful and appropriate partner in the provision of whaanau-focused social services to all who live in our rohe (tribal area).

We have waited a long time. Almost 100 years ago in October 1918 the influenza pandemic that killed 20 million people worldwide descended upon New Zealand. Maaori communities were devastated. Official estimates put Maaori death rates at nearly five times that of Paakeha, but the actual death toll was far higher in the Waikato there were no Medical Officers. No help at all. We had to help ourselves. The pandemic, noted historian Michael King almost annihilated whole settlements and its effects were intensified by the fact that the greatest number of deaths were in the 20-40 age group. When it was over, whole communities were left without mothers, fathers, wage earners and leaders.

In the absence of any State support, Te Puea, a grand child of Kiingi Tawhiao took in over 100 orphans. She made the whole community responsible for them, taking some into her own home and placing others with surviving adults. She made a point of seeing each of them every day, supervised their mealtimes and took on the responsibility for their education and welfare. These children, bearing some of the most illustrious family names of Waikato-Tainui would later become the nucleus of the workforce responsible for turning a patch of Ngaaruawaahia swampland into Turangawaewae Marae, the focus of a resurgent Kiingitanga. That is the kaupapa of Whaanau Ora: Iwi solutions to State neglect and indifference.

Whaanau Ora is more than just a policy. It has to be more than just a funding commitment. And it must be about more than a framework for implementation. It is all those things, and something much more important: A belief in ourselves and a new level of maturity in the evolution of the partnership between Maaori and the Crown.

Whaanau Ora is where the buck stops, and hope for a new era begins. Because as Sir Robert Mahuta stated plainly in The Tainui Report (1983) decades of neglect have clearly had their toll on the Maaori…[and] as a result Maaori have become the victim of a history, in which they have not been active participators in determining their direction. They have witnessed history, other peoples history, roll over them and determine their fate. For Sir Robert, arguing for a strategy for change, the best policies and programmes are those that reflect and meet local needs and for this to be achieved there will need to be local community involvement and control. Twenty seven years have since passed. I know he would be pleased that this day has finally arrived.

Last month Social Development Minister Hon. Paula Bennett issued a challenge to Iwi, to act upon the appalling child abuse statistics that plague our communities. The plight of these children was, in the Ministers words our nations shame. I want to return to history for a moment. In 1772 before colonisation Frenchman Crozet was part of an expedition led by Marion de Fresne that spent three months in New Zealand. They noted the women seemed to be good mothers and showed affection for their offspring…The men were also very fond of and kind to their children. They observed that Maaori domestic life was relatively free of casual violence, children were rarely hit and any harm to them was likely to provoke raids from kinsfolk.

Viewed from this perspective, child abuse and domestic violence is not ‘New Zealand’s ugly secret. The 11,000 Maaori children (out of 21,000 annual abuse cases) represent the grinding, everyday reality of any indigenous population that suffers alienation from their lands and the destruction of their chance for a prosperous economic future. When a people lose their whenua they lose more than a patch of dirt. They lose their sense of self. They lose their self-esteem. And as they lose control over their destinies, they lose self-control.

Whaanau Ora provides us with hope that we have seen an end to the piecemeal, tokenistic approaches of the past an acknowledgment that ad hoc, underfunded, under-resourced responses hamstrung by silo mentalities and patch protection do not, have not and can never work.

Whaanau Ora gives us hope for the future. Give Maaori back control over their futures and I firmly believe that we’ll see improvements across the board in health, education, housing, and family violence.

In closing, I want to make one final point. Whaanau Ora is not solely about Maaori. Its benefits will be reaped by all New Zealanders. The vision of Waikato-Tainui is inclusive. As we have been kaitiaki (guardians) for the Kiingitanga for over 150 years, so shall we become kaitiaki for all who choose to live within our boundaries.

Tukoroirangi Morgan

Chair, Te Arataura Waikato-Tainui

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