Taken By The State

Māori unite to declare ‘enough is enough’

A national hui over the weekend brought together key Māori leaders with those affected by the actions of Oranga Tamariki and set a challenge to replace the embattled ministry with a new Māori-led model. Bonnie Sumner asks, where to from here?

The opening of the fourth inquiry into the actions of the Ministry for Children was a watershed moment in New Zealand’s history that set in motion plans for a new way forward for iwi, whānau and tamariki.

Te Kohanga Reo founder Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi was one of several high profile attendees who spoke to the audience of more than 400 at the Holiday Inn in Mangere on Saturday, likening the current situation to the confiscation of Māori land in the 1800s when iwi stood together to stop the government stealing their land. She said the way forward now was the same kaupapa as then, by “bringing the collective power and strength to deal with it”.

Dame Iritana said Māori success lies in kotahitanga through umbrella agency Whānau Ora.

“There are thousands of Māori initiatives going on. You know what the problem is? We’re all operating separately. And we’re trying to take the government on – and they’ll pick us off. That’s why I love Whānau Ora – it actually relates to every Māori organisation. We ain’t gonna win any war by fighting it on our own. Together we’ll never lose a war. We’ve got to have a plan that values what we're all doing. Whānau Ora is about every one of us, whether we’re in education, health, kapa haka, waka ama, matatini, whatever. We have got to understand that Whānau Ora is the overarching korua to enable us to be able to collectively deal with these issues that come up.”

One of the key champions of Whānau Ora, Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie, says: “It’s not a question necessarily of what’s wrong but what can we do to have a system that operates with Māori interests. In the end, what we’re looking for is the best possible circumstances for whānau.”

Sir Mason Durie at the national hui at Mangere.

What Sir Mason wants from the hui and the subsequent inquiry is to build on the gains Māori have already made by unifying. “We’ve got large numbers of Māori health organisations, Māori social services, kura kaupapa, whare kura, kohanga reo – all of those are developments since the 1980s. They’ve done fantastic work. I think their impact would be magnified several times over if they came under the one roof.”

Former Ngāi Tahu council kaiwhakahaere Sir Mark Solomon drew attention in his speech to the difficulty of challenging the behemoth, the power of the Ministry for Children.

“Prior to the passing of the Oranga Tamariki legislation, one of the ministers told me to my face that ‘we will be taking an absolutely draconian approach against Māori and we will put your children wherever we want to put them’. This was one of the foundation ministers of the Oranga Tamariki legislation. What we witnessed at Hawkes Bay was a draconian approach.”

While he wouldn’t elaborate on which minister this was, he agreed with other speakers that any future solutions needed to be “for Māori, by Māori”.

Dame Tariana Turia recognised that to move forward, it was important to trust each other.

“What I want to see come out of the hui is that we are brave enough to understand what has truly happened to us as a people. We know what we stand for, but there are times when we don’t know what we’re standing against.

"I think there comes a time when we own up and we know we have to trust each other, because if we don’t trust each other, why would we expect anyone else to trust us. So we’ve got a lot of work to do and I know that we can do it, it’s about having faith in ourselves and faith in our own abilities to reach solutions that will be so important to us in the long term. In the end the solutions lie with each and every one of us.”

Attendees echoed the views of kaumatua. 

Bernadette, a fourth generation ward of the state, wants to make sure there is a place for people like her, those she describes as the “third culture of Māori."

"When tauiwi started to implement laws there was one culture that said ‘we’re going to hold onto our own, no one’s going to tell us what to do;’ the second culture got smart and grew well and played the game, and the third culture is what I come from, where punishments were inflicted on my parents and grandparents, so they brought us up to do what they’re told. They never saw the purpose in being Māori.

"I’m fighting for that third culture because we don’t meet the criteria for Whānau Ora, because it involves whānau and involves more than one person.”

Rachel, an activist, has had six children uplifted and wants to see “real results, real solutions”. For her, the hui was a chance to find a way forward that included “no more baby uplifts”.

Paora Moyle, a social worker, state care survivor and co-organiser of protest movement Hands off our Tamariki helped lead one of the four wānanga groups that were tasked with identifying solutions and ideas at the hui.

For her, the key aim is to ensure the rights of tamariki to be heard “and their voices centralised in changing the way that Oranga Tamariki traffic children. The most relevant essential voices in all of this is that of the child, and of the mamas and the papas who have lost their children.”

By the end of the day the hui had already begun to bear fruit, with the establishment of an interim governance group to lead the inquiry, and the beginning of terms of reference and scope for that inquiry.

Some key points raised and agreed were the need for data sovereignty and reviews of uplift practices, the Family Court and legislation, including the abolition of Section 78 of the Oranga Tamariki Act which allows for ex parte ‘without notice’ uplifts. The hui also wanted an independent monitoring and complaints system.

This was especially important for people like Māori Midwives Aotearoa CEO Jean Te Huia, who says if the government ignores the results of the hui and inquiry, it will be at its own peril “because Māori are saying enough is enough. We’re not saying it in anger, we’re saying it in anguish. We’re saying look at our families, look at our children, we have a right to provide better care for them, we have a right to be informed about what you’re doing with them.”

Most importantly were decisions of mana motuhake – that iwi have ultimate autonomy – and the need to work together under one umbrella organisation like Whānau Ora.

An invitation from Maori King Tuheitia and the Kīngitanga to host the next hui in the near future was seen as a strong signal of the importance of this work, and in the meantime more feedback would be collected from whānau around the country.

Hands off our Tamariki will also host local hikoi, or marches, around Aotearoa, with a protest to Parliament planned for Tuesday, July 30.

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