The Health and Wellbeing of Kaumātua and their Whānau

Hosted by Poutini Waiora at Arahura Marae, Hokitika

Helen Leahy, Pouarahi/Chief Executive, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu

Friday 8 April 2016; 12.30pm

Just over a year ago, a young woman of Ngāti Waewae descent, stood in front of Tūhuru, the whare tupuna, and issued a wero to the Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

As Te Amo Tamainu delivered the challenge to Minister Finlayson, she recited the whakapapa of the tekoteko on Tūhuru.  

A whakapapa that traces lines of descent back to Tūhaitara, through to the tupuna Papakura, who led challenges alongside her husband Tūhuru.

Tūhuru himself, was often guided by his sister, the tohunga Moroiti and she was a tohunga, who gave him the signs whether it was good to go or not.

On that day then in March 2015, as Te Amo moved back to the front of the mahau, it was to acknowledge the whakapapa of pounamu and the names of the stones are all female.

It was history in the making; it was a proud heritage revisited; it was about health, about hauora, about wellbeing in all elements of its expression.

And yet, up and down the country, suddenly questions were raised.



Was it right for wahine to issue the wero?   Were Ngāti Waewae at risk of breaching the protocols?  What about the role of tradition?

So who was responsible? Who should be held to account?


Today as we gather to consider and debate the Health and Wellbeing of Kaumātua and Kuia I pay tribute to those wise and courageous elders of Ngāti Waewae who thought carefully about wahine mau rākau, and gave permission for this artform, this legacy to be revisited and revitalised.

While indeed, Te Amo was the first woman in generations to perform a wero, Ngāti Waewae has a long history of women performing the role.  In allowing the whakapapa to be expressed in such a powerful way, your elders, your taua and pōua, were essentially breathing life into the debate.

A debate about the role of women; the value of history; the protection, preservation and promotion of whakapapa; the art of Māori weaponry.

In doing so, they were upholding the value of ancient truths:  


Me whākai i ka uri whakatipu ki te mātauraka
Provide knowledge as sustenance to forthcoming generations


I was so pleased to be invited to speak to the kaupapa about the health and wellbeing of kaumātua/kuia and their whānau.

I am powerfully motivated by the questions – what will it take to keep us well?   What does the concept of hauora, mauriora, whānau ora mean?

And it is only right that as we sit in this beautiful whare tupuna we find those answers in those who have generations of experience to draw on.

So often we look to our babies, our mokopuna as the hope for the future. 

But in the same breath we know that our elders provide us with the foundation upon which that hope can be built.

In a study undertaken twenty years ago by Te Pumanawa Hauora, it was identified that higher standards of health are strongly associated with active participation and cultural affiliation, home ownership and higher incomes.

The Oranga Kaumātua study revealed some statistically significant findings:

  • The risk to the health and wellbeing of Māori society is the premature loss of kaumātua
  • There was a relationship between self-assessed health status and Māori language use and competency
  • Older Māori with the worst health were less likely to have any current involvement on marae when compared with older Māori showing high health status.

In these days and times, twenty years is a lifetime ago – a time before ipads and snapchat; the days when we sent a fax; when we printed photos from developed films not from email.

For some audiences, references to technologies such as this might be alienating or sound like jargon.

But I know here, with this savvy group of digital natives who every second Wednesday skype to their whānau all over the world with the help of a bus called Dora, that terminology is simply the vocabulary of connection.

Connection to one another; connection to mokopuna; connection to yesterday and tomorrow.  It’s that connection which might be summed up in the concept of the prestigious elite – “the black lillies of Arahura”.   Like the exquisite beauty of these flowers, that phrase conjures up a virtual band of angels – Aunty Lady, Taua Tillie, Taua Tort, Taua Nin travelling to support Uncle Jim at every hui, every meeting, every visit – just to be there.

Connection, whanaungatanga, whakapapa is vital to health and wellbeing.


So what does good health look like for our Taua and Pōua?


Te puawaitanga o nga tapuwae kia ora tonu - Life and living in advanced age: a cohort study in New Zealand.

In an article published in the NZ Medical journey in 2014 it reported on a survey of 421 Māori aged 80-90 years of age.   The conclusions were just as stark as twenty years earlier.

First off, I think we must celebrate the fact that we have such a strong cohort of Māori living past the ripe age of 80 and 90 years.  We must take time to be proud of the progress achieved in that life expectancy at birth has increased so that life expectancy for Māori females is 77 years of age, and Māori male 73.


But what did the study say?


Greater language and cultural engagement is associated with higher Quality of Life for older Maori and unmet social needs and discrimination are associated with lower Quality of Life.  

In another publication released last year – Hākui, Women of Kāi Tahu – there was an oft repeated phrase, “Mātauraka Oraka Takata” – knowledge provides life.

All of these publications share a common view – our elders are kaiarahi for their mokopuna.   As leaders for their descendants, they provide guidance and support through their words and deeds.

There are three key points, therefore, that I draw from these findings:

  • Firstly, Older Māori will comprise a larger proportion of the older population in Aotearoa in future years – increasing from 6.8% of the population of fifty years and above to 9.5% in 2026.  It is increasingly important for all Māori health and social services to plan for an aging population and within that to recognise that Māori over the age of 50 have poorer health outcomes and a higher burden of chronic illness than non-Māori of the same age, and are more likely to be exposed to risk factors for poor health.
  • Secondly, knowing that the determinants of health extend far wider than a focus on disease enables, we need to take a Whānau Ora approach which is collective in its scope; intergenerational in its approach; strengths based, and starting from whānau aspirations as a foundation.
  • Thirdly, appreciating all that we do about the precious role of kaumātua and kuia as the foundation for our whāriki of the future, we need to return to the wisdom of te pa harakeke, and accept that the health of our elders must be the priority of us all.

Yesterday, the Minister for Social Development released the report overhauling the form of Child, Youth and Family.   One of the most significant statements in that document, is a stronger focus on reducing the over-representation of Maori young people in the system. Currently, 60 per cent of children in care are Maori.


The report signals that strategic partnerships will be developed with iwi as a primary mechanism for meeting the needs of vulnerable children and families; and that future department will broker to obtain services from Māori organisations on behalf of vulnerable children, families, and the communities and iwi who support them.


It is a perfect formula for reminding ourselves of the power and potential of Matua Whāngai; to deliver on the promise of Puao-o-te-ata-tū.

“The Whānau Ora approach over the last five years aims to uplift whānau and families by building their capacity and capability to achieve their goals and reduce their reliance on government funded services. Whānau Ora has driven a systems change within government and service providers toward a greater focus on the integrated delivery of social services for whānau. The whānau planning process involves assisting whānau to define and engage with the issues they face and to develop solutions tailored to their circumstances”.


I wanted to share these words today, because whether we are focusing on vulnerable children, on youth at risk, on the role of women, on kaumātua health and wellbeing – the issues may be slightly different, but the solutions and approaches are the same.


Ngāi Tahu academic, Dr Khyla Russell, has reminded us about the importance of identity, connection, belonging, as the greatest asset available to us.   She said:


“For me, the new poverty isn’t necessarily anything to do with social order or fiscal order or any of those other things.  It’s about the poverty of not being able to lead the kind of life that you would ideally like to”.

Here in the embrace of Tūhuru – we are blessed with an incredible series of pou which through their colours, green, blue, red, black encourage that connection to the DNA of Mamoe, Waitaha, Wairangi, Ngāi Tahu.


Leading the life we want is to restore to ourselves the permission, the opportunity to define what whānau ora is; to know that the solutions lie within; to recognise that leadership resides in every whānau, in every home.

The speakers before me talked about how to manage a complex myriad of medicines, to organise your prescriptions, but one thing they missed was the wonder of whānau as your strongest health advocates.

It might be as simple as sons and daughters accompanying their grandparents to the hospital, to invest in a whānau wide treatment plan.

It could be about mokopuna and taua and pōua planning out a series of hīkoi to focus on health and fitness, while at the same time learning about their landscape, taking up the opportunity for cultural mapping of their tribal stories and sacred places.

It might require a consult with a specialist dietician to look at the meals we are making in the family home; to ensure that we invest in long life.

It must be about exercising that scrutiny to ensure our elders are not exposed to exploitation, to neglect, to abuse.  No abuse, no violence is ever acceptable.

And most importantly it is about remembering that health and wellbeing are intricately associated to a sense of meaningful contribution.


And I want to end with one of the highlights of my year last year, was following a koroua in his 90s, as he proudly shared with me the fruits of his garden.   The joy on his face as he showed me his silverbeet, his pumpkins, his taewa, was all about the fact that those vegetables were now the staple source of kai for his marae just across the road.

Here in the Coast, we have a wonderful project associated with Te Ha o Kawatiri, which Matua Ned, Whaea Barb and Gina-Lee are associated with – and that is the creation of a community garden.

That is Whānau Ora – when the health and vitality of the whānau are intimately connected to the health and vitality of one of their elders; when the knowledge and the skills he had to share would nurture the generations to come.

When manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are seen as the hallmarks of chieftainship; when rangatiratanga is expressed through weaving the people together; when the sustenance of future generations is given meaning through the leadership of their elders.

Tēnā koutou katoa o tātou kaiārahi – for your guidance, your inspiration and your vision – may we all live up to the standards you set for us.

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