Since Whānau Ora was introduced more than a decade ago, there has been a long line of reviews and reports supporting the Whānau Ora approach and providing further evidence of what we already know – that we, as Māori, are in the best position to do for ourselves.

On Thursday, another report, this time released by Te Hiringa Mahara – the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, came to the same conclusion.

Exercising rangatiratanga during the Covid-19 pandemic found that Māori-led initiatives were instrumental in protecting the health and wellbeing of all communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Māori knowledge, skills and resources were critical to keeping early Māori infection numbers low, despite forecasts.

The report draws on 2020 research Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu commissioned and participated in, An Indigenous self-determination social movement response to COVID-19, by Sacha McMeeking, former Pouārahi Helen Leahy and Cath Savage, which you can read here and also this work by Sacha and Cath.

The ability to adapt quickly, the rapid adoption of online communications tools, the wide and quickly mobilised networks, the phone trees set up to check on whānau, the networks used to deliver care, hygiene and kai packs on a scale not seen before, the adaption of tikanga and kawa and the development of tailored pandemic plans – the report covers a long list of achievements.

It also covers “learnings” for the Crown, including that iwi and Māori communities should be recognised as self-reliant and strong in the face of myriad adversities, not vulnerable, and that tino rangatira “should” be recognised, respected and supported.

As we all know, and as the latest report pointed out, Māori have been exercising tino rangatiratanga in the face of challenges throughout history; and the COVID-19 pandemic was no different.

How many more reports, learnings and recommendations do we need to be heard? Whānau Ora Commissioning Agencies have been trusting and investing in whānau solutions for a decade now. Whānau Ora works and it works because Whānau Ora is not about programmes, services and government departments creating KPIs for whānau, or about them. Whānau have the answers and must no longer be absent from decision-making.

I want to acknowledge the mahi of all whanau, hapū, iwi, marae, Māori health providers and other Māori organisations throughout Te Waipounamu, including the many entities, we work with, for doing what they do, looking after one another, not just in the pandemic, but every day.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Sacha and Cath’s research, which sums it up nicely: “The Māori response to Covid-19 … was not created by the threat of the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic response unveiled and accelerated an already existing self-determination social movement within Māori communities.”

“The Māori response to Covid-19 … was not created by the threat of the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic response unveiled and accelerated an already existing self-determination social movement within Māori communities.”

Food for thought

When we welcomed manuhiri from Ruapehu Worx, the commercial arm of Ngāti Rangi, to Ōtautahi this week for a tour of Kōanga Kai sites, we could not go past the pūrākau that inspired kaimahi as they developed the initiative.

The energy of spring, new shoots of life, the excitement of possibility and generational impacts were legacies of Rākaihautū, captain of the Uruao and one of the founding tūpuna of Waitaha. “Kō” refers to the digging stick used by Rākaihautū to carve the rivers and lakes of Te Waipounamu, thus providing the life force to enable the whenua to grow kai – a resource Rākaihautū knew would sustain his people well into the future.

It was appropriate to start our day in Te Pātaka-o-Rākaihautū at Rāpaki with the whānau from Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke. Our friends from the north drew inspiration from Rāpaki; the kōrero, impressive maara kai, native seedling nursery and plantings, and long-term vision provided plenty to consider.

Next, it was off to see Paul Pohipi, the kai champion for Hei Whakapiki Mauri, which assists our tangata whaikaha whānau to grow fresh kai, both in their homes and in community maara kai.

If you have not met Paul, you should, he is one inspiring man and the stories of how the Kōanga Kai initiative had enhanced his life –  as well as many others’ – flowed.

The haerenga then led us to Te Pā o Rākaihautū to see a kura-based approach to maara kai and food security and to hear about their plans around sustainability. The kaupapa extends beyond the classroom too, with kura whānau also involved in composting and other learning opportunities.

Our manuhiri left us with their cups overflowing and full of ideas. We extend a huge thank you to our Kōanga Kai whānau for their generosity of time and spirit.

Koukou Creations

Bridgette (Ngāti Tamaterā) established Koukou Creations after she developed a Māori-themed colouring book to sell online to support her young cousin who was representing Aotearoa at the World Indigenous Games.

At the time, Bridgette was working full-time as a graphic designer, but the success of the colouring book encouraged her to extend her range. Seven years later, she is self-employed creating beautiful designs for clients and has the Koukou Creations shop back online with new creations to come. Read more about Bridgette and Koukou Creations here.

Reminder: RUIA, Tama Ora

A reminder that applications for RUIA and Tama Ora are open until noon, Friday, June 16, 2023. These are two unique funds for young people. Tama Ora is targeted at projects or initiatives aimed at keeping tamariki and rangatahi active, while RUIA aims to enable rangatahi aspirations in the areas of intergenerational leadership, succession planning and cultural development. Tonoa mai ināianei!

Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora

Next Friday, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu will join the Pink Shirt Day movement and encourage our kaimahi to Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!

Bullying in Aotearoa is a real problem. We have the third-highest rate of school bullying out of 36 OECD countries and one in five workers feels discriminated against or bullied at work. Those bullied are far more likely to experience mental health issues. There is so much we can do to stamp this out. Join the movement, and don’t forget to wear pink next Friday.

Rekindling connections

I had the chance to reminisce about my treasured Lincoln University days recently. I went down to the university to enrol to study as a ‘mature’ student some years ago now and came away with a job and part-time study. I eventually finished studying and held a few roles along the way.

I bumped into Canterbury rugby great, and All Black legend, Sam Whitelock while at a recent hui. I was president of the Lincoln University Students’ Association before and after the earthquakes in 2010. Following the quakes, Canterbury would train at the Lincoln campus. Sam was also a student at Lincoln as were his brothers George and Luke. He would walk across the quad like any regular student but even then, students recognised a star athlete in him and his brothers. As we chatted and caught up on life and kids, I thought about how, like the rivers of Te Waipounamu, our individual connections run wide. We each go off on our own paths, but reconnecting is a powerful thing.

Sam eventually finished his studies as did I, although his career is far more distinguished. He completed 350 first-class games the weekend before I saw him. Sam said the greatest thing that came out of Lincoln for him was his wife, Hannah who is also a graduate of Lincoln. How beautiful is that?

This weekend, reach out to someone you have not talked to in a while. It is our connections and networks which nourish and support us, and we should take the time to nourish them.

Have a great weekend.

Mauri ora!