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Dr Rawiri Taonui|Covid Māori Opinion | ZERO credit to the Government and Ministry of Health
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Covid Māori Opinion | ZERO credit to the Government and Ministry of Health 4 May 2020.
Dr Rawiri Taonui


Aotearoa take a bow. We must celebrate this first day of ZERO new cases for our country and the Pākehā community. Māori and Pacific communities have already had several ZERO days of new cases. Māori 12 since 12 April, and, Pacific 6 since 3 April.

The ZERO is credit due to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Cabinet, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Ministry of Health, and their teams. The decisions to close the borders on 19 April and go to a Level 4 lockdown on 26 April will prove to be the two key decisions in the first phase of the fightback against the scourge of COVID-19.

The Government, Ministry of Health and District Health Boards

Collectively and separately, the government, the Ministry and District Health Boards (DHBs), have been poor on key aspects of the Māori and Pacific COVID-19 response.

The Ministry did not properly activate the provision in the New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan 2017 to include Māori in local, regional, and national decision making. Groups like Te Whakakaupapa Urutā and the Iwi Leaders Chair Forum Pandemic Response Group self-organised, before members of Te Whakakaupapa Urutā were sprinkled across the various COVID-19 relevant Ministry committees.

The $56 million Māori relief a package was an 11th-hour after-thought fought for by Māori MPs; and the $17 million package for Pacific a similarly belated gesture. Both packages have aided the Indigenous Māori and Pacific fightback, however, compared to the packages for First Nations in Canada and the Native American community in the United States, impeded as it is by the helm of a puerile President, are demographically per capita far more substantial. The Māori package should have been over $200 million and that for Pacific over $100 million.

The Ministry's guidelines and advice early on in our emergency were that over-70-year-olds and those with comorbidities needed to ‘stay home’. However, those conditions apply at earlier ages for Māori and Pacific. There was no mention of this for Māori or Pacific communities. After repeated attempts at bringing this to the attention of the Pākehā-led Ministry of Health, the latest on their page simply says ‘older people and vulnerable groups’; a statement revealing a deep-seated all-pervasive defensiveness on Māori and Pacific health. Overseas, there are examples of advice to Indigenous and vulnerable ethnicities where similar situations apply, that anyone over 50 years of age should be kept at home.

The Ministry is secretive about Māori and Pacific data. It holds but does not divulge the number of Māori and Pacific cases by DHB. It hides Māori and Pacific testing data unless that data flatters the Ministry and DHBs. It does not release Māori and Pacific deaths by DHB. In this way, they prioritise the sacrosanct self-image of their organisations over and above the welfare of the Māori and Pacific community they supposedly serve.

They prefer ‘to help’ the native but are horrified and repelled at the thought of empowering ‘it’. This is white sovereignty control over the Māori and Pacific information that we require to consolidate our fightback, prioritise our energies and direct our support in the right places and communities. The fundamental tenet of the health of marginalised peoples the world over is the proposition that withholding our information undermines our wellbeing.

Conditions for tangihanga were put in place without consultation. Testing for Māori and Pacific has been tardy and culturally ignorant. The Ministry over-estimated the ability of mainstream providers to engage with and deliver testing in our communities and under-estimated the ability of our providers to deliver both to the Māori and Pacific community and mainstream society. When our providers came forward, they were under-supplied with PPE and inadequate numbers of swabs. Conditions were applied in some areas, including the ridiculous proposition that only DHB staff could poke a nose with a swab, whether our providers were General Practitioner accredited and nurse registered or not. A big push is underway now to make up the gaps in testing our communities. But, again, the effort is late.

Change is needed in the Ministry. For starters, this $20 billion per year organisation does not employ one Māori doctor.

Māori and Pacific Communities

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those Māori and Pacific persons and groups that have stood up and delivered for our people. Hundreds of volunteers have distributed care packages and food parcels. Communities have rallied around elders and the vulnerable. Our disability advocates and health providers have been at the forefront of advocacy over testing and the wellbeing of our people. There is emerging evidence that the volunteers who have stood on 30 or more checkpoints around the motu have starved COVID-19 of entry into our most vulnerable rural and regional communities.

The Pacific communities have also stood tall. Aiga have focussed on protecting mātua and fanau. The Pacific Churches have cared for migrant workers, many effectively abandoned in New Zealand by their employers. Teams from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples translated all the key COVID-19 information into 9 Pacific languages in the space of a few days.

We are living through an extraordinary crisis. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leaders to stand up and motivate ordinary people and communities to perform extraordinary deeds. Our communities have seen that kind of leadership, too many to name. Rueben Taipari, Hone Harawira, Leila Rewi, Rawiri Waititi and Tina Ngata are extraordinary leaders who have led communities to perform extraordinary deeds on checkpoints in key areas. This extraordinary commitment is why we as the most vulnerable of communities in Aotearoa have had many more ZERO days.

                            Noho haumaru, stay safe and self-sovereign, Dr Rawiri Taonui
rawiri t


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