National | Health

Tangihanga restrictions don't have indigenous rights at core - Public health physician

The COVID-19 restrictions on tangihanga have drawn criticism for dislocating Māori from an essential cultural practice.

Public health physician Dr Elana Curtis is a member of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the National Māori pandemic which has provided advice to the Ministry of Health.

She says at the moment the guidelines are overly restrictive.

“It’s really, really important to Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā that the guidelines around tangihanga are evidence-based and that they reflect the realities of our Māori whānau and at the moment the guidelines are overly restrictive, she says.

“They are limiting the ability to conduct tikanga and tangihanga processes and they’re not coming from a public health evidence-based perspective. So we feel that there are many amendments that need to happen to these guidelines and we have advised the Ministry of Health of those.”

Indigenous rights have not been upheld

Dr Curtis says the way that the situation has been treated has deeply upset her because "indigenous rights have not been upheld."

“I’m deeply upset that, as a public health physician, my advice or our advice on infectivity risk is not being listened to and I’m deeply upset because I hear from whānau who email me about the experiences. They’re mamae, and they’re painful and this pandemic and the response to the pandemic should not make things worse for our whānau. It should be making things better in whatever way it can.”

She says the current restrictions should have our indigenous rights at the core.

"It should have tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake, and it doesn’t right now and it can do.”

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Restrictions can be managed by funeral directors

Dr Curtis says the current restrictions can be managed adequately by funeral directors.

“Physical distancing is the key and also personal hygiene. We have a way in which we can do that which overcome the restrictions put on by the tangihanga guidelines.”

She says the restrictions around interregional transfers need to be amended and the fact that funeral directors are only allowed to do interregional transfers of tūpāpaku is a key problem.

“That will be very prohibitive for Māori whānau who are unlikely able to afford a funeral director doing that, she says.

“In addition we believe that multiple bubbles can basically go over to tūpāpaku ancestral urupa. This is something that our whānau do and have done for a long time and have done safely.”

Limiting 10 people to attend tangihanga "problematic"

Dr Curtis says the notion of limiting ten people to attend a tangihanga is problematic.

“We believe funeral directors can manage that and so rather than an arbitrary number of 10 we should actually be doing a case by case analysis and ensuring that whānau can maintain tangihanga processes safely.”

The Ministry of Health says they are regularly updating advice and guidelines to be accurate, relevant and responsive to the changes in our situation.

They say further guidelines on what to do during Alert Levels 2 and 1 will issued over the coming weeks.