National | Māori

Māori-led initiatives improved Covid-19 pandemic response, report finds

By Stuff Pou Tiaki reporter Ripu Bhatia.

Māori-led initiatives were instrumental in protecting the health and wellbeing of communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report from Te Hiringa Mahara – the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission has found.

The report, Exercising rangatiratanga during the Covid-19 pandemic was released on Thursday, and it hailed the Māori responses to the pandemic as exemplars for crisis and wellbeing support that all of Aotearoa would benefit from.

Rangatiratanga refers to Māori self-determination, sovereignty, independence and autonomy.

"Māori exercising rangatiratanga during the pandemic showed  Māori have knowledge and skills to support not only the wellbeing of their whānau and communities but also the wider response," Te Hiringa Mahara director Māori, Maraea Johns (Ngāi Tūhoe) said.

"Māori wellbeing is often referred to as being collective, and exercising rangatiratanga is a contributor to a range of positive wellbeing outcomes for iwi, hapū, and whānau."

The report found that during the pandemic Māori identified the need for an equity lens to be applied to the wider response.

Māori 'know what to do in crises'

They considered the needs of tangata whenua as Te Tiriti o Waitangi partners and built on work grounded in tikanga Māori (Māori customs) and mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge), allowing their response to be agile, effective, and adaptive.

Johns said exercising rangatiratanga included marae adapting tikanga and kawa to develop tailored pandemic plans, the establishment of the National Māori Pandemic response group of Māori health experts, setting up checkpoints, and using Māori networks of whānau, hapū and iwi to convey information to isolated communities.

"This comprehensive pandemic response makes it clear that Māori absolutely know what to do in the face of crises,” Johns said.

"For improved future health and wellbeing outcomes, effective government support is totally optimised when Māori responses are trusted, acted upon and enabled through the realignment of health system processes."

Johns said the report showed that what works for Māori will benefit all people of Aotearoa.

"Māori responses to the pandemic can continue to be an exemplar for how Aotearoa can support health and wellbeing outcomes in any future crises, and support wellbeing more generally."

'To Maōri, by Māori, for Māori'

Māori academic Dr Rawiri Taonui was a Covid-19 adviser to the Iwi Chairs Forum and the office of the Kīngitanga during the pandemic.

“In areas where iwi mounted checkpoints, so East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Northland... they were able to work cooperatively with both the police and local bodies,” he said.

"The way they did it, there was no intimidation or interruption to local affairs, and they worked really well."

Māori Party president and Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere said he wasn't surprised by the findings of the report.

“We are now skilled and able enough to bring the solutions into our community without multiple silos that fail us all over the place,” he said.

"So to Māori, by Māori, for Māori solutions clearly work."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said capturing the voice of its Te Tiriti o Waitangi partners is integral to improving the response to Covid-19, other diseases and future pandemics.

"The government’s response to Covid-19 has been continually reviewed and refined as new evidence has emerged and experiences are learnt from,” they said.

"In July 2022 the health sector was reformed to begin to address historic systemic inequities in health outcomes for priority populations.

"This involved the establishment of Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority, which is responsible for ensuring the health system delivers equitable outcomes for Māori."

Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen is the chief medical officer at Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority.

"I think it's clear, and this report demonstrates it well, that tino rangatiratanga mana motuhake approaches are really well received by Māori whānau, by Māori communities,” he said.

"Clearly we should take that evidence and say, let's keep doing more of this. These are approaches that work, they're effective and they are acceptable.

"Rangatiratanga actually contributes to our health system, it means that we can have Māori-led responses that are going to be effective and acceptable, and we should demonstrate that we are growing our trust in that approach by investing more in those approaches."

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