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Indigenous | Oranga Tamariki

Midwife who exposed Oranga Tamariki uplift scandal mourned

Maori midwives Ripeka Ormsby (left) and Jean Te Huia at the 'hand off our tamariki' march to Parliament in Wellington.

Ripeka Ormsby, the midwife prominently featured in the 2019 Newsroom investigation, “NZ’s Own Taken Generation,” has died following a brief illness.

The investigation, which spotlighted the attempt by child welfare agency Oranga Tamariki to separate a young Māori māmā from her newborn, instigated four inquiries into the agency and an emergency Waitangi Tribunal hearing.

The investigation’s video depicted Ormsby, alongside fellow midwife Jean Te Huia, documenting the distressing moments when social workers tried to take the pēpi away.

Te Huia, reflecting on that day, asserted that without their presence, the baby would have been uplifted immediately. A tense standoff ensued, with local kaumātua, the late Des Ratima, intervening and persuading the police to back down, allowing the baby to stay with his mother.

Ormsby, who was recognised by Newsroom’s award-winning investigations editor Melanie Reid as the “quiet hero” behind the significant reforms to New Zealand’s child welfare system, was celebrated at her funeral Saturday.

“Her role in changing our broken state system was critical in advocating for Māori mothers and pēpi and whānau,” her daughter said.

‘The agency is racist’

Ormsby’s deep-seated quest for justice concerning the practices of Oranga Tamariki was encapsulated in her 2019 statement: “This is abuse by Oranga Tamariki to its native people. The agency is racist.” she said at the time.

The episode in 2019 not only exposed the system’s flaws but also brought about tangible change. The young mother at the centre of the story, who had previously lost her first baby in 2018, now lives with both of her children. She credits Ormsby for her current stability.

“She taught me how to be strong... Without her I would never have left the hospital with my baby.”

Ormsby’s contribution went beyond just the uplift. In her career, she reportedly aided in the delivery of over 1000 pēpi.

Her dedication to championing the rights of mothers and confronting systemic biases was clear. As her daughter recounted, “The love and care she had for both mother and baby was encompassing.”

The mother featured in the 2019 video remarked, “She saved me without ever knowing it... She fought for me and helped me keep my baby. She impacted heaps of people as well as me.”

-Additional reporting Newsroom.