Indigenous | Māori

‘I felt I was discriminated against’: Māori cancer patient calls for better cultural competency

Maramataka Māori practitioner Heeni Hoterene (Ngāti Hine) claims she felt discriminated while undergoing cancer treatment in Tāmaki Makaurau.

The Cancer Society’s Domain Lodge is a home away from home for patients receiving medical care at Auckland Hospital, but Hoterene says she was made to feel anything but at home by the Domain Lodge’s staff.

“I [didn’t] feel welcome and I didn’t feel comfortable.”

Hoterene was diagnosed with endometrial cancer four years ago. This is her second time staying at the Domain Lodge while receiving radiation treatment.

“I taku taenga mai ki konei i te wa tuatahi he tini aku hoa,”

“Me te noho pai, whakawhiti [kōrero] mō tēnei mate [pukupuku] - he whare whakaruruhau mō te tūroro.”

(”I made lots of friends during my first visit here.”

“It was good being together, discussing this disease [cancer] - it was a safe haven for patients.”)

While her first stay was a pleasant experience, she says this week’s visit proved to be different.

“Ara mai au i te ata, mea mai ngā kaimahi me puta au i taku ruma. Me puta mārika ki waho nā te mea kua kī katoa ngā ruma me tatari noa au ki te rua karaka.

(I was woken to news from staff that I had to vacate my room. I had to leave because all the rooms were booked out and I had to wait till 2pm for another room.)

“I mea mai au, haere mai taku whānau, i mea mai tētahi ki ahau, he ture i konei, hore e tāea te tae mai te tini o ō whanaunga i konei ki te noho. Ko tāku, ko wai koe ki te kōrero pērā mai ki ahau.

(I had stated to the staff, ‘oh my whānau are coming to stay.’ One of the staff said, ‘there is a rule here that not a lot of whānau can stay’. I said, ‘Who are you to talk to me like that?’)

Hoterene claims she was asked to wait in the lobby for four hours until the next room was available.

She expressed her discomfort with the situation, stating she didn’t want to feel exposed in a public area after receiving radiation treatment.

“I’m recovering from radiation. I can’t recover in peace.”

“Everyone else gets to recover privately in their room. Why am I the one that’s being moved out of my room?”

Hoterene says the frustration of having three staff members talking to her at once brought her to tears.

“I felt I was discriminated [against because] one - I was Māori. Two, because I’m a woman wearing moko and three, because I’m younger than everyone else here.”

Hoterene has a Facebook following of 55,000. She posted a live video explaining the situation.

She met with Cancer Society officials on Wednesday to resolve the matter but Hoterene says they lack cultural competency.

“He kūare tonu tēnei āhuatanga o ngā kaimahi i roto i ngā hōhipera kia tātau te iwi māori. Me pēhea e mōhio pai rātau, kia pai te noho me te whai oranga o te iwi Māori ki roto i ēnei tūmomo hōhipera?”

(Staff are still ignorant of how to interact with Māori. How do we educate them on the best way to care for Māori within these places?)

Cancer Society spokesperson Michelle Gundersen-Reid apologised to Hoterene in a statement saying, “The team and I are sorry that this week we haven’t maintained our usual high standard of support as we had to shuffle a resident between rooms so we could fit as many people in as possible.”

“As soon as we became aware of the issue, we booked a meeting in with the impacted person. Representatives from our board and senior management team met her yesterday to apologise directly and discuss what happened, so we can learn from this experience.”

Despite the weight of the situation, Hoterene is hopeful that this will result in a positive outcome, calling for more Māori representation in these spaces.

“Kei hea he rōpu, he kōmiti - ēhara ko te tangata anahe - kia whai whakaaro, kia mau te tikanga mō tātau te iwi Māori i roto i ēnei whare o te Domain Lodge, te hohipera, hei māngai mō tātau te iwi Māori.”

(Where is a group or a committee - not just one person - to advocate for Māori in places like the Domain Lodge, the hospital, to be a voice for our people?”)

The society also says it is focused on ensuring all its care is respectful and culturally sensitive.

“Domain Lodge has a well-earned reputation for providing excellent care to its residents.

“We consistently receive overwhelmingly positive feedback and appreciate feedback on where we can improve further.”