Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is in a unique position to see how Māori communities are being impacted by Covid-19 by many angles. She is a Lakes District Health Board member, Rotorua Lakes councillor and the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair.
She’s clear, when a pandemic or crisis event happens again Māori will never allow themselves to be dictated to by the Government again. They will determine their own response especially for cultural practices such as tangihanga.
“We could have put the distancing in place. We’re not stupid. We’ve done it, we’ve supported the government. But next time, for Māori, we can do it better.”
Raukawa-Tait says Māori have an infrastructure up and down the country that can swing into action quickly. These groups include iwi, hapū, marae, rūnanga, commercial businesses, health and social organisations that have relationships with the public and private sectors and interact with the public. It enables them to all work together to support their communities now and in the future.
What is driving them to act so decisively is the threat of history repeating itself. In the past, Māori have been hit the hardest by pandemics, multiple disease epidemics and economic downturns.
“There has been very little targeted assistance provided for Māori. Absolutely no attention was on Māori particularly those with compromised health. It was a big worry for us.”
She supports the controversial checkpoints set up outside rural communities across New Zealand.
“I absolutely applaud them. People are saying that’s a criminal act. To me it would be bloody criminal if the virus got into those communities.”
Raukawa-Tait predicts social harm issues in the next six months will increase. Many businesses won’t survive, there will be job losses, a new group of first time beneficiaries, a rise in family violence, child abuse and marriage breakups.
She believes Māori organisations already working in communities have to be front and centre of any solutions with the government.
“They have to be the ones who are well resourced to deal with this avalanche of social problems that is starting to move towards us as we speak.”
Her biggest disappointment has been the lack of visibility from Māori MPs.
“I know we have a government that cares. But I haven’t really seen anything of our Māori MPs. Where are they? Visibility in the time of crisis sends a message to our people that they haven’t been forgotten.”
Raukawa-Tait believes a new type of shared Māori leadership is needed, not one person but many people in different places.
“What we need is leadership that will say: 'We will walk this journey with you. We will not leave you parked up on the sideline. We will provide the leadership for you, we will get the resources for you and we will walk this journey with you for however long it takes.'
“It’s Māori women in their leadership roles in marae, sports clubs, work places, homes, communities and kapa haka groups.
“I believe that sort of leadership will actually provide the necessary guidance in the months and years ahead.”