Day One began with karakia and then an introduction to Tū Ana Ngā Pou Angitū by our MC’s, Atawhai Tibble and Mercia-Dawn Yates.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait opened the day reinforcing how good it felt for the collective to get together after being apart for four years. Merepeka reflected on the two years of COVID, from the initial uncertainty to the incredible response by the Whānau Ora Collective.

Then Te Kawa o Whānau Ora was launched by its architect, Dr Kiri Tamihere who spent years of research and interviews to find a way to recognise what it takes to do complete Whānau Ora for our people. To recognise the mannerisms and qualities that tautoko whānau on their journeys wards positive well-being and confidence.

Lissy & Rudi Cole were welcomed onto the stage to present their incredible Crotchet Pou Te Wharau. Their korero and love for their mahi resonated with the crowded room as we all reminisced about when we had crotchet in our lives with our Nans or our Aunties. Rudi took us through the meaning of the pou and explained the delicate and intricate artwork completely made of wool and by hand. Originally commissioned by Whānau Ora after viewing their work at an exhibition in Auckland, it was a careful process that took two years thanks to their craftmanship and COVID.

After a refreshment break Te Arawa Whānau Ora went through their COVID response from their skills, their workforce, utilising the system available through social distancing and feeling isolated. Te Arawa are the mana whenua who then did a rousing waiata to end their segment.

That led into the first workshop of the conference, Ngākau Māori Panel Workshop discussing the authenticity of providers when supporting whānau and reinforcing those relationships. Irirangi Mako represented Te Whānau o Waipareira with her experiences supporting whānau during COVID and seeing her kaimahi redeployed to positions that she was not trained for. As a Director of Korure Whānau, Iri found herself sanitizing chairs while her staff were trained vaccinators and swabbers.

The second panel workshop of the day was Matataki with the speakers discussing real advocacy for whānau with Natasha Kemp from Manurewa Marae sharing their experiences.

“During COVID we really cemented our place in our district and built the brand of Manurewa marae. It is now an important part of South Auckland and I’m really proud of that and all the support we are able to give whānau”.

After lunch Te Pae Herenga Chair, Jacqui Harema, discussed the huge success that collective had in “Tāmakai Macovid” through both years of COVID. Kaimahi across the city became highly trained swabbers, vaccinators, even qualified lab technicians about to test saliva on site for COVID. Each collective was there to tautoko different marae regardless of distance, weather conditions and experience.

The final part of the afternoon was the Tūhono Panel Workshop on the ability to create, facilitate and maintain connections for partnerships with whānau. What leadership qualities and strategies are required for to be successful and amongst speakers were Helen Leahy, CEO of Ngā Waihua o Paerangi and Vanessa Sydney-Richmond from Te Tihi o Ruahine.

Day Two began with Whānau Ora Minister, Peeni Henare, unveiling the second of four journals completed by our research team outlining the Whānau Ora response during COVID across the network.

To the 400+ contingent of Whānau Ora providers and delegates, the Minister applauded the celebrations and acknowledgement of the past four years since the last conference.

“You should celebrate as we reflect on ten years of Whānau Ora, coming together for the first time in a long time, and in person, to be able to hug one another, to talk to one another and to cry with one another is hugely important”.

Herenga Tāngata: Whānau Ora Response to COVID-19 Delta and Omicron showcases Whānau Ora workforce at the forefront of the testing and vaccination stations while tirelessly supporting their communities. It is also an acknowledgment of all of the kaimahi across the collective whose commitment and unwavering efforts protected whānau regardless of location, or circumstances.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chief Executive, John Tamihere, addressed the contingent and was quick to thank Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare.

“I want to recognise our Whānau Ora Minister as part of the people on the rise helping us to reclaim all sorts of things that have either been denied or taken. The journey is a journey and not a destination. Only we can break ourselves out of welfarism, poverty, ill health and criminality”.

John Tamihere also looked to why Whānau Ora exists and how the strong the mana and determination is throughout the network.

“We have to be smart, strategic, clever and tactical in the way in which we manage our way to our own self determination and our own self-management in a very difficult climate. And so it beholds us to set in stone our true obligations, duties and responsibilities to our communities. And to do that in terms of the advancement of clear and liberated policy setting for Māori. But it is us rattling the cage that allows for Ministers like Peeni Henare and others to make gains for us. We take nothing from Pākeha, but reclaim our right to self-management”.

Chief Executives from various agencies got their chance to share their view on mana motuhake, self-government, self-determination, independence, sovereignty and control of ones destiny. The discussion was robust around ensuring whānau are kept at the centre of all work whilst staying mindful of challenges ahead.

Speakers and panelists included Materoa Mar, CEO Te Tihi; Helmut Modlik, CEO Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Lady Tureiti Moxon, CEO, Te Kōhao Health, Waylyn Tahuri-Whaipakanga, Willow Salvador, CEO, Tūwharetoa Health, Tania Rangiheuea, CEO MUMA and Hariata Vercoe, CEO Korowai Aroha Trust.

Helmet Modlik: “We did everything we needed to do for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our people” “We could not wait for agencies to do a substandard job for our whānau”.

Sharing their experiences had heads nodding in the crowd as the words and stories resonated with everyone. Waylyn revealed one of many casualties was a Kohanga Reo that had to be closed and a whānau who lost a family member and were assisted with a payment that was equivalent to the salary of one year. Their collective were determined to be there in whatever way they could.

“We made the decision as an executive that we would not sit at home and run the organisation from there, we needed to make sure all of our staff had the tools they needed to continue to support whānau”.

Materoa Mar said COVID had also instilled a level of confidence, “Don’t allow other agencies to take control, you dominate the discussion, you have the mana”.

Lady Tureiti Moxon led the long and effective COVID response at Te Kōhao Health sand said, “We demonstrated to the world that we could handle Covid-19, we mobilised and we didn’t wait for anyone to tell us what to do”.

Looking to the future, Riana Manuel, CEO of Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority gave a keynote presentation on leading and monitoring transformational change in our health system.

“I have 12 mokopuna and I am determined that they do not inherit the system we are in. Moving forward, we must be clear on the outcomes we want” “There’s over $22b in our health system. It’s time to reconfigure funding to better meet the needs of whānau” “We have to level the floor to raise the ceiling”.

Whānau Ora COO Awerangi Tamihere outlined the incredible progress of the agency workforce so far, and then looked forward to what the landscape would look for everyone.

“The new generation coming through from Kohanga reo, TKKM, are unapologetically Māori pushing us forward, pushing for policies that are by Māori, for Māori. We are a servant to our people. It is wired in our DNA, it shapes us as we continue to uphold the mana of our whānau to support them in achieving their aspirations”.

Finally Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait ended the three days acknowledging the exemplary work the collective has done in the past four years and how good it was to get together to celebrate the achievements by all of the partners.

“When we hear from those who are actually doing the mahi, it really shows the value of the work that is done to support whānau”.

The Whānau Ora Conference 2022 was a resounding success and is archived in an upcoming journal showcasing the achievements, the speakers, the panels and all the highlights across the three days in Rotorua.