Des Ratima, chairman of the Takitimu District Māori Council, negotiated with police and Oranga Tamariki until 2am at Hawkes Bay Hospital to prevent a newborn being ‘uplifted’ from his young Māori mother. Here, he tells Newsroom there has to be a better way.

After the standoff at Hawkes Bay Hospital, a hui held between family, midwives, iwi and officials agreed to let a teenage mother stay with her week-old baby boy. 

Des Ratima, who chairs the local district Māori council, was there and says the gathering was ’empowering’ and produced tears and respect.

“The meeting we had at the hospital marae, a totally empowering meeting I’ve got to say, was facilitated by an independent, the senior cultural advisor to the DHB, JB Smith, and he gave wonderful kōrero.

“He set the scene, and he said ‘now we enter the domain of Rongo, the domain of Rongo is the domain of peace and calm and tranquillity. Not to say you can’t be angry, but that anger is controlled by the god of peace.

“The family were given a chance to express their feelings to the DHB, to Oranga Tamariki, and the families were very respectful. They were angry, they were hurt, there was a ton of tears, but they were very respectful, they didn’t swear, they didn’t stand up and threaten. It was really dignified from the families, and I really saw these two families working together.”

Des Ratima

“I’m saying, who are the criminals here? These families aren’t criminals! Listen to their hearts. So they all had a chance to have their say and that took about 30 to 40 minutes, then the facilitator said to DHB and Oranga Tamariki: ‘ have you got anything to say?’.

“So the DHB rep gets up and says I want to apologise for what happened.

“I have to say it was genuine because it wasn’t solicited. She said: ‘Des I want to apologise to you, I really tried my hardest to get you into the hospital last night. I wasn’t successful and I want to apologise because I wasn’t able to achieve that. I want to apologise to the family for the behaviour of the DHB’.

“It was a really empowering environment.

“I don’t think Oranga Tamariki apologised. The family were very clear to them: ‘We don’t trust you, we don’t care what you say, we don’t trust you.’ I think an apology at that stage would have been laughed at.

“When they first went in, the family refused to shake hands with them. When we left everybody hongi’d and hugged and tears flowed.

“The police care and protection officer said ‘Des I’ve never witnessed anything like this before’, and I go:  ‘Really? This is the way that we resolve problems’. He said: ‘ this has been empowering for me’.

“The senior paediatrician for the hospital, he came to me and said: ‘Des, this has been overwhelming for me, and he had tears in his eyes. He said ‘I’ve never experienced this before’.

“I also said at the meeting I wanted to make it clear here the role the police made brokering the deal at 2am, going over and above their brief, I tell you now they could have come in and enforced the uplift order and they chose not to do that.”

Ratima wants this ‘uplift’ dispute to be the last.

“Yes we need change, but the solutions should be local, the solutions should be Māori, and the solutions should be resourced and supported by government. I think then we’ll see transformational change.

“What I’m encouraged about this meeting with Ngahiwi [Tomoana, chair of Ngāti Kahungungu iwi] and other leaders is that everybody now understands this doesn’t stop here. It must carry on. It must result in solutions that are about whānau ora about the total package about how we look after our whānaus.

“Everyone is obviously outraged, but what I see in that outrage is the opportunity now to take control of a problem, of a Māori problem, and myself and the others involved in this are about making Oranga Tamariki irrelevant.”

“What I’ve seen in the last two days is that we have the capacity, the skills and the knowledge to build our own platform to provide the solutions to this problem. What we’re saying are the current solutions are not tikanga.”

The mother’s whanau sleep outside the hospital entrance after being locked out during OT’s second attempt to uplift the baby.

“Our job is to make Oranga Tamariki irrelevant. We’ll do that by collaborating, by making a new Kahungungu pathway so we need to be knowing a lot earlier a when a young mother and partner need help.

“You can’t just intervene because Oranga Tamariki is picking up a baby. You need to be there during and after pregnancy, and I’ve seen in last two days enough of our people to know we can make a doable solution.”

“Oranga Tamariki, they have not respected the name, they are not about the wellbeing of our children at all. We know three children a week are being picked up, we also know from the stats, these kids get abused in state care, they are the next Mongrel Mob members, the next convicts in the jail system, so by fixing this up now we will address the other problems that normally flow on from this.

“Nobody’s denying it’s a big task, it’s a huge task, but what we’re saying is Māori have been left out of the solution. Our problem, our solution, our way.”

“Oranga Tamariki are very legislation driven, and that removes the heart and head out of it, and they just say I’ve got the order and the power and I’m exerting both to get this baby and then go home to my bed. They have forgotten who they’re dealing with, they’re seeing the person as a problem, so they’re addressing a problem, not a person.”

“There are good people in Oranga Tamariki, but there’s good people applying bad law and getting an absolutely abysmal outcome.”

“I think there is a need for a national approach. With our lawyer there is already a treaty claim under mana wahine, and the thought is we attach what we’ve been doing here and we take that claim into the tribunal and we expose the nationwide travesty and call for the government to announce the outcomes of the findings of the tribunal. When that happens then every iwi will find its own solutions.”

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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