Māori want an independent inquiry into children’s ministry Oranga Tamariki after revelations of its controversial baby ‘uplift’ at Hawkes Bay Hospital 

Ngahiwi Tomoana, the chair of Hawkes Bay iwi Ngati Kahungunu, told Newsroom “state trafficking of our children” must stop.

He will seek a formal call from the nationwide Iwi Leaders Forum that Oranga Tamariki “is immediately put under the microscope” and “not one more baby to be taken.”

An online petition has been launched calling for an inquiry into the way the ministry removes children, particularly from Māori whanau.

A group of Māori midwives, lawyers, social workers and academics calling itself “Hands off our Tamariki” has also called for a restructuring of the ministry based on Māori principles and its letter had been signed by 7000 people within the first 48 hours.

A protest march to Parliament is planned for Tuesday July 30.

Leading Māori journalist Annabelle Lee-Mather, of Three’s The Hui current affairs programme, asked yesterday on Twitter if the uplift response could be a ‘foreshore and seabed’ moment for Māori.

“Upset over Oranga Tamariki seems to be galvanising iwi leaders and Māori across the country. Is this the issue that leads to the formation of the next Māori political movement? Is #HandsOffOurTamariki the new foreshore and seabed?” she wrote.

There are increasing calls for the Māori name to be removed from the organisation because of its failure to adopt tikanga Māori in its practices. Some Māori refuse to call the ministry by its Māori name.

While the response from Māori grows, Oranga Tamariki has emailed its staff advising them not to watch Newsroom’s video story which revealed the agency’s repeated attempts to take a week-old baby from its mother in the hospital room last month – and the tactics the ministry used before and during the ‘uplift’ process. 

Three Māori children a week are taken into state care.

Tomoana says: “Since the release of the documentary about the way in which Oranga Tamariki are uplifting babies, hundreds of desperate families have been seeking help for the return of their children.

“This is an absolute disgrace for New Zealand in every way imaginable. Here we are trying to be world leaders on the international stage, yet we have a humanitarian crisis right in our own house.

“And this right on the eve of Oranga Tamariki receiving $1.2 Billion of funding from the Government. This organisation and its activities must immediately be put under the microscope. We demand an urgent and independent inquiry into the Hastings case and into the entirety of the operations of Oranga Tamariki”.

Ngahiwi Tomoana

Tomoana wants the Government to take some of the funding allocated to Oranga Tamariki to establish “an independent group of professionals to work through the complete and utter devastation left in the wake of the Oranga Tamariki’s activities.

 “We absolutely must treat our mothers and babies with much more respect and humanity than what we are currently witnessing” said Mr Tomoana. “They need our help and support, and not to be further victimised like this. Life starts with mothers and babies. If we can’t respect them, then how can we respect life itself?.

“In the next two weeks this kaupapa will be raised with the view to formalising it at the Iwi leaders Forum,” he said.

“The sanctity of whakapapa is the essence of who we are as Māori and Oranga Tamariki is tearing at fabric of whakapapa. Our Kahungunutanga demands that we uphold and protect our mokopuna from state trafficking of our children”.

Organisers of the Tuesday rally to Parliament say in their call for action: “It is time for the government to stop the punitive and bullying processes of the Ministry of Children in regards to the removal of tamariki Māori. We hear many stories daily of the failure of the ministry to listen to the needs of whānau and of the denial of fundamental rights of whānau to make decisions about the wellbeing of their tamariki and mokopuna.”

When Newsroom’s video story broke this week, Oranga Tamariki sent an email to staff around the country advising them not to watch the documentary about the Hawkes Bay uplift. Without irony, the email from Deputy chief executive Alison McDonald, says watching the uplift can be upsetting.

“The removal of a child, particularly a vulnerable baby is one of the hardest things a social worker has to do, which makes this video really difficult to watch. We recommend for your own wellbeing that you do not watch the video or engage in social media posts.”

The ‘all staff’ email distributed on Tuesday, the day the Newsroom video first aired, offers Oranga Tamariki staff counselling from the organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme.

“As a social worker being exposed in this way is challenging, but it doesn’t change the work you do,” McDonald said.

Watch the NZ’s Own ‘Taken Generation’ video story here

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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