The launch of a Māori-led inquiry into Oranga Tamariki is being held in Auckland tomorrow. Bonnie Sumner talks to one of the organisers of this national hui.

Organisers of a national hui being held tomorrow to launch a Māori-led inquiry into Oranga Tamariki and its practice of removing children from their whānau have had to cap the numbers of attendees and change locations due to the high level of interest.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, chair of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, which is spearheading the inquiry, says it has been inundated with requests to attend and had to change venues before closing off registrations at 400 people for health and safety reasons, yet could have filled it twice over.

Despite the overwhelming interest the hui will still ensure all relevant voices are heard and will mark the beginning of a different way of approaching the issue of child removals.

“The purpose of the hui is to set the parameters, but it’s also really to hear from those who know about this, and they want to share what they know, they want to share their concerns.

“We want to say, as a collective of iwi Māori, if these are the issues then we need to come up with solutions that fit us best. It requires Māori leadership, it requires visionary bold people to step up and to take a lead on this and that’s part of why we’re making sure we’ve got a wide a range of people involved in Saturday’s hui,” Raukawa-Tait said. 

“It’s about everybody having some input right now to say we need to do things differently. The majority of children in state care are Māori so we have to come up with a Māori solution. And that can only be developed and promoted by Māori.”

The full-day event at the Holiday Inn, Mangere, will feature a morning of talks from prominent speakers, including Raukawa-Tait and CEO of Māori Midwives Aotearoa Jean Te Huia. In the afternoon, attendees will be able to choose from five different wānanga that aim to identify opportunities to improve the system for whānau, such as the health sector, governance or social and community practice.

Attendees include Maori academics, psychologists, midwives, GPs, clinicians and social workers as well as whānau who have been affected by the actions of Oranga Tamariki.

Three investigations were announced following the release of Newsroom’s documentary highlighting the attempted removal of a newborn from his mother at Hastings Hospital in May, before the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency announced a fourth Māori-led inquiry in late June.

Raukawa-Tait says while the other reviews might be helpful, none of them will serve Māori in the same way, as they are not led by Māori .

“Ours will be different, because people will share things with us that they won’t share with anybody else. Our families trust us. There is little trust and there is intense dislike of the Ministry for Children, there’s intense dislike for the social workers, we know they’ve got a difficult job but when there is intense dislike, when there is no trust, then people will not share, they won’t talk to them, they won’t be as free and open with any review as they will be with ours, and if they want to talk in te reo they can.

“They will share with us things we know they won’t share with anyone else in any other review. And we have an understanding of the complexities of Māori families and their lives, we are non-judgmental, so they will know we are there to support them and to help them in any way that we can. I hope that we will look at a whole new, different way of supporting children, supporting mothers who are vulnerable, and who may be at risk of losing their children. We don’t want to see that happening – we should not be taking children from their mothers and families in this day and age, that’s got to be the last thing we do.”

Raukawa-Tait says organisers want a clear set of actions as a result of tomorrow’s hui.

“We do want some clear terms of reference for the inquiry. More importantly we want a set of actions of come from that review so that we know this will make a difference, this will make sure that children will remain safe in their homes, but we need to work efficiently and so we can actually do something and get some very positive results as soon as possible.”

She’s disappointed neither the Prime Minister nor the Minster for Children have watched the Newsroom video that sparked outrage.

“I would have thought if this is building up and taking people’s attention and galvanising people to take action then why wouldn’t you watch it? They need to – these are New Zealand families, New Zealand children and this is a concern for our country, so don’t talk about wellbeing when you’re not prepared to actually look at the situation that happened in Hastings. It seems rather odd actually. It’s probably minimising the issue, and this is absolutely not to be minimised.”

She is still hopeful any outcomes from the Māori-led inquiry will result in action from the Government.

“Will the Government listen? I don’t know why they wouldn’t. If they’re going to listen to the Commissioner for Children, if they’re going to listen to the Ombudsman, why wouldn’t they listen to the ones who are most impacted by government departments ‘decisions?”

The Māori led inquiry is being driven by a number of prominent Maori leaders, including Dame Tariana Turia, Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie, Te Kohanga Reo founder Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, educator Sir Toby Curtis, founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal Sir Wira Gardiner, Iwi leader Dame Naida Glavish, and urban Māori advocate Dame June Mariu.

The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency works with a number of North Island Māori wellbeing and health focused NGOs to carry out initiatives that improve outcomes for Māori . It is providing the support for the inquiry. in partnership with Radio Waatea will broadcast the Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki hui live tomorrow from 9am (Saturday 13 July).

Bonnie Sumner is part of the Newsroom Investigates reporting team

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