Maori haven't been this angry since the foreshore and seabed issue. Photo: Bonnie Summer

The Detail today looks at the strong reaction from Māori to Newsroom’s ‘Taken by the State’ stories – and a hui where plans were launched to own the problem and start solving it. 

There hasn’t been such overwhelming anger from Māori since the foreshore and seabed issue.

Hundreds packed an Auckland venue last weekend to hammer out the terms of inquiry into an investigation into Oranga Tamariki, led by whānau, kaimahi and Māori leaders.

The issue has been simmering since a stark documentary revealed the full horror of the way Māori children are being removed from their mothers.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Chair of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, says the unified forum has successfully and collaboratively achieved a framework by Māori, for Māori, with Māori, “which was exactly our intention”.

She tells The Detail’s Sharon Brettkelly she feels very positive in the wake of the hui – and quite inspired. “We’re talking about a significant issue,” she says.

Requests were coming from all around the country to do something about it. But Raukawa-Tait says the solutions have to come from within the families themselves.

Mel Reid’s 45-minute video of the 19-year-old new mother’s ordeal, as Oranga Tamariki social workers stood over her, demanding she hand over her baby, has been Newsroom’s biggest ever story.

Newsroom’s co-editor Tim Murphy says it was probably the biggest documentary in New Zealand for a decade or more.

He says the video, shot largely by whānau and midwives in the hospital room, took people where they can’t go and what they can’t see, to look at processes of both Oranga Tamariki and the Family Court.

“It touched those who were parents, those who had had any kind of experience with Oranga Tamariki or the Family Court, or child uplifts or their own whānau.

“The other thing about this story was that it showed power, held by a state agency via a court order and legally through the appropriate statute – but it showed power probably being misused and abused against individuals who then, often without much in the way of means, couldn’t put that right. I think this is the crux of this as an issue in terms of a journalistic investigation, this was trying to show people what is being done in the name of the state, and how little recourse individuals have in the face of that if it goes wrong.

“It doesn’t always go wrong, and no one was saying that,” he says. “And I think no one really thinks that there’s a time where removal of children by either the state or whānau or iwi isn’t going to be necessary. But it was the way the power that was given to the various agencies was being used and abused.”

Murphy says after the documentary was launched, Newsroom had hundreds of responses, mainly from women, telling their experiences with Oranga Tamariki.

“The theme throughout all of them was that once action had been taken, they felt there was nothing that could be done to put that right.

“I’d have to say the overwhelming response though is something is wrong in the way this process is being carried out … and it’s time to get that put before the public and light shone on it … and I think that’s where Maoridom has got to most recently at this hui at the weekend … the underlying theme there was ‘This is wrong, it’s being done to us, we have no voice’.”

There will be another hui on the issue, hosted by Kingitanga, with all Māori being encouraged to have a say and participate.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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