Dr Leonie Pihama, Māori And Indigenous Analysis Ltd., Te Kotahi Institute, University of Waikato
Over the past few days I have been participating in the NZ Association for Research in Education annual conference. NZARE is a time when educational researchers and practitioners come together to discuss a range of research and intervention initiatives happening within the education sector. Just a few weeks ago I attended a Māori Health research hui that also included a range of health researchers and practitioners. At both gatherings it was clear that many Māori work well beyond the boundaries of what is considered to be a part of what is done in those sectors. The focus of whānau ora and hauora go across and beyond the ways in which society segments sectors. It is no surprise then that for Māori in those sectors the need to work collaboratively and across areas is clearly acknowledged.
There has been another burst of focus on child abuse within Māori whānau. We see that public outburst generally on the death or murder of one of our tamariki/mokopuna. We are then inundated with images of past abuses, of Māori babies and children beaten often at the hands of our own. We are all overcome then with disgust and sadness and often anger. And then there is nothing… virtually no media attention, no media discussion, no media information, no media contribution to education. Nothing. Until the next baby or child is beaten and killed. And so it continues…
The point is not that the media should not inform us of these things, or that they are not newsworthy as clearly they are. But that we rarely see any attempt in the media to provide an educational or informative role outside of social service ads. Other than Māori Television, primarily through the many profile programmes that they provide us with, there is little attempt or commitment to give any real time to how we turn around issues of abuse or violence within our homes.
The child poverty documentary was a long awaited one, and was timed perfectly for broadcast at the height of the elections and where many commented on how disturbing and disgusting and even how wrong it was to see families and whānau living in such conditions.. and many of those conditions were in fact state owned housing, such programmes that inform and challenge us are a rarity. They are programmes that show the complexity of child poverty, that don’t give easy answers or advocate a quick fix, nor do they provide the general ‘public’ with the easy way of seeing things through blaming the victims or announcing this is all about the deficiencies of those whānau. That complexity is shown in child mortality rates where key causes of child mortality are: Medical 38%, Unintentional injury 32.7 %, Intentional injury 19.6%, Unexplained 8.7 %, Missing data .9%
Table 1.1: Mortality (number of deaths) in children and young people aged 28 days to 24 years by cause of death and age group, New Zealand 2006–2010 combined (n=3356 deaths)
Category <1 year* 1–4 5–9 10–14 15–19 20–24 (%) Total Percentage
Medical 371 209 95 126 233 242 1276 38
Unintentional injury 15 112 59 85 419 409 1099 32.7
Intentional injury 8 22 3 32 274 320 659 19.6
Unexplained 275 17 – – – – 292 8.7
Missingdata 14 3 – 1 6 6 30 0.9
Total 683 363 157 244 932 977 3356 100.0
The Children’s Social Health Monitoring group highlight that Māori and Pacific children live within lower living standards at disproportionate rates. All of the indicators that are presented related to notions of poverty are based within a taken for granted assumption that all poverty is related to monetary terms.
I am not in any way questioning or challenging such an assumption. However it is limited in regards to Māori children. The direct output of such an assumption is that throughout the election process and in particular in the last couple of weeks of the campaign, when the documentary aired, there was a preoccupation with the advocating of the minimum wage, excluding National of course who advocate minimal taxing of the wealthy and not minimum wage for those in poverty, there was much talk of increased access for children to health care, some labour candidates advocated a Minister of Children, The Māori Party a Minister of Whānau.
Without doubt all of these things are useful. However they are not the whole picture. As with the child poverty programme that highlighted the direct impact of poverty on tamariki and whānau there was very little comment that the majority of children living in poverty are Māori and Pacific children. There was very little comment on colonization, there was virtually no comment on systemic and institutional racism. And why are those things important? Because they provide the underpinning reasons for why we have such a large proportion of tamariki who would be considered to be in that group that is being referred to as ‘vulnerable children’.
Our whānau have been under constant attack and threat since colonization. Where much of the focus of economic development has been at an Iwi level it was in fact the whānau that was the first structure actively attacked through colonization. It was a deliberate and planned attack. We see that through the development and operation of Mission and Native schooling.
Notions of civilizing and christianising Māori were focus on the whānau. The foci of attack were multiple, in terms of te reo and tikanga Māori. Linda Smith wrote that the Native schools were the equivalent of ‘trojan horses’ amongst our people. They were placed at the centre of communities to actively promote an way of life that up until that time was essentially foreign to our people.
At the heart of all interactions was the notion of individuality as opposed to collectivity. Where multiple generations in whānau supported collective obligation, accountability and reciprocity, the notion of the individual promoted individual rights, individual ownership of property, to be accountable only to one self etc. These notions are all actively a part of western pedagogy.
Notions of privatization and private homes, private ownership, private property, all undermine cultural constructs within tikanga of whanaungatanga and collective responsibility. The private domestic space is enabling of family violence, it is enabling in that it is grounded upon the nuclear family structure, which we often refer to as whānau but in fact the nuclear family is not whānau, it is a structure based on private ownership and individual private actions. Which enables unhealthy relationships on many levels to go undetected and with little hope of intervention.
What I am positing is that the idea of ‘working with vulnerable children’ is itself problematic and that perhaps this forum could redefine what is a critical area within the lives of our whānau. It locates a sense of ‘being without protection’ or being ‘extremely susceptible’ or ‘weak’ or ‘helpless’, yet many of our whānau are none of these things, in fact even the Child Poverty documentary showed the ways in which whānau negotiated and sought ways to protect and care for their tamariki, however within a systemic context where state systems of provision are dysfunctional, as opposed to the notion that whānau are dysfunctional, then it is easier to locate the problem in the home.
There seems to be an obsession with creating terminology that serves to act as a smoke screen to what is actually happening for our people. Our children, our whānau are faced with systems of economic elitism, cultural oppression, gender inequalities and racism. Rather than refer to our tamariki as vulnerable children we should be continuing to talk about the dysfunctional system that works with our children, and the need for us to gain an ability for economic and ongoing sustainable resources to put things in place that actually work for our people.
Yes we must have access to health care for all children, but we must also have that care be appropriate to our people, as the disparities work from Māori Public Health specialists indicates that racism pervades both our access to Primary care and the forms of treatment we receive.
Last night Ngaropi and I spoke about the ways in which ideas of poverty dominate the discussions and whilst, as I said earlier we both agree with the notion that poverty creates a range of circumstances that have been created through ongoing political neglect and colonial capitalist systems that are again about individual benefit and gain over the wellbeing of all. What we spoke about is that as a direct result of colonization in Taranaki our people have been dispossessed of access to all those things that have in the past mitigated against economic poverty. We had access to kai and even in the context of economic depression we could feed ourselves, our whānau, our hapū, our iwi, and we did that collectively. In a korero from Aunty Marj reflecting on rongoa she spoke of seeing her father bring a cart load of piharau, lamprey eels, to the marae to share with the people.
Those ways of being are significant. They are about whanaungatanga. They are the essence of whānau ora. Yet for the past 30 years since the pollution of the seabeds at Waitara and the earlier pollution of the river that is not a sight that would be seen. In fact my tamariki have never eaten kai moana from the Waitara coast. Then earlier this week the NPDC were granted a further 30 years extension to the use of the pipeline. Why? Because its more economic than developing a landbased treatment plant.
So we ask, is it solely an economic or monetary explanation for why many can not feed their whānau? As I have said previously, that is one part of the picture. And in many ways it is the most pallitable part of the picture. But underpinning the ability of many of our people to feed ourselves and our tamariki is the dispossession of access to those resources that could and did provide for us in times where this dysfunctional system created contexts of vulnerability.