Leonie Pihama & Rihi Te Nana on behalf of Hands Off Our Tamariki Network.
As the issues surrounding the uplift and forced removal of tamariki Māori continue to gain momentum around the country we have been asked by some of our whānau ‘who’ and ‘what’ is Hands off Our Tamariki. Given the upcoming rally we have written this blog to provide some background to the network.
Hands Off Our Tamariki is a Network of Māori who came together to respond and raise issues surrounding the change of Child Youth and Family legislation in 2016. All of those involved in the Network have been active in challenging the uplift of tamariki Māori for some time. Some are survivors of State removal, some have whāngai in their whānau, some are Māori social workers, some work in the health sector, some are active in Te Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori, some work in the wider area of education, some are caregivers, some are lawyers, some are in the process now of fighting for their tamariki and mokopuna. We are whānau, we are hapū, we are iwi, we are Māori.
In 2016 we wrote an Open Letter to Whānau, Hapū, Iwi, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Members of Parliament, Māori National and Iwi Organisations calling for action on the change of legislation related to Child, Youth & Family Services. That was our first action as a collective. Over the past 3 years we have been working to provide information and raise awareness of the issue of the removal of tamariki by the State.
Our people have called for generations for the halting of Māori child removal. Our tūpuna shared with us their visionary aspirations for future generations, their dreams for us to hold to our self-determination, to live on our lands as whānau, hapū and iwi, to know who we are and to live our lives as Māori.
The institutionalised removal of Māori children goes against all of those dreams and aspirations. It is an act of colonial oppression. To remove our future generations is to destroy whakapapa & impose intergenerational disconnection. This is not an isolated issue. It is a part of the history of the dispossession of generations of our ancestors and is the contemporary practice of the fragmentation of our fundamental ways of being as Māori people. It is the systematic embedded hatred of Indigenous Peoples. It is a part of wider colonising systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and class oppression that enforce acts of colonial domestication of Māori and Indigenous Peoples. This is not new. We have been fighting these issues for generations. The first lines of attack on our people were the dispossession of our lands, the source of our identity and the fragmentation of whānau, the source of our collective relationships. This continues in the systemic practices of colonisation today. The denial of our reo, our tikanga, our mātauranga has always been an instrument of colonial fragmentation and disconnection.
It is also important to say who we are not. We are not a formalised or registered organisation nor are we affiliated to any organisations, groups or institutions. We do not connect or advocate for any political party, religious organisations, national organisations or corporates. We are supported by some organisations that are a part of this struggle, and that align to the approach we are taking to this kaupapa, but we are independent Māori voices from across Aotearoa.
The rally to be held in Te Whanganui a Tara, on Te Ātiawa land, on July 30th has been called to raise these issues and to deliver the Open Letter and Petition. The kaupapa of the rally is clear “Hands Off Our Tamariki”. In doing this we acknowledge and recognise the work of many of our people who are pushing for change both outside and inside of the system, those whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations that tiaki our tamariki and mokopuna, and those that are daily challenging the institutional racism that is embedded within the structures of the Crown. We ask that you continue the good fight, as we are aware of the many painful and often detrimental impacts of taking on such a struggle. But this, we know, is a fight that is tika and pono as it is grounded on an intent for the wellbeing of current and future generations.
Hands Off Our Tamariki affirms whānau as the foundation of Te Ao Māori and the place of tamariki and mokopuna at the centre, as the rito of Te Pā Harakeke.
Hutia te rito o te harakeke
Kei hea te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki au
He aha te mea nui o te ao
Māku e kī atu
He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata
Pluck the centre shoot from the flax bush
Where will the Bellbird sing?
What is the most important thing in the world I will say
It is people, It is people, It is people
Hutia te rito is one whakataukī that reminds us that to remove the centre shoot is to kill the harakeke. The centre shoot is our tamariki. They are the future wellbeing of whānau. They are the future of our people. We are also reminded that we are all mokopuna and we will all be tupuna. We stand as mokopuna and tupuna. We stand as whānau. Whānau is the foundation for Te Ao Māori. Whānau is the birthing and the collective way we live. Hapū is the carrying of future generations and the grouping that surrounds and nurtures whānau. As Iwi we are the bones of the people, we are the collective grouping that provides a wider collective responsibility for hapū and whānau. As Māori we are the original, the pure, the Indigenous collective of these lands. This is us. As a Network we believe deeply that our tūpuna have given us all the guidance that we need to understand what is happening when our tamariki are removed.
The whakataukī ‘Matua Rautia’ reminds us that our tūpuna saw all tamariki as raised by hundreds of parents. It is our collective responsibility to care for our tamariki, mokopuna and whānau. As such, we will challenge the systems, we will challenge governments, we will challenge our own, to seek pathways of wellbeing for tamariki Maori. That is the foundation upon which Hands Off Our Tamariki stands. We also advocate for positive, systemic and transformative change to create support systems that affirm our tamariki, mokopuna, whānau, hapū and iwi in ways that enable us to thrive as Māori in contexts that are supported through tikanga, reo and mātauranga and enhance the potential that our tūpuna have always affirmed within us. Hands Off Our Tamariki will exist as a Network for as long as we as Maori must fight the removal of our tamariki. We have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for our tamariki, mokopuna and whānau. The whakataukī ‘He Waka Eke Noa’ brings to the fore the power of the collective to move the waka forward. To make change that ensures the wellbeing of all tamariki and mokopuna we must move this waka forward together. Tēnā koutou.