From the CEO 2020 – Extraordinary Times

Mar 27, 2020

Chief Executive Officer,
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
Arihia Bennett

As we head towards Easter and the cooler weather that it brings, I’m sure there will be a heightened edge to it as we prepare for winter. We began the year with the rapid domino effect of COVID-19 spreading throughout the world creating the panic that has seen people fighting over the last rolls of toilet paper on the shelf. I’ve always been an advocate of healthy living but there is now an intensified sense of alertness for the fear of picking up the virus. When we hear someone coughing the personal alarm bell is triggered, and we quickly measure our distance hoping we are outside the radius of germs travelling to greet us. However, that theory is not much use if you are sitting on an aircraft.

As governments around the world announce drastic measures to deal with the virus our everyday activities are being altered to prevent its spread. Public gatherings have been limited and a thing called “social distancing” (where people meeting should not be too close together) is the new norm. Hand sanitiser has suddenly gained in popularity, but the effectiveness of facemasks to keep germs in or out or neither is unclear. Our whanaungatanga rituals are ill-advised in the current environment and making modifications is difficult – albeit necessary – as we are forced to stop and think about engagement, hongi, touching or even embracing one another. Greetings like raised eyebrows, touching elbows or simply bowing have become the new rituals.
While we are caught up in making our own personal changes, we need to be mindful of our kaumātua who will need extra support. They are the more vulnerable so once you work out your new quirky kia ora habits, focus on those who need genuine assistance.

It’s a lot to think about and I haven’t even touched on the impact on employment, especially if you are in an industry that is feeling the downturn. Writing about this may seem half-hearted – it’s really the actions that each of us can take that will make this more meaningful. We don’t have to get on a pulpit with a sign saying “find help here” but instead it’s the more subtle support that is within our own resources that often proves to be more useful. There are things we can all do to help, and it does demand taking notice.

In recent years I have been in awe of how Ngāi Tahu has responded with great agility to a myriad of emergency events that have impacted across our society. We have quickly pulled together to support affected communities and I see this as another one of those times where we need to “batten down the hatches” to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. These are unusual times of a country being in lockdown through to enforcing self-isolation if you are feeling unwell. Who would have thought that we would find ourselves in the midst of a world pandemic after all the large-scale weather events like floods, earthquakes and fires? We are living in extraordinary times – take care out there.