He Whakaaro Rising to the Challenge

Jul 7, 2020

Nā Lisa Tumahai

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 late last year, the word “unprecedented” has been used countless times by politicians, health officials and media across the world to describe the severity of this global crisis. As the situation evolved, I found myself reflecting on another unprecedented outcome experienced here in Aotearoa – a groundswell of collective kindness and goodwill, accompanied by a widespread willingness to support the government’s strategy to protect our people and eliminate the virus.

We saw it when our borders began to close, and those of us returning from overseas went into voluntary self-isolation to ensure we didn’t unwittingly contribute to the spread of the virus. We saw it when we adapted to social distancing requirements, finding new ways to express friendship and aroha. We saw it when the country went into lockdown, and we willingly gave up many of our personal freedoms. As we moved into our bubbles, essential workers received unheard of levels of acknowledgement and support as they continued to provide the key services that sustain our communities, while most were unable to continue their mahi or were required to do so from their homes. Neighbours, friends and whānau rallied around to support vulnerable members of our community, and new phrases like Zui entered our vocabulary as technology provided us with ways to stay connected with loved ones.

As the country progressed from lockdown to alert level one, we celebrated our regained freedoms with a commitment to keeping local businesses afloat as they reopened and adjusted to operating in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines. We ordered takeaways from our favourite restaurants, we shopped online and we eagerly anticipated the moment we could make an appointment with our hairdresser.

In these past few months, we have endured unprecedented disruption and change, but we have also achieved an unprecedented level of kotahitanga through our support for one another, our communities and our country. Now, we must harness that determination and kindness, and make an unprecedented recovery from the far-reaching and long-lasting impacts of this pandemic. Because despite our best efforts, we have not escaped unscathed. Across the country, there are 22 families mourning the loss of a whānau member to COVID-19. Our borders will likely remain closed for some time, keeping us separated from friends and whānau who live overseas, and seriously impacting our tourism industry. Many New Zealanders are also facing loss of income and employment, as well as serious challenges to mental health and wellbeing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, current projections tell us that Māori are likely to be hit hardest by the COVID-19 recession, with existing inequities exacerbated by the economic impact of the pandemic.

We must take advantage of the necessity to rebuild to address inequity and ensure that Māori emerge from this crisis better off than before.

As the national focus turns to rebuild and recovery, iwi Māori must work with the Crown to ensure our role as Treaty partner is honoured, and that our whānau are adequately provided for.

Since the beginning of this crisis, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has been working closely with the Crown through the Pandemic Response Group created by the National Iwi Chairs Forum. We met weekly with Minister Davis and our chief executive officer Arihia Bennett represented us on the CEO Group that met daily with relevant Crown agencies including the Ministries of Health, Social Development, Police, Housing and Urban Development, the Environment, Department of Conservation, Te Arawhiti and Te Puni Kōkiri.

As a result, iwi policy technicians have worked alongside officials from the Ministry for the Environment to develop policy for the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Tracking Consenting) Bill that will fast track projects that can boost employment and economic recovery. Although it was hard won and long overdue, we cannot underestimate the significance and success of achieving this level of involvement.

The release of the Budget 2020 has provided further opportunities for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to partner with the Crown, with many of the funding announcements aligned to our own strategic direction. As we consider how best to leverage these opportunities, it is important to acknowledge that we do not want to return to the status quo – we must take advantage of the necessity to rebuild to address inequity and ensure that Māori emerge from this crisis better off than before. There is some real potential to work side-by-side with the Crown on the initiatives they have announced, and we must stay positive and constructive to take advantage of those opportunities, and build a stronger relationship before we challenge them on areas that still need to be addressed.

I want to take the time to acknowledge the fantastic leadership shown by our marae and Papatipu Rūnanga in the regional response to COVID-19. Yet again, our whānau have been there to support our people in times of need. Rūnanga kaimahi and volunteers throughout the takiwā have worked tirelessly over the past few months to support local whānau, especially kaumātua, with phone calls, deliveries of kai, medications and vouchers and other supports. They have worked with Whānau Ora providers to distribute hygiene packs, clothing parcels and firewood. They have helped whānau navigate difficult decisions around tangihanga during the period where gatherings were restricted. They have participated in local leadership forums and worked with councils and committees to reset the regional agenda. The leadership shown by our rūnanga during this time has demonstrated the critical role they can play in the delivery of national and regional strategies going forward. We must now continue to support and empower all
18 rūnanga to occupy their rightful leadership role within their rohe.

The purpose of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu remains unchanged in the wake of COVID-19, and has reminded us to hold true to the things that really matter – the wellbeing of our people, the revitalisation of our culture, the protection of our environment and mahinga kai. These things ground us, and will always be at the heart of who we are – mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei.

Lisa Tumahai (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāti Waewae) is the Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.