September 21, 2022
OPINION: Tihei Whanau Ora !
John Tamihere: If there was ever a time to feel the impact of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency in the last ten years, it was during the period of COVID-19 which quite simply has made a bigger, better and more resilient collective who have solidified our place as the lead Māori agency across all pursuits.
COVID showed us what vulnerable looks and feels like right in our own neighbourhoods and our own whare. Instead of waiting for instructions, Whānau Ora put their heads together and responded immediately for the betterment of all people. There was no blueprint of how to tackle this pandemic, we went solely by gut instinct to provide the necessary wraparound support to alleviate the increasing level of anxiety and risk in communities. It was a journey that showed us the strengths we didn’t realise, cemented relationships we never had and solidified the trust our communities have in us.
We went into fight mode as staff were redeployed to the frontline packing and delivering thousands of hygiene and kai packs every day. We tested hundreds of thousands of people , we vaccinated hundreds of thousands, we put ourselves at risk and we never, ever left anyone behind. The data speaks for itself.
Every one of our 13 collectives has dozens and dozens of stories about whānau and the lengths they went to during COVID. From a mobile unit travelling to vaccinate a tane on home detention outside his own home, to kaumātua online workouts, to kaimahi losing members of their own whānau and rangatahi seeking roles in the medical field after becoming trained vaccinators. We have done it all. Our journey throughout COVID across Te-Ika-a-Māui has been carefully timetabled in our Research Unit and Journals, the latest Herenga Tāngata: Whānau Ora Response to COVID-19 Delta and Omicron was launched this week by Minister Peeni Henare.
I want to recognise our Whānau Ora Minister as part of the people on the rise helping us to reclaim all sorts of things that have either been denied or taken. The journey is a journey and not a destination. Only we can break ourselves out of welfarism, poverty, ill health and criminality.
I also want to acknowledge our Board and our Chair, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Her tireless advocacy strengthens our foundations and we would look very different without her. Merepeka has genuine aroha for all whānau which is evident in everything she does and has done since day dot. I thank her for her great leadership in a world that does not always mirror her compassion, but since the beginning she has turned a lot of heads to take notice and subsequently changed a lot of minds.
We have to be smart, strategic, clever and tactical in the way in which we manage our way to our own self determination and our own self-management in a very difficult climate. And so it beholds us to set in stone our true obligations, duties and responsibilities to our communities. And to do that in terms of the advancement of clear and liberated policy setting for Māori. But it is us rattling the cage that allows for Ministers like Peeni Henare and others to make gains for us. We take nothing from Pākeha, but reclaim our right to self-management.
Initially a lot of people refused to take us seriously and that’s exactly the way we like it. Break us down before we have had time to inhale our first breath, that only makes us more determined, more successful and our warriors soon become leaders. It is built into our DNA to create the right pathways for whānau, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them as we navigate them towards their aspirations. It is done with aroha, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and tautoko.
Nine Whānau Ora collectives were there at the beginning and now we have 13 collectives. Before the naysayers start, I will explain why there are only 13 collectives across the country. Baseline funding for Whānau Ora never increases and to create a bigger collective we need more funding, a lot more. If we get a slight increase, we need to inject that into providing resources for our existing network. The other measurement we have that proves what we do works, is the fact we have a waiting list of other groups eager to join Whānau Ora, many restless wanting that journey to begin now.
What we know, is Māori have that mentality that this is as good as it gets, facilitated by non-Māori in every way imaginable. This damp home, these empty cupboards, our hungry tamariki and our vulnerable kaumātua, we believe this is as good as it gets. Well Whānau Ora shatters that illusion through our programmes like Collective Impact and Whānau Direct, we insulate that whare, we fill those cupboards and puku and we provide wraparound services for our kaumātua. And that is just scratching the surface.
And what I also know is we will never, ever wait to be led when it comes to acting for our people. I hate to think how differently our time in COVID would have looked like if we had waited for instructions from Wellington. We have the confidence, the strength and the mana to trust our gut instinct and follow our noses when it comes to our response, no matter what gets thrown at us.
The future only looks brighter as we seek to grow our collective into the massive network that whānau deserve so we can clear the waiting list and deliver outcomes to communities. Ta Mason Durie created Te Whare Tapa Wha, the skeleton that built the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency body. Now we embark into another area of growth on an elevated path that will reinforce our stance as leaders in our field. Te Kawa o Whānau Ora. This will pull the curtains back on those organisations claiming they are acting with a Whānau Ora model separating us, the instigators, from the imitators.