“There is blatant racism and prejudice against Māori in the Health System.”
Dr Rose Harris, a doctor based in Hokianga was prompted to be a doctor after witnessing the treatment of her mother as she was diagnosed and then treated for cancer. She agrees with Lady Tureiti Moxon that the disestablishment of the Māori Health Board which has only just started to show what it can do for Māori will lead to greater inequities for Māori and poorer outcomes. It is a move that goes against Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Waitangi Tribunal bid made in attempt to stop abolition of Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority | RNZ News
However, she believes that it is for the very reason that it will lead to better outcomes for Māori, because it works for them that the government wants to dismantle it. As someone working in a rural setting she cannot see how a rural approach can work.
“We need to do more to whakamana our wāhine Māori.”
Rose believes firmly that women’s health is an area that is hugely underfunded and misunderstood. We need to be confident and not whakamā about talking about our bodies, understanding them so that wāhine can have mana motuhake over their bodies and healthcare. I reflected at this point that this is another impact of colonisation and the thinking of the colonisers especially the missionaries. In te ao Māori a girl’s first menstruation (waiwhero) was seen as a cause for celebration not shame;
“When waiwhero first arrived, there would be the giving of gifts, which would be an awesome tikanga to continue today. Moko kauae would be given, ceremonial cutting of hair, piercing of ears. She would be introduced to new arts, learn karakia and waiata. There would be a hākari (feast), the community would get together to share kai. And there would be a ceremonial bleeding onto the whenua as a gift to Papatūānuku. This practice was about acknowledging the connection between people, land and ancestors. Our tūpuna believed our waiwhero, our menstrual blood, carried our ancestors. Bleeding straight onto the land is our gift to the mother, to Papatūānuku. I know some wāhine that still do that today.”Decolonise your body! The fascinating history of Māori and periods | The Spinoff
Women are considered “tapu” meaning sacred during menstruation so the tikanga that is in place around what wahine can and can’t do during menstruation are not imposed patriarchal restrictions associated with uncleanliness or weakness but meant to protect wahine during their ikura so they can rest if they need to. Karamu and puka plants were boiled and used as a traditional medicine to help with period pain.
From a Victorian, colonists’ perspective, menstruation was seen as an unclean and negative time. Something not to be spoken about but hidden. This way of thinking worked its way insidiously and damagingly, just like the role of women in society, into the beliefs and practices of Māori. Traditional practices were frowned upon, legislated against (1907 Tohunga Suppression Act), and soon the tikanga and importance of those things was lost. It is for this reason as well as the traditional dominance of men in the field of medicine that women’s health is relegated to second place and research into women’s health is not taken seriously.
So, what is the solution? I talked about Moana Jackson’s concept of ‘Parallelism’ in a previous blog – the concept that there can be parallel systems that exist alongside each other like the Te Aka Whai Ora does with Te Whatu Ora. We also know that Māori don’t have positive experiences in hospitals, just like schools they are establishments with systems and structures that privilege a Pākehā way of doing things and they don’t meet the needs of Māori.
Way back in 1918, following the deaths of so many Māori from the flu, Princess Te Puea had a dream to create a hospital for Māori at Ngāruawāhia. At the heart of her plans for Tūrangawaewae Marae was;
“Māhinārangi wharenui, a hospital for Māori by Māori that took a holistic approach incorporating tikanga (customs), rongoā Māori and Western medicine under one roof, designed aesthetically for Māori. Hērangi saw firsthand the benefits of having Māori surrounded by their culture and having that infused in their wellbeing.”Ngāruawāhia locals want the kind of healthcare first envisioned by Princess Te Puea Hērangi 100 years ago
Only a few days ago, Kingi Tūheitia, broached the subject again at the Hui-ā-motu at Tūrangawaewae. He said that;
“In her (Te Puea) view, and the argument still stands strong today, that if Māori can see themselves in the medical system, then they will engage a little bit better. In that time in the 1920s there was a whole lot of mistrust and people didn’t want to go to the Pākehā hospitals because they felt there were some underlying things, racism.”Kīngitanga calls for Māori hospital to fulfil the vision of Princess Te Puea – NZ Herald
So, what would a hospital for Māori look like today? How would it meet the needs of Māori bnetter than our current hospitals? Is it, as some would say a separatist concept and one that priveleges oine race over another? So many questions to ponder and find answers to!