It is vitally important for health professionals to become educated about New Zealand history, colonisation, loss of tribal lands and the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). Becoming aware of peoples’ histories and personal stories will support health professionals to develop a deeper appreciation of Māori peoples’ histories, lifestyles and end of life care preferences. Kaumātua have a specific history in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many older Māori were born after the First World War when our country’s mono-cultural national identity was formed, highlighted in the phrase ‘we are one people’. This of course was inaccurate. There were two major cultures living in New Zealand at that time, the indigenous people who were diverse and non-Māori people who were also diverse; the majority of non-Māori were descendants of white British colonial settlers.

During their childhood and early adulthood, Māori kaumātua were often subjected to hardships; many suffered poverty caused through loss of tribal lands and livelihoods due to the ongoing forces of colonisation. Many kaumātua were punished for speaking their own language at school; they lived through the Second World War and the depression and witnessed the upheaval of whānau as they migrated to the cities looking for employment during the 1950s and 1960s.


For health and palliative care professionals, we recommend:

  • Giving considering that their presence (as non-Māori) may trigger a past trauma response in some older Māori people. It is important to take time to reflect on your own cultural background and explore how you are positioned within the colonial context.
  • Becoming familiar with Māori health models (which are always holistic and relational), as these will help to strengthen your understanding of Māori culture and tikanga. This holistic health approach will guide you on how to relate to Māori kaumātua and to work more effectively with whānau manaaki.

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