Celebrating Māori diversity

"Each whānau has their own histories, stories and memories (colonisation, land loss and language loss, for example), life experiences, family compositions, living circumstances. "

We often hear that Māori are ‘diverse’ but what does that mean? Each whānau has their own histories, stories and memories (colonisation, land loss and language loss, for example), life experiences, family compositions and living circumstances. They all have strengths to draw from and they all have challenges. Some whānau are rich in their cultural knowledge and others are not. Some are consciously seeking to increase their taha Māori (Māori identity) while others are not. Some identify as traditional and others do not. Some consciously walk the fuzzy line between having plural ethnic identities; today, not all people resemble the Māori stereotype of corporeal phenotypes (brown skinned, brown eyed, and black haired). The numbers of children born to parents of mixed ethnicity (Māori Chinese-Pākehā, Māori American Mexican, and Māori-Pākehā-German) are continuing to grow. Many of our Pae Herenga interviewees also identified having plural ethnicities (often more than one iwi was mentioned).

Furthermore, there are Māori adults and kaumātua whose Māori heritage was concealed from them during the adoption processes in the mid-1900s. Some kaumātua were removed from their whānau in childhood and were legally appointed wards of the state and placed in care homes. Other kaumātua may have spent a large part of their life in a mental asylum and are now living in the community. There are also many other older Māori who were assimilated into a Western knowledge and language system. Many of these kaumātua remember being physically punished for speaking their own language at school and unsurprisingly lost their language and customs. As children and young adults moving to large cities in search of work during the 1950s and 1960s, many urbanised Māori experienced overt racism (difficulties finding employment and housing, for example), and they were made to feel ashamed of being Māori. Today, kaumātua can still carry the emotional scars of being othered by the colonial culture and some still feel that they cannot reclaim their language or cultural customs. As a result, some kaumātua and their whānau lack trust of the health system and health and social care professionals today.

GP’s have the opportunity to recognise whānau patients who are disconnected from their Māori culture and help them find Māori people, services or healers to help them reconnect. GP K. commented:

I think for whānau… you know [I] do see a lot of whānau who are disengaged with their culture. Ah and, perhaps [they] don’t know where they’re from and you know… if there was someone who- if there was an avenue that they could tap in to, to help support them through that, if they needed karakia but perhaps didn’t know where to access or how to [do it]. Maybe if there wasn’t anyone in the whānau or perhaps no whānau members around maybe.

Become informed about New Zealand history

Understanding colonisation and the impact these processes have had on Māori whānau will strengthen health and social care professionals to work more compassionately with kaumātua; education and training will mean they will have a greater appreciation of the lives and struggles kaumātua face. Diversity means we need to consider individuals on an individual-by-individual basis and on a whānau-by-whānau basis as each person has their own background and story and each families’ circumstances is unique to them - each whānau is different. Sexual identity adds another layer to complex and often competing subjectivities (identities). There are many things that contribute to a person’s identity and these need to be taken into consideration during the end of life. Our goal is to educate and increase health and social care professionals’ cultural knowledge and understanding as this will help to ensure kaumātua are respected and importantly, their cultural needs are not compromised in any way. Accessing health services can be very challenging for whānau and finding ways to engage with whānau and support them is essential.

When asked if there was anything that prevents whānau from being able to carry out the type of care they want when interacting with formal services, Coline said:

I think there is; there is a barrier there. But it depends on the person. You know a lot of Māori [whānau and patients] I see up there [at the hospital], they’re quite stand offish. And they don’t sort of interact [or] go out of their way to interact with the staff and then I think the staff are like the same way. But I’m not like that I just get in there… I think that’s a barrier and I don’t know whose fault it is or how to fix that, but it’s a barrier on both sides.

Oh [it’s probably because of] learned, just learned stuff. Learned behaviour… colonisation and stuff… That’s what it is. It’s our people are- don’t feel welcome. End of story… Don’t feel valued. End of story. They know they’re being looked down on… I mean I know from my own experience that the staff up there are awesome you know. They… want to help me. But there’s other family I guess who, still have the whakaaro, you know. So, it’s hard. Because you can’t blame either [group] but how do you fix it? I don’t know.

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