State abuse in faith-based children’s homes

With the welcome media focus of late being on the need for an indpendant inquiry into the herstorical abuse of children in state care, I thought I would add what I see is some missing kōrero to this.

Judge Carolyn Henwood, Sonya Cooper, Elizabeth Stanley, the Never Again stance from HRC[1] Susan Devoy[2] the Nga Morehu on the Hui[3] have mainly focused on the state abuse of young people in New Zealand larger care institutions. With all of these good people “speaking out” on our behalf, I’ve wondered about the voices of those who are no longer with us, about the women’s stories and the very small children who were placed by the state into faith-based children’s homes.

I have been talking about this on various social platforms for months now and the response has been almost a deafening silence. It seems that whilst some experts (legal people, academics, key stakeholders) are very vocal about abuse in some of the bigger institutions…few seem to talk about the abuse that happened to children in faith-based children’s homes. Particularly to tamariki Māori who were disenfranchised from their cultural connections and this in itself caused trauma, from which many have never healed.

In this blog, my focus is on those tamariki (under 8 years) who were placed in faith-based care by the state. My brothers Kanara and Tipene were still in nappies when we were taken from our parents to be put into one of these homes. Where in less than a week, the abuse began. The house father (caregiver), a well respected church attending man was super skilled at grooming small children.

The narcissistic showering of fatherly attention making a vulnerable child feel special and wanted. Followed closely by the confusing withdrawal of that attention. So that a child craves for it back, not understanding that they have not done wrong; they were just being cruelly manipulated. The same person who used to turn my mother away when she came crying for her babies at the door of the facility. I still terror sleep at the powerlessness we experienced as small beings in those places…of the hallways and endless rooms, leading onto more rooms, where there is no escape into the sunshine. Waking not being able to breathe.

These places where the vetting of caregivers was not a priority because the assumption was, that they were good Christian folk with children’s best interests at heart. The thing with religious based homes and non-vetting is that ‘caring’ folk from the community could access the “underprivileged” children on outings, camps, overnight stays, that led to weekends and school holiday stays. These ‘good folk’ were Ministers, church elders and congregation made up of Doctors, Judges, Lawyers, Police, Freemasons and others.

Sexual, physical, emotional and ae, cultural abuse occurred. In some places ritualistic abuse happened but that’s not being tabled as an abuse type. It’s in the ‘too hard to believe’ box and therefore not credible. Well I’m putting it on the table. What do you think happens when Ministers, church elders, congregation members put their hands up to take underprivileged children?  Some of those placements cared for the children and some took advanctage of their innocence and vulnerability.

Mark Solomon was right when he said “when it comes to abuse of children, there are three groupings.” Those that stand with the victims, those that stand with the perpetrators and the worst roopu, those that deny and bury it. I’d like to add another, the ones that stand silent scanning for which roopu they’re going to shuffle towards.

As long as people believe that state abuse only happened in ‘some’ institutions by ‘some’ bad social workers, it takes the focus off and serves those people that the National 9 year reignhave been trying to protect [4] . And, if you know anything about children and abuse disclosure you will know that Māori and women are less likely to speak out about their abuse because of the insidious nature (double whammy/intersectionality) of racism and sexism.

The protecting of state abuse of children is at all levels and ongoing. The stats are being collected but state is no longer reporting on the abuse of children in care [5]. Why because it’s prolific and that’s only the children who are actually disclosing their abuse. Many do not because they are afraid of very real concequences, threats to be silent, dumb and run, or that they will be shifted to worse placement…and let’s face it, this abuse is rarely recorded.

Have you ever asked state care survivors about accessing their records? Often when they go to find their records to give evidence to a possible claim, to find their whakapapa connections, official records are conveniently lost, destroyed, or blacked out. Whakapapa connections wiped for hundreds. Abuse records wiped. My DSW file was blacked out, and no record of my childhood injuries, or the complaints I made on behalf of my brothers and I, ever found.

The abuse of children in state care did not miraculously stop in 1992; it is ongoing. Different children, different social workers, different placements but the culture of abuse and covering it remains as active as it ever was. See, for example [6].

An Inquiry needs to include all institutions and children’s homes of any description (either run by churches or the State) – and either as a State Ward, a home/welfare child or in foster care and all forms of abuse. Not just limited to sexual abuse like the Australian Inquiry where many abuse survivors missed out on telling their story.

It is most important that the  inquiry not become a legal exercise as that will keep the whole system in tact. It needs to ensure that there is a broad range of people speaking to the kaupapa and that the impact is not limited to a short term change in policy but reaches to include stronger Treaty relationships. All of our mahi shows it is whanau and hapu that know where our tamariki need to be if they are in an unsafe place so there needs to be strong advocacy in terms of tino rangatiratanga. Individuals need to be heard and compensated but it is tino rangatirtanga we need to end the abuse of our mokopuna in state care.

Finally, for those of you ‘good Christian’ folk who abused small children in your care, good luck explaining this to God when your time comes. And for everyone else, stand your sacred ground, honour the Treaty and be a spanner in the works for whānau, not a cog for the Crown!

Cotact Paora at:








Adding to the conversation on an Inquiry into the historical abuse of children in NZ state care

Tēnā koutou katoa. My name is Paora Crawford Moyle. I spent 14 years in state care and I have 27 years of social work experience behind me. I speak out a lot on the gaps within New Zealand child protection, particularly in relation to mokopuna Maori over-representation.

This kōrero is for Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu and also for those who have passed on from this life with no acknowledgment for the abuse they endured. It is also for the many of our disabled whānau who are often left out of this conversation.

Recently we learned of Labour’s commitment to an ‘independent’ Inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care. So while we are talking about the kind of Inquiry we might have, I thought I would take the opportunity to put a key points.

Just as many girl children were abused in state care as boy children

When I read a headline Abused Males Want a Royal Commission and I see the media coverage on the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Conference recently held in Christchurch, I wonder if other wāhine survivors like myself feel like our specific experiences are marginalised? Thus, I wanted to make the absolute point that female survivors want a Royal Commision just as much as male survivors do. And “As many boys as girls were sexually abused. About 57% of the men we saw had been sexually abused and 57% of the women.” Findings from New Zealand’s Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS).

Apart from the recent Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu piece on the Hui, female state care survivors (or care leavers) are almost entirely excluded from the Inquiry conversation. It is vital that women as a survivor group with specific experiences are not left out of the setting up of an Inquiry. Why? If you know anything about children and abuse disclosure you will know that Māori and women are less likely to speak out about their abuse due to the intersectionality (what I refer to as the double whammy) of racism and misogyny/sexism. Yet we know that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15. An international survey found that New Zealand had highest rate of any country examined and the results showed, for the first time, that Māori girls suffer twice as much sexual abuse as non-Māori girls.

Female survivors of state care abuse have reported experiencing forced internal inspections for venereal diseases (VD) and forced contraception. I was forced to take contraception which there was no need for because I was not sexually active at the time and later I was only interested in girls. I also remember conversations about sterilizing two whangai disabled sisters based upon an assumption that menstruation would be traumatic for them. Although it was very behind closed doors, we know it happened. And just last year we again had forced sterilisation being tabled by Anne Tolley as a method of birth control.

As for forced internal inspections, Sonya Cooper who has been supporting survivors for more than 20 years stated, “Attached are a number of documents we were provided with by media, regarding the VD checks undertaken at the Girls’ Homes…Last month, for the first time, MSD accepted that a client was exposed to abuse by way of medical examinations performed by a doctor which were conducted in a manner which was outside the guidelines of the time. MSD stated that while it did not accept responsibility for the actions of the doctor, it accepted that the client was exposed to this abuse while in its care. Prior to this, MSD had failed to accept that such examinations were abuse, or failed to answer this allegation when presented with it.” (Personal communication from Cooper Legal, 16 November 2017). These practices were horrific and very traumatising for girls and young women. They have impacted generationally upon our whānau, from which we have not healed.

There are also specific issues from the past that directly correlate to what women, Māori women and whānau report they are currently experiencing in systems. In my PhD research, Māori women speak of their experience of sexism, structural racism and cultural ignorance/intolerance in statutory social work and in the Family Court. This is directly linked to the increased number of tamariki Māori (0 – 5s) being uplifted by the state and fast tracked to permanency outside of their whakapapa. If, we truly want systemic change we have to take a good hard look at everything and not just pati pati round the garden. Including ALL abuse types that children endured in state care.

All abuse of children in state care must be included into any Inquiry

It is vitally important that we have survivor groups out front informing the public (such as, the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Conference) about what historical state abuse is and who it impacts. We also need to be informing people about ALL abuse types being harmful to children and that they must be included into the Inquiry terms of reference.

Why would we consider excluding children like my 8 year bother who experienced electro-shock treatment in Cherry Farm, or those who were locked up 23 hours in solitary confinement? Or the perpetual emotional and cultural abuse we suffered, as evidenced in the 1978 ACORD Inquiry into the “cruel and inhumane treatment…violence and assaults of children and sexual violation of girls and young women.”

Cultural abuse where we were separated from our whānau, referred to as “inbreds” and “Pakeha girls were treated better than Māori girls who were seen as stereotypically bad, and troublemakers…put down and treated with contempt” and “they were stripping children of all their support systems and identifications and making them dependent on the internal system within the home…the institution makes the child obey in order to survive” (Mitchell, I. in ACORD 1978).

Abuse of children also happened in religious based care

I was made a state ward and placed by the state into religious based care. From the outside these places looked like any ordinary homely setting but within a week of going into care the abuse began. The vetting of caregivers was not a priority because the assumption was that they were ‘good’ Christian folk. As a consequence we were very vulnerable to predatory adults and we know that 60% of all victims of historic sexual abuse were abused while in religious based care.

There were also good Christian folk from the community who could access underprivileged children to go on outings, camps, overnight stays, leading to weekends and school holiday stays. They were Doctors, Judges, Lawyers, Police and other respected community leaders. Any Inquiry terms of reference need to include religious based care and not just in the bigger institutions we hear so much about; or it risks excluding more then half the victims.

Any Inquiry must be independent

An inquiry must be independent of the Ministry of Social Development or Ministry for Children. Otherwise it is NOT independent and risks repelling survivors akin to putting Judges robes on their rapist. It risks retraumatising victims and surviors.

An Inquiry MUST be able to compel witnesses and access un-redacted documents; must not have a cut-off date; must deal with compensation/restitution and structural change to our systems. It must include all institutions and children’s homes of any description (either run by churches, charities or the NZ state) and all forms of abuse not just sexual (a big mistake made by the Australian Royal Commission which excluded many thousands of survivors). Personally I think that only a Royal Commission of Inquiry like that of the will do because then it is able to hold Ministries/sytems to account for their multiple and continued failings.

Hei aha, if we have to have the Minister for Children leading it then like Māori Women’s Welfare League did last week, I urge her to consult widely and to give it time. Rushing through the terms of reference by mid Jan next year just leaved out the most important people and again protects the abuser. Consultation must include survivors, survivor groups and organisations with a history of involvement in or supporting those in state care. Ensure that provision is made for lived-experience to be at the change table. It must include a variety of lenses especially when considering previous reviews and recommendations such as Puao te ata tu.

Finally, I am just one voice, a wāhine toa survivor…Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu. I claim the right to be at the change table, to be valued as an ‘expert’ on this kaupapa by virtue of lived-experience. We are hero/shero’s who came to show you what you need to learn. I might be one voice but I speak powerfully on behalf of hundreds of who have been rendered silenced. WE ARE HERE, not to be further victimised and ‘saved’ but to be the living testimony and centralised, collective voice of change.

For those supportive of a Royal Commission of Inquiry here is a survey intended to help shape the Inquiry terms of reference. Or email your views to the Human Rights Commision – Subject Line: “Independent Inquiry into State Abuse”.

Paora Crawford Moyle

Excluding essential Māori knowledge in social work: The enhanceR2P project

Two years ago I challenged the (enhanceR2P) project because I believed it was really important research in terms of gauging ‘how’ and ‘what’ students were learning in NZ social work. (See this blog for background detail:

It presented as a one-size-fits-all, white-is-best team and research methodology. I questioned it because I didn’t want social work to miss exploring how institutional racism in mainstream social work programmes starved students of the knowledge they needed to engage well with Māori. Especially, since Māori are the predominant client group transacted through statutory child protection…and then pipelined to the prison system.

At the time I asked questions, the enhanceR2P team were all Pākehā academics. When I challenged them about having “no Māori at the table,” they vehemently denied the research was monocultural but rather it was “open” and “collaboarative.” Shortly, after they added the Māori Chair of the SWRB to their team. But as I said at the time, adding a nice Māori does not make the research “bicultural” or Māori inclusive or even friendly. Tokenism is still only littlebitism.

This week I got an email from the Social Work Registration Board (SWRB) stating that they support the enhanceR2P project and were sending the project’s online surveys to all registered social workers. Of course they support it, the SWRB Chair sits on the project team!

As a fee paying registered social worker who is Māori, I DO NOT SUPPORT this research! Even the Wananga refused to participate in it because they did not want to just hand over their teaching knowledge to Pākehā centred research. And why should they when they were not invited to be a part of the inception of the research/terms of reference, only the four involved Universities. It’s the same tiko as Universities calling themselves Wananga (when they are far from qualified to do so) and kicking up a stink when Wananga go to call themselves Universities.

Looking at the enhance2RP online surveys, nothing appears to have improved over the two years in terms of including Māori and exploring how institutional racism insicial work impacts them. Example, putting into your findings the use of “Te Reo Māori terms and terms from Pacific languages” does not reflect their “inclusiveness” into the project. Again it is veenering us on and boxing us to tick.

And the Project Advisory Group make up; just more social work elitsim that support the status quo. Same with the project’s Māori and Pacifica stakeholders groups that do not appear to have influenced the research methodology used. And all the Human Ethics approval in the world means nothing when it excludes approaches that invite essential Māori knowledge currently missing from social work education.

Here are just a few examples from the online surveys[1] that broadcast how this project will benefit indigenous NZs (about as much as a bicycle will Nemo):

  • No where in the surveys or online project information is Te Titriti o Waitangi referred to, or bicultual pracitce or indeed institutional racism that plagues social work. Yet “cultural sensitivity” (a term that went out with the Ark) gets to feature, but NOT “racism sensitivity.”
  • Question 19, in Survey 1 – the example of statutory social work given is, “removing a child.” Could you not use another example? Because according to the stats it is Māori under 5s that are the most increasing client group for uplifts whilst non-Maori are decreasing. If you as a team had a mind for how harmful cultural genocide is to Māori, you might have used some discretion here.
  • Māori and Pacifica are still, “othered” add-ons, veneered to your project. See examples, question 23 and 35, Māori and Pacifica are boxed as “service users groups” and under “specialist knowledge held by social workers.” Where is the box for Pākehā (who are also a culture) and if you were as “collaborative” and “inclusive” as you espouse your team to be, then I wouldn’t need to be pointing this out.
  • Under the “Supervision” section in your surveys, there is a question that refers to “cultural and kaupapa Māori supervison” as being “choices” and “are they helpful to social workers.” Once again ‘add-ons’ because the white-stream is the norm. I’d argue that Kaitiakitanga, or bicultural professional supervison needs to be a requirement for all social workers working with Māori, particularly those working in MCOT, where our babies are prolifically uplifted for being “vulnerable” (poor, brown and powerless).
  • Question 72 where “new social work graduates have mentioned certain topics they say they wished they knew a lot more about” your survey lists “Working with Māori” in the same column as, “dealing with hostility, aggression or conflict, assessing risk, good record-keeping, acquiring advanced and specialist skills and knowledge qualifications, the evidence base for your area of social work practice – what works” and more…This is very telling!

Now more than ever, social work needs to wake up to it’s racial targeting of Māori; not pretend it’s not happening so as not to offend white-fragility that permeates the profession. We need to work collectively on all research that has the potential to effectively challenge white-is-right myths. Such as MVCOT’s insistence on being a ground breaking model for addressing Māori over-representation and doing so whilst ignoring it’s rife institutional racism.

Th enhancer2p research is about as arrogant as any white streamed research could possibly be and the SWRB supports it! Challenge the status quo of non-Māori deciding what IS Māori and what’s BEST for Māori. Unlearn the lies and so too the lie that Academic knowledge makes one an ‘expert’. Pffftttt, lived-experience and indigenous knowledge, old and new is available to us all and that is where the real solutions are. What’s the point in having a voice if you havent got the courage to use it. Be a spanner for whānau, not a cog for the State!

Video of original challenge to the project team:

Questioning my right to even call myself a social worker

Guest blog by Annie Joass.

Tena koutou katoa,

Ko Longman Hill te maunga

Ko River Deveron te awa

Ko Monowai te waka

Ko Joass te hapu

Ko McDuff te iwi

Ko Shirley Bradley toku whaea

Ko Barry Bradley toku matua

Ko Paora Moyle toku hoa rangatira

Ko Annie Joass toku ingoa

No reira, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa

I’m a big believer in reflective practice; it keeps us alert, aware and accountable if only to ourselves. In that vein, this piece of writing is nothing more than a reflection on my place in social work in Aotearoa in 2017. I’m compelled to write it because being a social worker of 20 years plus hasn’t led me to a place of confidence or faith in my own capability to work with people. It’s actually led me to a place of deep uncertainty, to questioning my right to call myself a ‘social worker.’ Also to the uncomfortable feeling that I don’t belong in a profession, which is in my opinion, doing more to impose and perpetuate oppression and structural racism, than not.

Currently I work across two organisations. One is charged with the education / training of social work students and the other is a provider of social work services. Our client group in both institutions is predominantly socially and financially disadvantaged people, mostly tangata whenua. Whilst this has always been a source of tension for me because my people and I have personally benefited from the systemic, violent oppression of the very people I am professing to be able to help. (I know this is not news to anyone)…but what is really getting stuck in my craw is that now more than ever, I am being asked to work within a system of continued structural oppression that is getting tighter, meaner and leaner. Here’s how I see it playing out.

Firstly, in my role as an educator I am required by my organisation to be a paid up member of the Social Work Registration Board (soon to be mandatory). The Social Work Registration Board is the government body that holds statutory responsibility for ensuring professional standards within social work. I and many other Social Workers pay this government agency money and here’s what they do with it. They make decisions about the social work qualification framework, which are discriminatory, and barrier building against Mᾱori and financially disadvantaged students accessing social work education. Whether intended or not, the consequences are far reaching and will have a profound impact on the profession.

The insistence of the Social Work Registration Board that all social work qualifications must be gained via a 4 year degree, instead of a 3 year degree or even a 2 year diploma, has effectively locked out an entire cohort of students who can’t afford to study for 4 years. In particular students over 40 who now only qualify for 3 years full time student allowance supported study. This affects many more Mᾱori than non-Mᾱori who are far more likely to have been excluded or dis-advantaged by New Zealand’s inherently euro-centric education system. Many of these students have returned to education later in life and more often than not require or are being directed to some form of pre-degree tertiary skills course. The result is 6 to 12 months of their 36 months funding is used with some students facing the choice of self-funding up to 2 years of their social work education now. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the demographic most likely to be affected by this disastrous combination of policy.

This leads me to the actual registration process itself where the next hurdle has been erected. I wouldn’t recommend trying to be social worker these days if you have criminal convictions or a vulnerable background (history with the department, such as a former state ward). Students with previous convictions are struggling to get a straight answer out of the Social Work Registration Board before they engage in study and are told each application will be reviewed on its merits at the time of application, which is now at the end of a very expensive 4 year degree. Who are most affected most by this? Mᾱori. We have overwhelming evidence that the judicial system in this country is at its core biased against Mᾱori, we know that Mᾱori are far more likely to be arrested than non-Mᾱori for the same offense, we know that Mᾱori are far more likely to be convicted than non-Mᾱori for the same or similar offense and we also know that many of the best social workers are those with lived-experience of the issues our clients are dealing with.

“From 2010-2014, police and justice figures show Maori made up 51 per cent of prison sentences, 40 per cent of prosecutions and convictions. And yet, over the same period, Maori made up only 30 per cent of those who received pre-charge warnings – in other words, were let off – compared to 57 per cent of Påkehå. Of those who got to court and were offered diversion – a system which enables offenders to escape a record – Måori made up only 20 per cent. In other words, if you’re caught with cannabis and you’re Påkehå, you’re more likely to receive a pre-charge warning or get diversion. If you’re Måori, you’re more likely to be convicted and sent to jail.”–our-law-is-not-colourblind

Ok, let’s assume you do manage to get registered in spite of some of these things. The bar now appears to be set higher again if you want to work with MSD as part of the re-structure to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children actively weeding out staff with a vulnerable background and replacing experienced New Zealand social workers with Canadian, British or South African imports. Then add into this mix the stringent new Vulnerable Children’s Act vetting policy. Basically, if you’ve ever ‘f’ed up, no matter the circumstances or length of time passed since, you’re out.

Finally, if you are one of the lucky few that qualify to become a registered social worker, here’s the kicker; you can’t un-register. So if you can’t find a position as a social worker and have to work in a lower paid role such as a support worker, you still have to pay your APC of $380 per annum or run the risk of being investigated (in case you are using any of your social work skills and knowledge in your low paid job.) And should you find yourself the subject of such an investigation there’s a good chance you will also find yourself named and shamed in the Social Work Registration Board newsletter. I have had the rationale for this explained to me in this way “we can’t allow NGO’s to employ someone for their social work skills and refuse to pay for their registration”. Those naughty, greedy NGO’s, they’re always on the take aren’t they. Please follow the link below to the example downloaded from the SWRB Website.


But seriously, what’s the up-shot of all of this? Fewer Måori Social Workers eligible to train and / or practice. And if we think back to what the ground-breaking report Puao Te Ata tu (1988) had to say on the largely white-streamed department, it gives us insight into the impact policy like this is going to have some 40 years later.

“The most insidious and destructive form of racism, though, is institutional racism. It is the outcome of monocultural institutions, which simply ignore and freeze out the cultures of those who do not belong to the majority. National structures are evolved which are rooted in the values, systems and viewpoints of one culture only. Participation by minorities is conditional on their subjugating their own values and systems to those of “the system” of the power culture.”

“One of the major criticisms of the Department concerned the numbers of Maori people employed. People believed that more Maori people, particularly mature people, well grounded in both Maori and Pakeha lifestyles were needed in both the front line and as decision makers. Maori staff often complained that they were used as window dressing and expected to share the knowledge of their culture whenever required without having this knowledge recognized as a work-related skill.”

“Because of the insistence on academic qualifications for many positions in the Department, Maori people saw this as effectively locking the gate against Maori applicants. People asked for qualifications to be interpreted broadly. Life experience, fluency in Maori language and ability to relate to another cultural group should be qualifications for certain positions. These skills should be recognized in classification, salary and grading. “

The question I have then is this? Do we really think that making social work education longer, more expensive and less accessible, in addition to increasingly tighter restrictions around who will meet the requirements for registration, is going to enhance the integrity of our profession?

In thinking about my other role as a frontline social worker I find I feel even more confused. My role involves working with women who are vulnerable, pregnant or have small children who are struggling with addiction and mental illness. Many of these women will be impacted by the multi-generational trauma associated with colonisation. They will be impacted by poverty, lack of meaningful opportunity, lack of participation in the mainstream “legitimate” capitalist culture of non-Måori. It will be my job to support these women to make change in their lives, so that hopefully the “cycle” will end their and their babies will grow up loved, cared for and happy. Good goal to have.

So how does this get achieved? Well, ideally being able to work systemically, having the time and space to work with the multi-faceted issues impacting the woman, her whanau, hapu and iwi if necessary. Having the time to understand and harness the strengths within the whanau to make lasting change. But here’s why I’m afraid that won’t work; the Ministry of Vulnerable Children.

I would like to highlight the two most problematic areas for those of us who want to ensure that tamariki Måori aren’t transacted through the system in greater numbers than ever.

The removal of the “whanau first” provision from the Act means that Social Workers are no longer compelled by the Act to seek placement within whånau, hapu or iwi (although I have been reassured that it’s “encouraged” I am not encouraged). This may seem subtle but it is not when it is coupled with the addition of an amendment, which states that “if a child is removed from the care of the whanau, then permanency within a loving stable home should be achieved at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Reflect for a moment on the fact that the Ministry is overwhelmingly staffed by Påkehå and Tau iwi social workers who even if they do understand the intrinsic importance of whakapapa to a Måori child, may not have the skills to do this (remembering that Måori Social Workers are not going to be coming through in greater but smaller numbers). Combine this with the new preference for hiring Canadian, English and South African Social Workers in the Ministry, who may or may not be skilled social workers, but I seriously doubt are competent and capable whakapapa chasers. This work takes time, it requires a deep appreciation of the importance of whakapapa within te ao Måori, and it is information given and received only in the presence of trust.

Let’s say that you are working with a Mum who hasn’t managed to make adequate changes in her life before baby comes along. And that through good relationship building and focusing on strengths within the whånau, you have found a whånau member who is willing and able to love and care for baby in the interim. This whånau member must be fully cognizant of the fact that they will be thoroughly vetted, police checked, and monitored if they are to receive any financial resources for the care of that baby through the Ministry. Any previous convictions are looked at; a raft of information is gathered (which now also can be shared with the new data sharing requirements of the Act about to come into law). And not only is the whånau member vetted but their mates are too. Anyone who will visit the house regularly. I am genuine when I ask this question. Who would seriously want this level of intrusion in their lives? I would think twice about it whether I had anything to “hide” or not.

The risk of not finding suitable kin-placement however is now amplified with the clearly stated intent within the amendment of the Act which relates to achieving permanency within a loving stable home at the earliest possible opportunity. This equates to fast-tracking children to permanency. It isn’t stated implicitly in the Act what these timeframes will be exactly but it is underpinned by the belief that a permanent loving home is better for a child than temporary care regardless of whether the home is kin or not. Now someone cynical might construe this as being driven by fiscal goals rather than what is best for the child because when permanency is achieved, financial contributions for the child’s care from the State ends. I have been told by Ministry workers that the guidelines are 6 months for a baby and 12 months for an older child. Also when permanency is achieved that is the end of any hope that the child will ever return to the care of their mother.

So when I think about the kinds of young women I will be working with, women with multiple, complex issues affecting their ability to be a stable, loving parent at that time and knowing that making real and lasting change takes time because overcoming addiction, trauma and abuse is not something that happens overnight. It could take Mum 6 months to a few years to get her life back on track. But under the new amendments her chances of being able to get baby back at the end of it are nil if permanency has been achieved. Unless she gets her shit sorted within a prescribed timeframe she will never get to be a mother to her own child.

This is the space we now have to work in between. And it’s going to be tight, my prediction is at times it’s going to feel like we just have a finger in the dyke. Holding back the wall of harm, which feels like a State determined to punish women, and babies who only need time, resources and support. What does that do to her? What does it do to the child? The whånau, hapu and iwi? It perpetuates and reinforces the myth that Måori are intrinsically in-capable parents, it also denies the impact of historical trauma and it re-traumatises another generation. The State has become the abuser.

At a personal level I know exactly what it does. I am adopted, both of my children came into my care via the Ministry and my partner grew up in state care. I have lived with the loss, the complexity and the hurt of not knowing anyone you look like, not knowing why you do the things you do, where your mannerisms came from. I’ve seen it in my girls even when their connection to their birthparents was retained; it is still not the same. When whakapapa is severed it damages your physical and mental health at a primal level and it’s a long road back to strong sense of self from there, more often than not via addiction, incarceration and mental health issues.

So my hope is that as a team of social workers we can hold the space. That we can work in a way where risk to baby is not denied but openly discussed and managed. Where alternate care within whanau, hapu and iwi is recognised as being best for baby (if baby really can’t be with mum) but also resourced accordingly and with open-ness and trust, and where potential whanau carers are not afraid to put their hands up. Where Mum could have the time and space to address the root cause of her pain, to heal, to grow, to learn and where eventually she becomes a leader and mentor to other Mums. Where there is always hope for tamariki Måori to return fully to their birthright, their whakapapa, their true home.

In writing about and discussing these racist, oppressive policies with every social worker, politician and student whom I come into contact with, I’ve realised that co-mingling with my self-doubt and confusion is a small but growing sense, that maybe being a dog with a bone, someone who won’t shut up or just live with it, is in fact an OK place to be. Maybe I am meant to be here after all.

Yeah, fuck it. I’m not going anywhere. Too much to do!

By Annie Joass


It sticks like a knife in our collective guts

Every time Anne Tolley and Bill English talk about the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, or oppose an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care, it sticks like a knife in my guts.

I am Ngāti Porou through my mother, and I’m Weira — Welsh — through my father. After spending 14 years in state care, and 25 years in social work, I consider myself an expert on what it is truly like for a child with Māori whakapapa to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them.

I was five when I was taken into state care, and 18 when I was finally able to escape it. My mother, miserable and unwell, had left us, for her own survival as well as ours, to escape my father’s violence. She was deemed to have “abandoned her children”, and so my father was awarded legal custody of us.

He then applied to Social Welfare to have us temporarily placed in its care. On my fifth birthday, he took me and my two brothers (my older sister was placed with other caregivers) to a children’s home, and left, promising to be back for us soon. I waited every day for weeks and months after that, but it would be many years before I saw him again.

Over the years, other children came and went, but my siblings and I stayed in those homes. To everyone who came to visit and view the “underprivileged” children, we looked well adjusted and cared for.

But our experience contradicted appearances and we suffered things children are not supposed to: psychological, sexual, and other physical abuse over many years. It still makes me sick to say that.

I didn’t bear it silently. I fought to protect my brothers and me from the abuse we experienced from adults charged with our care. I spoke out at every opportunity. But I was never believed. I was labelled a troublemaker and my complaints were ignored. I still suffer from the guilt of not being able to do more to protect my brothers.

It was a difficult and lonely navigation for us. The perpetual emptiness was a feeling we all experienced. As property of the state, the effects of separation and abuse manifested in many ways. Some were immediate and obvious: the disruptive behaviour. Bed-wetting. And some were repressed and long term: the inability to form trusting and lasting relationships with others — a common experience for those who’ve been in state care.

We are survivors, although none of us came through that experience unscathed. Even after I left state care, the trauma followed me. For many years, I tried to fill the emptiness with drugs and alcohol, and toxic relationships.

But, as my brother Tipene said to me: “Our stories have to be told. How would people know what it’s like for a child to go through state-imposed trauma unless we all tell our story?”

There are still thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. And too many of them are Māori. According to the Children’s Commissioner, Māori make up 61 percent of all kids in state care and 71 percent of the total in youth justice residences.

If that isn’t institutional racism, what is?

Many of us squirmed at the naming of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki — at the tacking on of a bit of Māori with no mind of how ignorant it is to put “vulnerable” and “wellbeing” together in the same title.

One cancels out the other, just as “automatic uplift” cancels out our tamariki.

The “vulnerable”, however, fits like a glove when we consider the extent of historical state abuses on tamariki who continue to be removed in great numbers from their whānau and placed with non-kin.

As I’m writing this, friends and followers of my activism are high-fiving me on the government’s backtracking on the removal of whānau-first placement protections for tamariki in the proposed Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) bill.

The bill is part of the government’s overhaul of Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

The current law gives priority to placing a child with a member of their whānau, or wider hapū, or iwi.

But the new bill, as it stands, removes that priority and instead puts the emphasis on the child’s safety.

After fierce opposition from many Māori, including the Māori Party and Tariana Turia, Anne Tolley said last week that she was prepared to reconsider the wording of the bill.

But I don’t believe there’ll be much of a backtrack at all. As Anne Tolley told the Stuff website, she won’t be budging on ensuring child safety is the single most important priority.

Her justification all along has been that Māori children are more vulnerable than non-Maori when returned to their whānau because they are at high risk of being re-abused.

But what she failed to mention is that this was occurring most often as a result of the dump-and-run, patch-and-dispatch practices by social workers who don’t value the needs of Māori children as highly as non-Maori.

What’s been happening is that tamariki and rangatahi in “the too-hard-basket”— those deemed high need, difficult to place, or “runners” — were returned home before it was safe, and often without safety plans in place.

Victoria University criminologist Elizabeth Stanley talks at length in her book The Road to Hell, about how Māori children were uplifted at 4–5 times the rate of non-Māori — not just for abuse and neglect but also for just being Māori.

As she writes:

“Child welfare officers encouraged the public, teachers and religious leaders in delinquency spotting. And complaints regularly saw the very presence of Māori children to be the problem. In their referrals “concerned” citizens objected to Māori because they were Māori and displayed an astonishing antagonism towards them. Māori children steadily came to notice for their potential delinquency, and this targeting was the starting point for the over representation of Māori within institutions.”

It is overwhelmingly Māori children who are returned to unsafe homes so that social workers can get their caseloads under control. It is not unconscious bias but racial bias that makes a senior manager target Māori, allocate and then de-allocate cases to get it off the waiting list and without actually doing the work of assessment and investigation.

I have witnessed all of this as a CYF social worker. And when you challenge this, it is denied, buried and you become a “troublemaker”.

And where do we put all these uplifted children? Possible whānau placements are thwarted by social workers who choose not to undertake whakapapa searches (as happened with me and my siblings).

Or because willing whānau who turn up at an FGC (family group conference) can’t be used immediately, or at all, because all members having contact with a household have to be investigated and police-checked before they can be used.

This is why children are placed with unapproved and unsafe caregivers, or in motels with Armourguard minders, or in police cells for days on end — or returned to unsafe homes only to come through the CYF door again.

Anne Tolley has ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead her ministry consults and engages with and privileges organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation.

It’s the same old policies of propping up white-is-right foster care organisations, but failing to support parents and whānau as the first and fundamental carers.

Bill English, interviewed on The Hui, denied again the need for an inquiry into the state’s epic abuse of children in care. What this says to survivors is: “It didn’t happen.” Or “You weren’t beaten or raped that badly”.

It sticks like a knife in our collective guts. And while it’s fantastic that Susan Devoy and others are calling for the inquiry, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Māori have been calling out state abuse of our mokopuna for decades. For example, in the landmark Puao-te-Ata-tureport in 1988.

Bill English and Anne Tolley keep referring to April 1 when the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will kick in and miraculously make children safe. That’s like saying cigarettes are safe because Big Tobacco says it is.

Āe, we absolutely need an inquiry to know the scale of the state’s historical abuse on children. Without it, the cogs in the machine keep churning, trucking and trafficking.

(Credit to E-Tangata where this peice first featured, March 2017: )

Paora invites you to contact her at:

ON THE BACKS OF OUR MOKOPUNA: Presentation for #Handsoffourtamariki

I hail from Ngati Porou through my mother and Weira through my father. However I did not grow up with my parents, I was raised in state care. So after 14 years of it, and 25 years in social work I consider myself an expert, on what it is truly like for a child with whakapapa, to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them. I had to fight to protect myself and my bothers from the abuse we experienced by adults charged with our care. Which meant that I whistle-blew every opportunity but it fell on deaf ears. I still whistle-blow today because of the thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. Where as, all of us here do. We are their voice. (Unedited unreferenced notes).

As I look around the room I acknowledge the many gathered here, both seen and unseen. And that’s a really powerful concept to be aware of and what all social work needs to be based upon. The realisation that child is not born into this world without celestial connection direct to atua/tipuna. That is whakapapa and life and life is the point of everything. To sever that connection is to kill that’s child light potential. You have no right to do that, not EVER! Certainly not the NZ state.

I will speak to a selection of key issues about proposed changes to our child protection law, in particular the removal of priority tamariki placement protections. In the Bill we are told in an amended (Section 5) that when making a decision about a child or a young person who is Māori – The mana and wellbeing of the child will be protected whilst recognising the whakapapa and whanaungatanga responsibilities of their whānau, hapū and iwi; who can participate in those decisions…yeah ok maybe. A little later on in the Principles section, section 13, we are told that where a child is at risk of being removed from their whānau, that their whānau, hapū, iwi should be assisted to enable them to provide a safe, stable and loving home in accordance with whakapapa and whānaungatanga (unless it is unreasonable or impracticable in the circumstances). But who is going to know what these essential concepts mean, when it comes to frontline decision making, by mostly colonised/monocultural social workers?

What the qualifiers are saying is, that it’s ok for you to practice your ‘Māori stuff’ (tīkanga) as long as it’s within the law, a white-is-best law that defines the best interests of a Māori child. The “unreasonable and impracticable” are the ‘get out’ clauses. So if, a social worker deems it too hard basket, unsafe or doesn’t want to do the whakapapa search, they can decide not to return that child to whānau and place them with non-kin. “When did we decide that the future of our mokopuna should be determined with half hearted expression? (Tariana Turia, Iwi leaders Forum,2017). The moment we all pati pati round the garden, we diminish our collective mana and recovery.

One of the first red flags for me with the closing of CYF was the naming of Ministry of Vulnerable Children – Oranga Tamariki, tacking on a bit of Māori and with no mind of how ignorant it is to put, vulnerable and wellbeing together in the same title. One cancels out the other, like automatic uplift cancels out our tamariki. The ‘vulnerable’ however fits like a glove when we consider the extent of state violence upon tamariki, who continue to be removed in prolific numbers from their whānau and placed with non-kin. On selling our children to private owners, like we see happening to the last of our land and the law is changed so that there is no comeback for us. Māori are NOT vulnerable; it is the state that defines Māori as vulnerable, needing to be saved from themselves and fixed. It is this rhetoric that maintains the social work industry.

The new Ministry, with a re-furbished (Māorified) Scottish import of a child care model not social work model. And if you are in the process of being vetted to transfer from CYF to the new Ministry you will be aware of the clause in the VCA that states of you come from a “vulnerable” background you may not be approved as fit to work directly with children. The “unfit” is discretionary and whilst intended to protect children what it’s doing is vetting out Māori social workers in favour of white UK/Canadian imports. Another way of whitening the white-stream, and purifying the new model. Workers are being offered a primary, secondary (support role/non child contact) or offered exit packages, and concientised social workers threatened with dismissal if the comment publicly about the removal of tamariki placement protections.

Plus, law changes that will allow the CE to delegate the ability for non-social workers to remove children from their homes. For example, by doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, philanthropists who make the decision and Armourguard to do the lifting. Automatic up-lift and without the need to go through Court, in the same way 2 young Māori boys were uplifted from their whānau and placed by CYF senior staff with John Keys friends. All that is needed is a belief a child will at some point be in danger from their whānau, based on discretionary and predictive risk modeling information. We’ve already seen this occurred via the 90’s Risk Estimation System and the recent Tuituia Assessment Framework. It is legalised and profitable child trafficking! Nothing less.

The Minister continues to use the rhetoric that, Māori children returned to their whānau are at high risk of being re-abused. This is based on a weak, unpublished 2010 report, that when looking at the figures, has no credible intelligent analysis supporting it. It excludes factors such as biased, dump and run, patch and dispatch practice by social workers that are pressured to get their caseloads under control. So tamariki and rangatahi, particularly those deemed high needs, and/or difficult to place, are returned home before it’s safe to be. Of course they come round through the CYF door again. That’s what jacks the stats up. This report is used to justify the need for the removal of our children from their whānau. All the while the Minister denies clear evidence that the current system is highly abusive of Māori children, and that tamariki continue to experience serious acts of physical and sexual abuse whilst in state care. We know this from the burying of a 2011 HRC report and the shelving of the 2015 Confidential Listening and Assistance Service report, which mostly confirms what I talk about in terms of racist and incompetent statutory social work practice. Take a look at them.

And where do we put all these uplifted children? There are not enough placements for them at the moment. Possible whānau placements are thwarted, by social workers that choose not to undertake whakapapa searches. Or where willing whānau who turn up at an FGC can’t not be used immediately, or at all, because all members having contact with a household, have to be investigated and police checked before they can be used.  And this is why children are placed with unapproved and unsafe caregivers, or in Motels with Armourguard minders and in Police cells for days on end, or returned to unsafe homes. The Minister appears to have ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead consulting/engaging with and privileging organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation. It’s the same old mistakes again, policies of propping up foster care organisations, but failing to support parents and whānau as the first and fundamental carers.

And the notion that we could be returning to group homes like Epuni and Kingslea, Kohitere and Allendale. We are hearing about YP in residences who are forcibly restrained and illegally held in solitary as punishment. We have a ‘them and us – got to win’ mentality running these places. And whoops “sorry we didn’t know it was illegal” response. “From the 1950s to the 1980s, the New Zealand government took more than 100,000 children and placed them under state care in residential facilities. These children faced abysmal conditions, limited education and social isolation. For Māori these places were the equivalent of the Canadian and Australian residential schools, stolen generations. Children endured physical, sexual and psychological violence, as well as secure cells, knock-out sedatives and electro-shock therapy” (Stanley, 2016). I know because my bother was one of them at 9 years old and I couldn’t protect him from it. A slight little boy with blonde hair and big blue eyes, an angelic laughing child when he went in and a shell when he came out. It’s haunting and not something you ever get over.

The New Zealand government has never apologised for its historical child abuse and continues to fail in their duty of care to children, in their obligations to te Tiriti o Waitangi, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There are two relevant statements in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which New Zealand is a signatory. Firstly, the declaration recognises “the right of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child.” Secondly, the declaration recognises “the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.” NZ has been doing that since forced urbanisation.

Other critical issues we don’t talk about in social work, is the pipeline relationship between child protection, police and the judiciary. Corrupt ‘us and them’ power dynamics occurring in the Family Court, that general public does not hear about. Institutional racism is rife across all the ministries and some of the worst biased practice is aimed at women, and Māori and if you are both, you get a double dose. Half to two-thirds of the notifications CYF receive are through Police resulting from family violence incidents. Māori women talked to me about being “microscopically scrutinised” in every aspect of her life because 1. she is Māori and 2. in a violent relationship. This is separate from whether she is actually a fit parent or not. We are seeing mothers having their babies uplifted from the birthing table and whilst still on the breast. A 100 babies from the whakapapa per year is pure genocide when you are only 15% of the population (Moyle, 2015: see Academia Edu). And we’ve heard about the practice of changing the ethnicity and the name of the child to suit whom ever the state decides that child should go to. This according to my research with whānau is still happening. Have you ever wondered why, truly why CYF are continually sited for their poor recording of ethnicity and other stats on Māori children? If you want the true stats you have to apply for them under the Official Information Act.

Also we hear about corrupt use of ‘place or safety warrants’ to uplift children, dodgy paperwork not approved by the Court, and Lawyers who won’t take on a women’s fight, because they don’t want to take on the state. This is prolific. Women are forced to have protections orders granted or their kids will be uplifted, or into ‘top tariff’ interventions where they have no choice but to take on the state through ex-parte hearings to fight for the custody of their babies. And the lack of legal aid funding causes women to drop legal action, or they represent themselves in family violence cases. Where they a put an unborn register because they are hapu again and they’re told that their unborn will also, be uplifted. It forces women and children to not seek the help they might need. The number one fear whānau have of the state since the 50s is, that their children will be stolen from them. This is state abuse and terrorism.

There are cases where social workers are known to perjure themselves to cover their racial targeting of Māori. Practitioners who might never say it to your face, that they believe our babies are better off with non-Māori. Where risk assessments, plans and reports are weighted against whānau, in favour of the state. Take for example the Tuituia assessment framework, more often used to justify a social workers decision to remove a child, rather than assess the strengths of a whānau. Where the practice of, predetermining the FGC in favour of removal, has become normalised. Some of our own Iwi organisations are now part of the web and the ngakau is sacrificed to maintain incomes. Where rūnanga are centred on capitalist profit-focused ideals and this overrides our kids in care. Twice iwi fought the Crown in Court but not once over our mokopuna. What is a fish without mokopuna? The whole care and protection industry rides on the backs of these babies.

Another serious issue is, how and what, we are teaching social workers. Many white-steam social work training programmes, are not equipping students with ‘actual’ competence to work with Māori. The core focus of social work training in Aotearoa is Western derived monocultural social work knowledge, so that practitioners are able to meet international requirements. What about NZ requirements? When we don’t require social workers to think outside their cultural context. If we do not require social workers to consider whakapapa and cultural connection, most will not. If we make our law colour-blind, in practice it will be white, assimilationist, colonising. And it will hurt children. Institutional racism, genocide and white supremacy, are not terms, students are encouraged to use, let alone have conversations about. Nor are we covering Māori principles and practices of healing and collective wellbeing, much less anti-oppressive knowledge that aligns with decolonising social work. Māori need their own body and process to approve social workers as competent to work with Māori. It is for Māori to determine, who are competent to work with our people.

Competent practice has moved into child centered practice which for Māori equates to a child alone and vulnerable. The Children’s Commissioner (2016) said we don’t even know what ‘child centred’ practice is. The Children’s Commissioner in 2015 also said that there was no evidence that children in state care were any safer than they were in the families they were removed from. The KEY issue here is where’s New Zealand’s accountability for the continued state violence on children? Where do our people go to be heard when the uplift of children has been unwarranted and those children not returned? Most often a family’s or a mother’s cries fall on deaf ears and their complaints buried in a mountain of corrupt bureaucracy and denial. Where is the Independent Complaints Authority that whānau and community groups have been demanding for decades? Where is the Royal Commission? New Zealand is shamefully one of the only commonwealth countries that have never had an independent investigation into historical institutional child abuse. Most of the NZ public remains blissfully unaware of the extent of horrendous child abuse that has occurred since the 1950s. Yes and like colonisation, it is still happening.

To protect children and undo the damage that the NZ state has inflicted on whānau, the enduring solution is to take that power from the state, and give decision making, resources and responsibility to appropriate roopu, communities, hapū, iwi. The state’s task then becomes supporting roopu to prepare for that responsibility. Our task is to work out how to make it happen.

So what can you begin to do? Removing tamariki placement protections from the Act is a direct attack on whakapapa, which was done by stealth and why we are only catching up with it now. Go to the Offical site or the Greens site and lodge your protest. Submission dates have been extended till 3 March. And if any of you are unsure how whakapapa connection plays an integral place in the wellbeing of children please be here when Annie and I present later on the “Essentialness of Whakapapa in Social Work” and knowing whom you are before you work with our people.

Finally, to be silent in the face of such abuse means that we are a part of the problem. War is when your Govt tells you who the enemy is (who to blame), a revolution is when you figure it out for yourself.

Be a Spanner for Whānau Not a Cog for the State.

Mauri ora

See Paora at

Unpacking the biggest lie ever told: The conversion of cultural disorientation into action

A GUEST BLOG from ANNIE JOASS (feedback welcome :))

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko Longman Hill te maunga
Ko River Deveron te awa
Ko Monowai te waka
Ko Joass te hapu
Ko McDuff te iwi
Ko Shirley Bradley tōku whaea
Ko Barry Bradley tōku matua
Ko Paora Crawford-Moyle tōku hoa rangatira
Ko Annie Joass tōku ingoa

Nō reira tēnā kouto, tēnā tatou katoa

My name is Annie Joass, the Joass’s are a subtribe of the McDuff clan from the area of Banff / Mc Duff. These twin fishing villages are in North Aberdeen Scotland, separated by the River Deveron. My castle is Duff House. My ancestors arrived in Aotearoa NZ in 1893 aboard the Monowai via New South Wales. They settled in the harbour side village of Onerahi, Whangarei and lived and worked as fishermen, miners, grave diggers,  whatever work they could find to  make to a living. They married tangata whenua and other immigrants and had huge families. My great grandmother ran a ‘respectable’ boarding house in Whangarei working long, hard days in addition to raising many children and my grandfather worked on Limestone Island. My great Uncle made his living off Terenga paraoa, fishing with handmade nets and selling his catch to locals. I’m proud of my heritage, my whānau are mostly gentle, humble, flawed yet loving human beings.

I grew up in the lower socio economic suburb of Whangarei called Tikipunga. The majority of my neighbours and friends were Māori. I experienced these whānau as kind, generous and hard working. In contrast growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, my home was often chaotic and unsafe. I found refuge in the homes of my neighbours and friends, always fed and safe. When my Mum left my father and was struggling to put food on the table one of these whanau took me on holiday to Tamaki makaurau with them and bought me a new pair of shoes to wear to school.

My father was unfortunately very much a product of his generation and not a terribly nice person to be honest. He was racist.  Our neighbours and friends were classified as either “good Māoris” or “bad Māoris”. Our own relatives of course were “good ones”. His criteria for the good ones were that they lived like us (the irony is not lost on me). The bad ones were those who didn’t, those still connected to culture and practicing tikanga. Even though this didn’t match my experience of my neighbours and friends, being a child I was unable to deflect the influence of my fathers thinking. I still absorbed it.

I doubt that any Pākehā child growing up in the 70’s in Aotearoa didn’t. Portrayals of “bad Māori’s” were all over the media, depicted as trouble makers, activists and criminals, images of Bastion Point on the news every night, cameras focused only on Maori anger, never the peaceful protestor, the academics, the lawyers, or the non-Māori supporters. The “good ones” of course were the Morrison’s, Buddy Walters, Billy T James and Kiri Te Kanawa. They entertained us and didn’t rock the boat.

I have had to be brutally honest about what I was raised with, both the good and the bad because it’s not until we understand where our racism begins can we start to unpick it, and it’s a slow often painful process not unlike grief. When we first start to look at it, all we can do is acknowledge it is real and that needs dealing with. This in itself is not enough but it’s the starting point. I liken it to cutting out a cancer, we first have to diagnose it and understand it’s pathology before we can begin treatment.

The beginning of my unravelling was as a student of Social Work some 22 years ago. Looking back now I realise how crippled by denial and fear I was then, very resistant to acknowledging my white privilege. I honestly believed that because I loved Māori and was related to Māori that I was not racist and whilst I was never overtly racist to anyone I grossly under-estimated the depth and tenacity of my conditioning.

I was afraid of it because I knew it would reflect back to me thoughts and behaviour I would be ashamed of and more importantly have to change. It felt too hard, did it mean I had to be ashamed of the very skin I lived in? Did it mean I would have to personally pay somehow for the sins of my people? Mostly though I just didn’t want to see this aspect of myself or my family whom I knew to be a kind, loving people, mostly. But as challenging and painful as it was, I know now that this is the most important work I have ever done. It is personal, spiritual, political, healing and it never stops.

I recall as a student, that many of my Pākehā and tau iwi cohort also struggled with this and ultimately most were unwilling to do anything but skim the service, write what they had to just to pass (not unlike what most social workers still do when applying for registration with the Social Work Registration Board, write a couple of case studies proving yourself to be culturally competent, assessed by mostly non-Māori assessors)

I know this to be so of my fellow Pākehā students because it was overtly expressed when Māori were not present. Advising each other to “just write about whanaungatanga, aroha, manaakitanga…”, questioning why attendance at the noho was compulsory, supporting each other to “just get through it”. To challenge this rhetoric as a Pākehā was perceived as being a traitor to my own “side”. I did anyway which led to losing some friends and being labelled as a “wannabe”.

These people and many more are still working with Māori without ever having done the real work to ensure their entrenched conscious and unconscious bias is not doing harm. Let’s be clear about this, if Tau Iwi or Pākehā practitioners enter the field without doing this work, we will do harm. All of the Māori models, karakia, kia ora’s and waiata in the world won’t prevent it. In the same way a woman instantly recognises a man who has entrenched gender bias no matter how hidden, people of colour recognise racism. This causes harm.

The second part of my unravelling was to wake up to and acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of white privilege. This was a hard one for me because I wore my own hardship like a badge. I thought that a childhood of poverty, chaos and abuse gave me a get out of jail free card somehow. As if I understood all oppression through my own experience of the classism, addiction and mental illness my own family had experienced.

My education around this however began when my Ngāpuhi partner at the time was following me home in her car one evening. We came to a check-point, my car was unwarranted and yet the constable was lovely to me, I was smiled at, spoken to nicely, told to get the warrant as soon as possible and waved on. My partner was not treated in the same way. She was asked to step out of her legal car, breathalysed, her license and ownership of the vehicle checked, and her car was illegally searched.

I recognised in that moment what white privilege really was. I saw that my partner was treated badly by the authorities and I wasn’t only because I was white. And as is the way of the universe I was then subsequently shown this time and time again, when we went to the hospital, restaurants, service stations, the list is endless. I could and still do rock up to any service station and the pump will instantly flow, not so for my partner who always had to go in and pre-pay. She would say to me, I’m used to it, it’s not your fault, and you’re not personally doing it. I was never comforted by this because even if I wasn’t personally “doing it”, I was personally the beneficiary of it. To do nothing was perpetuating it, silently consenting to its presence is supporting it.

This was 20 years ago but I still see it every day. Every day I am afforded privilege because I am white. I have the privilege of walking through a world where all of the signs, documents and forms are in my language, the news is read in my language, the rugby is commentated in my language… it’s only when you go to another country where your culture is not dominant and your language is not spoken do you realise what it is to not have some of that privilege.

This is not a foreign land to Māori, this is Māori land, stolen and confiscated land, and yet I still have the privilege of living here with everything set up for me, to support the world view of my people, for the benefit of my people.

Once I became more awake to the extent of my own privilege as a Pākehā I became more committed to trying to do something about it. I realised that it allows me to be heard by other Pākehā and Tau iwi. And while that’s cool, it’s also a little bit scary because it means finding the kaha to challenge people you love, things you love, institutions you work for and that is hard. Sometimes you want to just sit back down and take a break but you can’t because until racism is no longer an issue in this country, on this planet, you cannot sit back down. So you find yourself on a fairly fast moving trajectory to losing some friends, feeling and dealing with people’s anger and fear, being ridiculed and isolated in some situations, but my question is this, what is the alternative?

Racism hurt us all. It hurts first and foremost its victims (let’s never diminish the pain it causes for the recipients). But it also hurts us, it degrades our humanity, it detaches us from our own integrity and deprives us of experiences and learning that would enrich us greatly. It hurts our self-esteem, we have all felt the feeling of ‘yuck’ when we’ve said something we didn’t mean or didn’t even believe but for some reason we said it anyway. The ‘yuck’ is because we know we’ve not been true to ourselves or the situation. Sometimes it’s laughing along with a joke that’s racist or homophobic or misogynist, we know we should have said something. The ‘yuck’ descends and reinforces that it’s too hard to take people on. But here’s the thing, it will not go away until you make a conscious choice. None of us was born racist, we were taught to be, it is not inherently us, our wairua is not racist. But it’s scary to take it on. It is.

Once you see racism and all of the entities that support it for what they are though, which is the biggest lie ever told to ensure one group of people retains power and control over another; it’s my belief that you are morally obligated to take it on. Especially if you claim to have something to offer Māori as a practitioner. You have nothing to offer if you don’t see this as your responsibility too. You have nothing to offer Maori if you have not done this work.

Over the years I’ve been trying to do this I’ve learnt that one of the best ways to counter-act ignorance and fear is the confidence of knowledge. Through reading and research on the real history of Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, I felt increasingly able to not just challenge my own but I could back it up with sound research. If you can back up you’re whakaaro with verifiable facts then this is half the battle won, we Pākehā love facts, “Where’s your evidence?” It’s not enough to just know in the Pākehā world view, verifiable facts is what we want.

The biggest lie ever told has been manured for decades by a lack of accurate information, by the whitewashing of our history. Our shared history which we are all entitled to. I constantly hear from my own students as young as 17 and 18, recent school leavers in fact “why wasn’t I taught this stuff in school?” “Why was I taught such a skewed, factually incorrect version of our history?” and it makes these students angry. It’s like finding out that your favourite Aunt is a member of the KKK. The lie has hurt them too.
That Māori are vulnerable, sick, unable to care for their own and need our help is also part of this biggest lie ever told. Māori know and feel the impact of trans-generational trauma because whakapapa is a living entity, even for those who don’t know it, even for us “white” folk. We carry the history of our own ancestors with us in our very DNA. Many Pākehā are from Irish and Scottish ancestry, we will be carrying the trans-generational trauma of the potato famine which killed over a million people, the highland clearances which drove Scottish highlanders off their ancestral lands forever. There are numerous studies looking at the health and wellbeing of the Irish which show similar outcomes to all other colonized indigenous populations.

Māori know what Māori need; Māori know how to heal themselves, what will turn the “negative stats” around. In order to do this though non Māori must be willing to stand aside, share power, resources and decision making, all the things guaranteed to Māori under Te Tiriti O Waitangi incidentally. This is a difficult thing for us non Māori to get our heads around, it really is. No matter how hard we try there is still a yes, but…

Here’s how the “yes buts” work. When we ‘give’ Māori organisations funding, we audit those organisations at 8 times the rate of non-Māori. The success or failure of those organisations is measured by non-Māori definitions of success. Tiriti negotiations are defined by non-Māori rules of engagement (timeframes, who they are prepared to negotiate with and who they aren’t).

At best we “allow” space for Māori to practice tikanga within Pākehā institutions (thank you to Donna Flower for teaching me this). Why don’t Pākehā create space, why don’t we advocate, challenge, move and shake along with our Māori colleagues? Because of the biggest lie ever told, that our culture, Pākehā culture is the norm and Māori culture must be tolerated as a by-product of living here.

In Pākehā institutions tikanga is tolerated at best. We all know that most hospital staff still see the presence of large whanāu groups visiting hospital patients as a nuisance. The hospitals haven’t created space for whānau to express and practise culture and if an attempt has been made, it is generally one room. Tolerated.

I once worked in an institution where women were provided with terminations of pregnancy. For many of our Māori clients this process was less traumatic if they had access to karakia and being able to view or take the products of conception home. Nurses were generally not fond of these “hold ups” and I remember being asked not to tell women this was available unless they asked. Barely tolerated.

What might it look like if we turned that rhetoric around? I mean really turned it around. Where Pākehā find the humility to learn from Māori a different way of doing and being in the world? Where the indigenous culture of Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu is valued, celebrated and practiced daily. I often reflect on the gift I was given when my ancestors came to this land and by some divine act I have lived in a country where I have access to this beautiful, ancient culture, unique to this land. Māori values of uninterrupted connectedness to our ancestors, to the land, to each other and the inherent value and mana of all living things, have all contributed to my own healing and in turn the healing of others around me. This is the richness that comes with letting go of the biggest lie ever told.
My challenge to Pākehā and Tau iwi then is this. Take all the time necessary to reflect on how much of the biggest lie ever told you’ve really bought into. What were you told growing up, how was it reinforced? How much has the media influenced your perception of Māori? Be as honest with yourself as you can, and be prepared to feel the feels, embarrassment, shame, and fear. It won’t kill you to feel these things. In the same way that secrets and lies within a family impacts every member of that family’s health and wellbeing so this lie impacts the health and wellbeing of all of our communities and our country.
Research your own cultural heritage, understand why and how your people came here, get to know yourself through your people. Unless you can see and feel the value in this you will never understand whakapapa and if you don’t understand whakapapa you have already missed one of the fundamentals elements of being able to work with Māori. You will find stories you wish you hadn’t, but I promise you will also find some hero’s and a pride that goes much deeper than being “white”.

The term “white” incidentally was a fairly recent development in the history of race identity. It stemmed from the need to differentiate Europeans as the “superior” race with the rise of European colonialism and slavery. So being proud of being “white” is being proud of a history of exclusion and oppression. Black pride, Māori pride, Aboriginal pride is being proud of a history of survival. Let’s be proud of being Scottish, Danish, Croatian etc. and leave the “white pride” in the history books where it belongs.

Accept the genocidal behaviour of our ancestors, it just was. Denial of this does harm. Through researching my own family history and culture, the good and bad, I feel more rooted in time and place, connected to my past and present. It has helped me to overcome the diminished sense of self created by my own historical trauma of lost ancestral connections, lost spiritual beliefs and practises, loss of my own ancestral lands. All the things that kept us whole, the same things that keep indigenous cultures all around the world alive despite our efforts to eradicate them.

Acknowledge the privilege you have. Acknowledge the privilege you have.
Listen, read and learn about the experiences and aspirations of Māori, to the many voices of Māori. Winston Peters doesn’t speak for all Māori, neither does Hone Harawira or Te Uroroa Flavell. We need to educate ourselves about the issues facing Māori today as well as the true history of this nation. What we should not be doing is expecting Māori to teach us. Look first perhaps to the area you live in, what is the true history of that area? What happened to the traditional owners of the area? There are endless resources out there.
Finally immerse yourself in the beauty of the indigenous culture of this land and your own culture. As I have had opportunities to engage with Māori culture, spirituality and world view I can promise you I am a richer person for it. My own world view expands and yet my own culture has in no way been diminished by this. I’m proud of my cultural heritage which is also shared with many Māori and I am proud to be situated in this time and place where I too belong and so do you. But with this belonging comes the obligation of self-awareness, de-colonizing ourselves first and finding the courage to expose the biggest lie ever told.

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui

No reira tēnā kouto, tēnā tatou katoa

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