Partnership under pressure (with a splash of T-sauce)

E tuhituhi ana au ēnei kupu i roto i te wiki o te reo Māori. Kia kaha te reo! I te timata o te hui o te “Leaders Integrity Forum” mō Hepetema, ka tū, ka mihi i te reo Māori ngā tāngata katoa e huihui ana mō te korero o te rā. Tumeke.

Bronze plaque of treaty signingMany enduring public sector issues can be seen in different and revealing ways through a Covid-19 lens, and there are some important lessons to be learned from our country’s ongoing response to the global pandemic. This month’s Leader’s Integrity Forum really brought this home. The topic was Te Wero: Partnership Under Pressure, focusing on the Crown-Maōri relationship, with some fascinating examples of how the Crown and iwi worked together during lockdown. We heard from the Commissioner of Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa, Andrew Coster, and the Pouārahi/Chief Executive of Te Pūtahitanga o te Waipounamu, Helen Leahy.

Helen shared what it looks like operationally when the Crown works through a kaupapa-based and whanau-connected organisation. Andrew’s focus was on policing through a national state of emergency, and the challenges and opportunities for a police service which aspires to keep people at the heart of everything they do.

It was a privilege to listen to the whaikōrero of these impressive speakers, both of whom were unafraid to call out where barriers had been encountered, or where progress has been slower or patchier than hoped-for. For his part, Andrew openly acknowledged that Police’s history with Māori hasn’t always been a proud one; but his description of what’s been happening, and what he’s committed to changing, conveyed real hope for Aotearoa’s future.

Why was it so inspiring? What came through clearly was New Zealand Police’s commitment to the idea that they police with the consent and support of the community. All of the community. Trust and confidence are critical to police’s ability to do their jobs, and concerted effort is going into earning and keeping the trust of iwi.

During lockdown, we saw media coverage about the local roadblocks or checkpoints that some iwi set up. Such developments weren’t universally well-received, but Police recognised early-on that the checkpoints were about protecting kuia and kaumātua – and it was vital they respected iwi-led efforts to protect their most vulnerable and treasured members, who carry with them so much of their tribe’s history and traditions. And many Māori were still well aware of how disproportionately iwi had suffered during the Spanish ‘flu. Apparently a death rate eight times higher than the rest of the population. Eight. Times. Higher.

Police quickly recognised that the checkpoints were in line with the movement restrictions that the Government was calling for. And the choice was, in essence, between policing a roadblock or policing a protest. The sensible course of action during a pandemic was pretty clear.

Drawing on local iwi relationships that Police had been working on for many years, the number of checkpoints reduced from 25 to eight. And iwi have kept to the agreements reached; at level 2, there are no roadblocks. When the country recently needed to move back to level 2, the checkpoints did not reappear. Success – engagement, education and encouragement, resulting in a high level of trust and a commitment to working in partnership.

Helen echoed the same major insight Andrew shared – when you need to call on a relationship, it’s too late to form it.

Helen heads the Whānau Ora commissioning agency for Te Waipounamu – Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu. She and her team work on behalf of the nine iwi of Te Waipounamu to “respond to whānau innovation, to foster and grow inspirational ideas that are whānau-centered, intergenerational, locally driven, and provide direct impact for whānau.” During the March to May lockdown response to Covid-19, they did all of that and more.

We’ve probably all heard about how Covid-19 has hit Māori and Pasifika more severely than others in our team of five million. Helen’s team was living and breathing those harder effects. They ran a survey to see how tangata whenua in Te Waipounamu were doing, and got replies covering about 19,000 people. These were largely people who weren’t already known to the commissioning agency – and folks were struggling. Nearly a quarter were so isolated they had no connection with other human beings. Many were experiencing financial insecurity (more than half had reduced incomes) and challenges to whānau cohesion. They were struggling to access food, power, firewood, data for the internet, and many had no soap – which is pretty important in a Covid environment.

Te Pūtahitanga’s response was swift and impactful. Helen needed to connect with the people in Wellington who could make stuff happen, and make it happen quickly. That could not have occurred without the solid working relationships already formed. And importantly, her agency did not presume to know what the people needed – they asked. They listened. Then they acted.

Helen showed us a series of slides, each representing a different initiative Māori came up with to help other Māori. Online yoga for wāhine, exercise classes, lessons in mātauranga Māori, and foraging and cooking classes. And importantly, food and soap deliveries.

Both Andrew and Helen commented on one positive aspect of all that hardship and uncertainty – people pulled together, working in partnership to make a difference for those that needed it. Our country – and our public service – have a culture of ‘pulling together” when the going gets tough. I left the Forum feeling positive about the kaupapa Andrew and Helen had shared, but also wondering how we take the lessons from these difficult times into our “new normal”? There is much to be learned here about how the Crown and Māori work together. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – and these two speakers most certainly have the will.

Oh ... and the tomato sauce? Helen kindly provided a bottle of Fush and Barker’s Kīnaki Tomato to each attendee - with a wero for a Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori moment in each of our households … Homai te kinaki!

Ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa. Mā te wā.

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