Raising waka, not just yachts

Raising waka, not just yachts

Covid-19 has revealed how institutions in Te Ao Māori can react decisively and positively on behalf of their people, DR AMOHIA BOULTON and DEB TE KAWA write in their chapter in our Progressive Thinking series.

As part of the nationwide lockdown earlier this year, the Government developed a Māori response package to support vulnerable whānau such as those in remote areas, kaumātua and the homeless.

The initial focus was on supporting providers to help whānau stay at home to break the chain of transmission of the virus.

A deliberate policy decision was made to take advantage of those institutions in Te Ao Māori best placed to deliver to whānau.

During the lockdown 132 Māori health and social service providers became the primary delivery agents to whānau across the motu. The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agencies were also involved, delivering over 100,000 care and hygiene packages.

In addition, Māori Tourism, Poutama Trust and the Federation of Māori Authorities provided support to over 600 Māori businesses.

Through these Maori-led initiatives many whānau, who would otherwise have received little or no targeted support, had their needs met.

Amohia head and shoulders7 cropped resized

Dr Amohia Boulton


What is of interest is just how effective those providers were, when officials worked with a sense of urgency, a shared mission, and gave way to local decision-making.

It shows the handbrake the kawanatanga can be on rangatiratanga, when it is moving at its own pace and working in its own silos.

What appears to have worked well is flexible, shorter and local decision-making chains; partners operating with a high-level of trust towards an agreed outcome and allowing funding to flow freely; and acceptance that by-Māori-for-Māori responses work.

Before the pandemic, the conventional wisdom was that decisions needed to be made in Wellington, by senior officials, who would need to co-design the solutions with whānau.

While not discrediting these essential tools, it appears good decisions are also decentralised, and less top-down.


This moves us to what must be resolved. We believe Māori community health workers and Whānau Ora Navigators are an integral part of the health and social services workforce, acting as the interface between the health and social services sector and whānau.

Deb Te Kawa pic resized2

Deb Te Kawa

They work in a culturally distinctive manner, giving effect to Māori health aspirations as well as rangatiratanga.

Therefore it’s time to give them greater recognition, appropriate remuneration and ensure their ongoing development is assisted.

We also believe it’s time to accelerate the use of whānau-centred approaches and for mainstream agencies to start supporting Whānau Ora agencies.

A close reading of the review, Tipu Mātoro ki te Ao, commissioned by Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare, paints a picture of progress for the whānau who engage with Whānau Ora agencies.

This is not at the expense of Iwi and Māori health and social services provision. The providers who were effective during the lockdown should also be supported.


Sadly, the review found a public service and leadership which were vigorously passive, with mainstream agencies failing to adopt whānau-centred approaches or understand the positive outcomes being delivered by Whānau Ora agencies. The report also noted that Whānau Ora agencies were subjected to problematic compliance.

We believe the public sector needs to address its institutional racism, and negative attitudes towards Māori.

It will require officials who want leadership roles to demonstrate core competencies such as understanding the history of Aotearoa, cultural competency in te Ao Māori, knowledge of kawa and tikanga, fluency in te reo Māori, and equity analysis.

The public service also needs to rethink its approach to developing its Māori workforce. It cannot keep expecting Māori staff to do all the heavy lifting.

It will need to find new ways to include the voice of Māori policy advisors at the table, without expecting to employ them directly. It will also need to make the public service a much more attractive place for rangatahi to work and stay.


On the positive side, the public sector has been talking about collaboration, inclusion and shared accountability for many years, with some progress in pockets. It is possible the change underway as a result of Covid-19 can help bring these values to life

We think there will be a new normal for the way the public sector thinks about policy and service delivery to Māori. To be successful, it will need to raise the waka, as well as the yachts.

The public service also needs to start the long journey to decolonise itself.


Looking ahead, politicians and policy advisors also need to stop assuming the impact of the pandemic is shared evenly. 

Māori will carry a disproportionate burden, due to where our workforce is positioned in the labour market, and the inequalities in opportunity and outcome that already exist.

Every major epidemic has increased income inequality and reduced employment for those with basic education, but not those with advanced degrees.

We need to start keeping an eye on vulnerable populations, including Māori, rangatahi, women in low-paid professions, as well as those who work part-time.

 Dr Amohia Boulton is Research Director at Whakauae Research for Māori Health and Development. Deb Te Kawa is a governance and public policy consultant at DTK and Associates.

You can read the full chapter of Raising Waka, not just Yachts at www.psa.org.nz/progressivethinking



Also in this issue:

Let’s Do Even BETTER

As we count down to Election 2020 we face a choice.

Read More

Committing to Wellbeing

This election we’re asking the politicians to commit to providing a collection of public services that will help ensure the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

Read More

Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment: Key First Steps

So how can we build a better Aotearoa together? Here are the first steps towards fulfilling the Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment.

Read More

Support Builds for Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment

PSA members and the wider union movement are voicing their support for the Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment.

Read More

What do the politicians think?

Find out how the parties rate in our 2020 election scorecard:

Read More

New Act affirms right to political expression

In the lead-up to the general election, the PSA welcomes the new Public Service Act’s affirmation that public servants have the same rights of political expression and freedoms as all other New Zealanders.

Read More

New law a pathway for pay equity

It was a moment to savour for all of us who have been campaigning for pay equity.

Read More

Supporting our Frontline Workers

The people who work on our border and in managed isolation and quarantine facilities are among those doing it tough as the battle against Covid-19 continues.

Read More

“The virus doesn’t discriminate, neither should we”

PSA Pasefika union members have been voicing their support for the Pasefika community during the latest Covid outbreak.

Read More

Reflections of a Webinar MC

Our Progressive Thinking webinar series has provided an opportunity for conversations about new ‘Perspectives on the Future of Public and Community Services’.

Read More

Raising waka: Reflections from Te Rūnanga

Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina KUIA GEORGINA KERR supports the assessment of Progressive Thinking authors Dr Amohia Boulton and Deb Te Kawa that the overall Māori response to the initial Covid crisis was exceptionally well done.

Read More

“We did good”

Union members are celebrating two new collective employment agreements in the community and public service sector

Read More

Unions seek election commitments for workers

Here's what the Council of Trade Unons is asking the political parties to commit to this election:

Read More

Safer Sick Leave

PSA delegate Bob Renshaw was among the essential workers who presented a petition calling for safer sick leave to Workplace Relations Minister Andrew Little on September 1.

Read More

Attacks on Filipino Unionists Condemned

The murders of dozens of trade unionists in the Philippines sparked a protest in Wellington in July.

Read More

Out of Office

He may be humble but honours have come the way of horticulture expert Murray Dawson.

Read More

On the Job

Donna Wealleans says support workers are told they shouldn’t get attached to their clients. But she believes you shouldn’t be doing the job if you don’t care.

Read More

An amazing four years

Tēnā tātou katoa

It is with mixed feelings that I sit down to write my last message to you all as PSA President.

Read More

Climate Change is a whole of union issue

Kia ora PSA members!

Climate change is something that will impact every living thing on our planet. Should we as union members be actively working to fight it? Should climate change be one of our Strategic Goals?

Read More

News in Brief

Protests at proposed cuts at Canterbury DHB, a campaign for home support with dignity, the PSA member card goes digital and other stories feature in our News in Brief.

Read More

Te Tohu Reorua: Bilingual Signage

While we've just celebrated Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, there are many ways we can help promote the language all year round.

Read More

Around and About Pics

Photos from protests against proposed cuts at Canterbury DHB, and attacks on Filipino unionists, along with the presentation of the Safer Sick Leave petition feature in our Around and About pages.

Read More