Independent research reveals racism in government agencies responsible for Māori in care

By Tumamao Harawira

Landmark research into Māori in state care claims successive generations of Māori children were subjected to abuse and racism while in care. It lays blame at the feet of many government departments.

The research, Hāhā Uri, Hāhā Tea,  pulls together, for the first time, data from several sources about Māori in state care between 1950 and 1999.

Part of the research says: "Land alienation and urbanisation of Māori communities were central to state policies of assimilation and integration. The loss of whenua and access to traditional life-sustaining resources had a dramatic effect on whānau well-being and economic prosperity."

Paora Crawford Moyle, one of the researchers, as well as someone who has lived experience as a survivor of abuse while in state care didn't mince words.

"We have a very racist country as well as ignorant about these issues because they want Māori to maintain the status of not doing very well, that everything we think about them is as exactly what they are."

"There is a fundamental belief the Pākehā society, culture, the dominance of that is better for all, so the white babies went to the best white parents. Babies didn't really go to Māort putting their hands up."

'Smooth down their dying pillow'

Dr Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll, also one of the researchers, focused primarily on the link between colonisation and racist attitudes and perceptions that were main causes of  uplifts of children between the 1950s to the 1980s.

The research said: "Beliefs in the inevitability of the decline and eventual extinction of Māori underpinned Crown policies designed to ‘smooth down their dying pillow.

"Those very negative ideas about Māori, about whānau, about how we live, justified, in authorities mind the removal of indigenous children and the increased surveillance  whānau were subjected to"

Ahuriri-Driscoll says someone needs to be held to account. "Colonised in the most abhorrent way, so I want to see more attention given to these cohorts that were created by the state."

Hāha-uri, Hāha-tea is one source of information the Royal Commission is drawing on in its inquiry into Māori experiences of abuse in care, commissioner Julia Steenson says.  It complements the accounts provided to the inquiry by survivors and their whānau, and information from iwi, Māori NGOs, Māori academics and other research.

The name Hāha-uri, Hāha-tea reflects that, while this research sheds light on the experiences of Māori who were placed in care, much remains unspoken in the shadows,” Steenson says.

"It talks about the link between the Māori over-representation in state care and colonisation and racism, and so basically the pathway that Māori have faced going into care."