Māori disabled 'fall through the gaps'; face violence and neglect

By Taroi Black

Ruth Jones is one of the references involved in the Human Rights Commissions's reports. Photo / Te Ao Māori News

Two damning reports by the Human Rights Commission describe the level of harm tangata whaikaha / disabled people face is at ‘epidemic’ proportions.

One of the reports on violence and abuse is Whakamanahia Te Tiriti, Whakahaumarutia Te Tangata’– (Honour the Treaty, Protect the Person). It challenges systematic failures and says they are in breach of tangata whaikaha and their Treaty rights.

It recommends a raft of changes in the way resources are allocated and the ways to entice whānau, hapū, iwi and communities to get more involved. The reports are based on the collated voices of members of the disability community who want to lead their own plans.

A member of the commission, Ruth Jones (Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata), is a social worker, co-directing Kanohi ki te Kanohi Consultancy and Hei Whakapiki Mauri, a service provider she and her husband Gary Williams run, which supports over a hundred tangata whaikaha in the whānau ora sector.

“The intersectionality of being Māori and disabled is that we fall through the gaps,” Jones says.

Because she also lives with cerebral palsy, that has helped her to connect and know how to provide the necessary wrap-around services. But more needs to be done as violence and abuse happens to the disabled 8% more than to other people, she says.

Disability  'part of our culture'

“For tangata whaikaha Māori, the services aren’t available.”

“We’re often separated from our whānau, because disability is clunky. Our space to be Māori is limited.”  

Jones wants to see changes made to ensure the next generation of Māori will better understand that disabilities have always been a part of the culture and history. Tangata whaikaha is a term now recognised by the commission as another translated term for tangata hauā but it's context is from a Māori worldview, which aligns to strength and diversity.  

The report also recommends implementation and evaluation are informed by tikanga and Te Ao Māori, enforces parallel responses to simultaneously address context and specific forms of violence, and prioritises tino rangatiratanga/self-determination and autonomous decisionmaking by tāngata whaikaha Māori as part of whānau, hapū and iwi.

“Whānau Māori, hapū and iwi have been colonised over disability. We know from our tīpuna ‘mai rāno’ that our tīpuna were disabled.”

“Our whakapapa and our wairua that comes with being disabled being Māori is such a blessing but it also means that we are positioned and discriminated against and are marginalised because of the services.”

Epidemic proportions

Te Tūkino kore Ināianei, ā Muri Ake Nei’ (Acting Now for a Violence and Abuse Free Future) report, sets out evidence of the causes and impacts of violence and abuse against tāngata whaikaha Māori and disabled people.

The level of harm listed is of epidemic proportions, and Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero is labelling the violence against disabled people as a human rights failure.

“These reports provide, for the first time, an evidence base and graphic illustration of the violence and abuse suffered by tāngata whaikaha Māori and disabled people,” Tesoriero says.

“They show a continued absence of effective responses to reduce its incidence.”

“In Aotearoa, racism and ableism intersect to create unique additional risks for tāngata whaikaha Māori who must navigate racism, discrimination and other biases.”

“This has resulted in the suppression of rangatiratanga, along with the many disabling effects on the ability of tāngata whaikaha Māori to define themselves and their own lives.”