Pasifika leaders determined to protect Māori/Pasifika from Coronavirus

updated By Bronson Perich
Pacific Leadership Forum Chairman, Teleiai Edwin Puni. Source/File.

The Pacific Leadership Forum, a council of leaders from the Pacific community are determined to stop the spread of COVID-19. They recognise that their ethnicities are at the highest risk from this virus, and that puts Māori at risk as well. Teleiai Edwin Puni, chairman of the Forum explains:

“It is a responsible action by our Pacific [communities]. Because we live closely with our Māori whānau(s), in the same neighbourhood(s).

“By being responsible with the prevention and the readiness, it also protects our Māori and the people of Aotearoa.”

The communal living of the Pasifika community, and their large church gatherings create ideal transmission grounds for the virus. A prime example of this was the funeral service held last year for the Tongan Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pōhiva in Mangere.

People with measles came to the service and ended up transmitting the sickness to others. Many of the Forum leaders come from Pasifika churches and Chairman Teleiai says that they are united in preventing their congregations from getting and spreading this deadly disease.

They met with the CEO of the Ministry of Pacific Peoples this morning in the hopes of creating a partnership to achieve these ends. A core group will be set up to work with the Ministry in communicating with the Pasifika community as to how to stop the spread of this virus. Chairman Teleiai explains how these leaders will lead their people in the battle against Coronavirus.

“These are the leaders that are able to influence behavioural change.

“They will also bring the mana to call for our people, to limit numbers, to reduce frequencies.

“This is the mandate that these leaders bring.”

The Forum are looking into digitising church meetings, youth activities and choir performances, so that people can participate remotely. This should stop most, if not all of the meetings that could potentially spread the virus.

“Communication infrastructure is a big part of what was discussed today and we are seeking assistance of government for those reasons,” Chairman Teleiai says.

Coronavirus hits the economy first

Tuala Tagaloa Tusani. Source/File

Tuala Tagaloa Tusani, chairman of the New Zealand Samoa Trade Investment Commission (NZSTIC) explained that his organisation have postponed all of their trade missions to protect the Aotearoa and the islands.

However, Chairman Tuala advises how people who have had their trips delayed can continue to support the islands.

“My plea with them is to not cancel those trips, but to postpone them for a later date.”

Just as forestry exports to China have been stopped, vital food supplies to the islands have been stopped as well. Tuala explains:

“I know of fruit and vegetables that are not been able to be airfreighted because of that.

“There will be some supermarkets now, that won’t have those.”

Then Coronavirus hits the pocket

Tofilau Esther Tevaga. Source/File

Tofilau Esther Tevaga, a long time financial advisor to the Māori and Pasifika community is urging families, to exercise caution, and to be frugal in their financial affairs.

Already she has seen an increase in applications for loans in the Pasifika community, as budgets tighten, and work opportunities reduce.

“Be very careful of our spending. I know a lot of us that have that extra cash, whether it’s going to housie or bingo as such.

Maybe [they] ought to hold on those funds,” Tofilau says.

Tofilau exhorts all people to stock up on food and essential supplies if possible as well.

New Zealand: The Ground Zero of Pacific epidemics

The SS Talune. The ship that brought influenza to Samoa in 1918. Source/National Library of New Zealand.

Aotearoa has been one of the main access points to the islands for many years. Two major epidemics came to Samoa through NZ. The first was the Influenza Epidemic that affected Aotearoa in 1918, killing many of our ancestors.

That same year, a passenger ship from NZ arrived in Samoa, killing an estimated 8500, wiping out over 20% of their total population. The measles epidemic arrived in Samoa from a NZ passenger last year, killing more than 80. The vast majority of those fatalities were children and babies under the age of 4.

Having personally attended the funerals and helping whānau pani Samoa, the NZSTIC chairman applauds the recent actions.

“Well we were too slow last time, last time that line was drawn too slow.

“So this time, it needs to be done right now, because what we’ve seen in Samoa is a snippet of what can happen to the rest of the islands,” Chairman Tuala says.

Forum Chairman Teleiai was also part of measles relief efforts in Samoa. After having seen the tragedy firsthand, he is determined to stop Coronavirus dead in its tracks here in Aotearoa. 

"Unfortunately we've had some bad incidents in the past.

"So we are providing a safety net, a protection for our islands. We hope that's what we've achieved today."

Although the Pacific Leadership Forum has no Māori members, the Forum recognises their whakapapa links to tangata whenua, and stand ready to help.

"In fact ... WE ARE ONE PEOPLE!" Chairman Teleiai concludes.