State abuse inquiry hears evidence of abuse at children's homes

By Tumamao Harawira

Tyrone Marks of Ngāti Raukawa was only eight years old when he was taken into state care, and he recalls "going from home to home, being locked up, being treated like dirt, sexually abused, physically, mentally psychologically."

Marks gave evidence to the Royal Commission of inquiry in Auckland this week on his experience in state care, and although he is 60 years old, he can remember the day he was taken away from his family.

"By 1969, that's when they came and took me and that was with the offer of some brand new clothes. Jump in the car and we will just go down the road and buy you some new clothes. So that's where it started."

He says he suffered extensive abuse for almost eight years while being moved on to many care facilities. He had also been housed at abusive care homes in New Zealand, including Lake Alice and Kohitere.

"Between 1969 and 1976, both the South Island and the North Island. I've just about been in every single welfare home that was established. Also, that led to Lake Alice," he says.

"It's affected me from the very beginning, and because of what I have had to endure as have many, many thousands of others, mainly Māori. It has played a bigger role in terms of growing up, you know, 'what are we going to do? How are we going to do things?' No education. Then you start getting into the criminal system."

Whānau suffered the same fate

Having being taken from his whānau so early on in his life, Marks later found out others in his whānau suffered the same fate.

"I've lost my family. We had a big family of 13 and half of them went through the system as well and I wasn't aware of this until I read the files recently, so I had no idea."

While in care, Marks came to realise that Māori were treated more harshly than non-Māori.

"They had a kind of a profile, like a chart, and in this chart, they had the different races, and Māori came under black as too hard to adopt. No one accepted them. They were looking for blonde blue eyes, white-coloured skin."

Survivors to be front and center 

Marks has been invited to participate in the establishment of the transitional Māori authority for Oranga Tamariki, and he says survivors need to be front and centre of any agency designed to help Māori affected by abuse.

"In any transitional process, there should be survivors among them sitting there making those critical decisions in terms of how we do this, what are we looking out for," he says.

Marks' attention now turns to a critical part of the inquiry; the abuse that happened at Lake Alice Hospital. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state children's residential care is nearing the end of its second week.