Talking diabetes awareness at Pohara Poukai dinner table

By Tamati Tiananga

Atawhai Edwards is on a mission to increase her people's life expectancy beyond 65 years of age. 

Atawhai Edwards of Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura wants to see better approaches to health interventions for Māori affected by type 2 diabetes mellitus, starting with her own whānau at Pohara Pā in Cambridge.

Atawhai Edwards says, "One of my best friend’s pāpā just passed away because of diabetes and I had to sit there and watch them all mourn. He lost his eyesight and he lost a limb."

Edwards described what the close friend endured when she lost her father to diabetes and Edwards' subsequent mission to educate Māori to live a longer life. She says Ngāti Korokī-Kahukura and the nation need to be alerted to this health condition.

Preventable illnesses

“This issue is close to my heart because it's a serious problem," Edwards says. "How many people suffer and die from this condition, diabetes? This is something we need to bring up with our people, particularly with our elders.”

From the first poukai in 1957, there has been an influx of Kingitana people attending the annual coronation celebration. But in recent years, many people have been lost due to preventable illnesses. Diabetes is just one of many sicknesses affecting Māori.

Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura spokesman Rāhui Papa says, “Our goal is to highlight our health and wellbeing, whether that being physical, education, within the community, or at Māori gatherings.”

'Diagnosed too late'

Diabetes NZ chief executive Heather Verry says there has also been an impact of people not going to get diagnosed with diabetes "and what we are seeing is people who needed to be diagnosed with diabetes some time ago. It's about trying to stop all the complications that come with diabetes”.

Edwards has done her people proud by winning a Fitbit challenge. Now she is on a mission to make sure life expectancy for her people increases, and many live beyond 65 years old.

The first sound of the Kīngitanga brass band playing signifies the special day to care for and support the widowed, the grieving, and the impoverished. Health and wellbeing is a serious issue that King Tuheitia will address at his coronation celebration in August.

Kīngitanga spokesman Ngira Simmonds reiterates King Tuheitia says, “We must look beyond the short term, where we are heading, and what the aspirations of Māordom are for a healthier future, spiritually, physically, and mentally. We also must look at how the impact our diet can have.”

Māori King Tuheitia was awarded the Tree of Peace medal at the 65th Pōhara Marae poukai. A tree was also planted at the Pōhara Marae to celebrate the Tree of Peace international project that originated in Slovakia. The project was created on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

So far, 24 trees have been planted in 13 counties. The planting of this tree represents the 25th planting and the first at any Kīngitanga marae.