Te Rūnanga o Ngāi te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley is preparing for the worst and has bought a refrigerated container, to store the bodies of people who die from Covid-19 in his rohe.
The Bay of Plenty has one of the lowest Māori vaccination rates in the country - it's still under the 50 per cent mark for those fully vaccinated, a long way off from the government's 90 per cent target.
People who die from Covid will have first priority in being buried immediately, according to Stanley, while those who die of natural causes will either be buried right away or stored away until they are ready to be buried.
He says people dying from Covid must be buried straight away, thus leaving no room for Māori to practise their culture.
“How then do you allow your culture to continue to thrive ... being able to put people in storage for a little while does help,” he says.
Temperatures were as low as minus 57 degrees Celsius, Stanley says, when he was chief executive of an Indian reservation in Quebec, Canada, and they would store their tūpapaku (dead) in large barns until it was warmer to dig into the earth to bury them.
He says resources were severely strained in 2020, and he attributes this to the manaaki (care) practices of Māori, which cost them time, energy, and people.
“What I wanted to do was ensure our resources are put into our people first.”
The future of Ngai Te Rangi on the other side of Covid, according to Stanley, will be "a culture under threat."
He says the most recent tangi in Tauranga Moana before lockdown hit was that of paramount chief Kihi Ngatai, which drew 10,000 people over four days.
“We will never see anything like that again and so it undermines your culture to some extent.”