'We're saying to the Crown, just hand it over. We don't trust your style of partnership.'

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Ngāti Kahungunu and other iwi have the capacity, institutional knowledge and tikanga to take over the role of Oranga Tamariki.

That's according to iwi leader Ngahiwi Tomoana, chair of Ngāti Kahungunu, on day three of the Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry (Wai 2915) hearings by the Waitangi Tribunal in Hastings.

"We haven't seen any good models of partnership in the past. We've seen the will to dominate by the kāwanatanga," Tomoana says. 

Ngāti Kahungunu has been active and vocal in striving to find a better way forward to protect its whānau, after the news story broke 18 months ago revealing the traumatic practice of uplifting of a newborn baby by Oranga Tamariki from a hospital. 

"We're saying to the Crown,' just hand it over. We don't trust your style of partnership. Hand over the resources that you are wasting and are not fulfilling your ambitions, and hand them to the iwi and we will look after our own tamariki our own mokopuna our own whānau, with the same resource but with much superior outcomes.'"

In 2017 Ngāti Kahungunu signed a memorandum of understanding with Oranga Tamariki but Tomoana says at an executive level there has been a 'vacuum of silence'. He emphasises that Ngāti Kahungunu is in partnership with the Crown, not its agencies.

Never honoured its word

"In the past we've always supported the Crown. They've called Ngāti Kahungunu kūpapa, whatever it is, collaborators, and it hasn't done us any good at all fighting for our own tikanga and our own Kawa. There are no examples in the past where the Crown has honoured its word with Ngāti Kahungunu. There is no example I can go to where the Crown and Ngāti Kahungunu have worked together in full partnership."

Ngāti Kahungunu has sought to intervene politically at national government level, has networked locally through health service providers and has strived to be a physical presence at uplifts ordered by the courts. Tomoana says the iwi has succeeded on occasion to see that children being uplifted are placed within a tikanga-based whānau environment.

In his address to the Waitangi Tribunal: "We have a system that has proved itself over hundreds and thousands of years. it's a system that has been discarded and supplanted with a foreign system, a corona, a Crown, a corona-virus that gets into our systems and starts sucking the life out of our ancient beliefs, our children and our mothers, our whare tangata."

Tomoana used the traditional chant Pinepine Te Kura as a reference to illustrate the tikanga and philosophy behind Ngāti Kahungunu's traditions, attitudes toward the family nucleus and what Tomoana says the chant demonstrates are the ambitions for the children and mothers of Ngāti Kahungunu. 

National or iwi?

"None of it refers to going to jail, being uplifted, being stolen, being ripped off the breast, being beaten up, abused, or sent to another country, with another name on a birth certificate. Nothing in our DNA, our whakapapa or our tikanga refers to that."

The Waitangi Tribunal put forward the question on whether the new entity suggested by witnesses would be national, or whether it would be specific to each iwi. Clarity was also sought as to whether the national Māori organisations would be welcome in this new model. 

"Kotahitanga, and tino rangatiratanga of each iwi, it's a continuum, it's not either-or, so we need to respect kotahitanga of a national type thing but we need to respect the tino rangatiratanga of each iwi in that space too."

Tomoana spoke of a national 'whāriki' that all groups and providers could participate in, but he reiterates the notion of preserving whakapapa as the key foundation to any entity that is formed. 

"At no stage have we ever conceived that they would be taken by the state, their whakapapa changed, their birthright taken from them, and they'd be transplanted into another culture, or sometimes into another country."

Tomorrow is the final day of hearings in Hastings, before the Waitangi Tribunal moves the inquiry to Rotorua in the next few weeks.