Year-long lockdowns taking a toll on Māori expats

By Whatitiri Te Wake

With the United States reaching a new milestone of over 500 thousand deaths, Māori living abroad are taking extra precautions to ensure their whanau safety, a stark contrast to life here in NZ.

Manahi Taber-Kewene has been living in New Jersey for 20 years. It's coming up to a year living with Covid-19 restrictions and it is taking a toll on him, his wife and four children.

“You know we're going on a year now. To be consciously, constantly mindful about all interactions that you have with the outside world it takes its toll,” he said.

Raised in South Auckland, Taber-Kewene keeps in regular contact with his whānau here.

“Seeing the photos of people without masks. At this point for us, it's otherworldly to see life like that. We remember what it was like but it's just not our reality,” he said

New normal

Over 1.7 million cases just in New York City alone and the long lockdown, schooling from home ... his whānau is getting used to the new normal.

“Although we're really excited about the vaccine, I think most of us realise there's no switch - it's not going to change overnight - and suddenly we're going to back to whatever normal was,” he said.

With President Joe Biden taking over the Oval Office and Dr Anthony Fauci leading the fight against Covid-19, Taber-Kewene sees potential in the new government.

“For lack of a better way of saying it, I think there's a grown-up in the room and we can at least begin to have the real and hard conversation as to how we go about this.”

Meanwhile, there have been more than 122,000 deaths to date in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to relax lockdown restrictions this coming month. Bruce Simpson says his haka business has taken a huge hit, but for Māori living in the UK, the cultural impacts are significant.

“The hard thing about living here is tangihanga. As a Māori you're used to being there to support people and in particular New Zealanders who have died over here recently.

“A Māori police officer was killed, and also a Māori nurse, only 56 years of age, died of Covid-19. It's hard when you can't be there for them and you want to be there for them and to represent their family also and their iwi back at home.”