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2021 was not all bad 2022 can be better and this is why

As the year draws to a close its always good to reflect and take a stocktake on where we are as Maori, as a nation. I am sure 2021 is a year many would rather forget because of the pandemic and our inability to move as we once did – the often-tragic stories of whanau not being able to spend time with loved ones before they passed on or be there for their funeral services. Of grandparents not being able to be there to see new-born mokopuna or the struggle that many faced in the great unknown of housing, employment or the failure or stability of a small business. The challenge of whanau being divided along vaccination lines and the constant barrage of misinformation online tested even some of the most ardent of family relationships, friendships and even our own workplaces. Many of the social issues that we already knew about before the pandemic were often amplified from homelessness and the inability for many to get into their own home right through to mental health and the entrenched poverty, we all knew was there. But if we were to pause for a moment and reflect on the bad, we also need to reflect on the good because with each new year comes hope, aspiration and opportunity.

2021 will go down as an historic year in Te Ao Maori. The standing up of the Maori Health Authority to address the challenges around disparities and inequities in the system is a major moment. If we are able to reverse everything from cardio-vascular disease right through to diabetes, then the strain on the health system will be lessened but the real benefit is time. For those who could have been ill thanks to highly preventable disease the gift of more time with whanau and loved ones is something you just cannot quantify.

The advent of Maori wards is something that has long been fought for by many and 2021 was that moment that set the scene for greater Maori representation in Local Government – a tier of Government where the voice of Maori has often been drowned out and lost.

The Maori wards could not have come into being had it have not been for the determination of Nanaia Mahuta. And therein lies another first – the first Wahine Maori to be appointed as Foreign Minister.

The announcement that Aotearoa will recognise Matariki and therefore the Maori calendar is that seminal moment, that coming of time when Te Ao Maori and our practices alive and well for many, many generations is front and centre as is the advent of change coming to the school’s curriculum when it comes to history.

Then there is the change coming for the most precious of all gifts – our Tamariki and Mokopuna through the review of Oranga Tamariki, the acceptance of all recommendations by the all Maori board of Te Kahu Aroha – and for the first time in a long time the appointment of a Maori to head a mainstream Government Department.

None of that would have happened had there not been a Labour Government and the leadership not only of the Prime Minister but each our Maori Ministers and MPs.

Of all the wins and positives in 2021 the real heroes are of course our Maori organisations and workforce responding each day to the pandemic. Our health workers and nurses, our doctors and GP’s our haurora’s and social services organsiations, our Wardens and community volunteers. Those manning roadblocks, the Police and border workers keeping us safe. No amount of appreciation will ever be enough for the people in our front line and behind the scenes who have shown us just what whanau is. Yes, we can debate and discuss and yes, we can disagree, but above all else the one thing that rings true in Te Ao Maori is we are stronger together. We call that kotahitanga and we would do well to remember its strength and purpose – for not one of us can do all things or be all things to all people; it takes all of us rowing the waka in the same direction.

If I was to sum up 2021 it would be like this. In our waka we have navigated troubled waters and stormy seas. The waves have crashed upon our bow and we have lost some of our people – but we have pushed on. As the waters begin to calm, there is a distant bay popping up on the horizon and on that distant shore a kuia is calling us home. As we enter the bay, with calmer waters whanau run from all directions to greet us. We are together again.

Today the borders have opened across the great country of ours and loved ones are seeing each other for the first time. Kisses and hugs are being exchanged, tears are flowing at airports and train stations right across the land and that has to be the signal that while 2021 has challenged us 2022 beckons down with hope, aspiration and opportunity.

Matthew Tukaki is Chair of the National Maori Authority, Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Board of Oranga Tamariki, Chair of the Ministry of Health Maori Health Monitoring Group.


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