Hemana Waaka

If it comes to crisis point, the Bay of Plenty’s district health boards and hospitals may not be able to cope with a severe outbreak of Covid-19.

Medical staff would be stretched to their limits, resulting in deaths, and iwi and hapu in the rohe want to know, if the worst-case scenario were to happen, who would bury their people?

The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 serves as a stark reminder of the cause and effect of outbreaks and the subsequent high death rate of Maori, seven times that of the Pakeha population, raises questions about the care and protection of Maori whakapapa (genealogy).

Ngati Tawhaki hapu chairman Hemana Waaka said he saluted the Prime Minister’s decision to initiate a level 4 lockdown, however, the priority had been saving lives with no thought spared for Maori policies and execution of protocols and tangihanga.

“Perhaps someone has forgotten to address what our processes are when we move into tangihanga mode. There was no consultation from the Government with regard to leaving our homes to support grieving whanau, and further to my point, no thought was given to the burial of a loved one.

Mr Waaka said tangihanga protocols for Maori has not been addressed properly by the Government.

“Have they consulted with our Maori leaders outside of politics, I don’t think so,” he said.

Confusion reigns when it comes to Maori tangihanga and the government directives for whanau to remain at home “pose for us Maori, a huge problem”.

“Only allowing one member from that family with their deceased is not okay,” he said. “Who’s going to accompany the body from the undertakers? What about the return trip to the urupa for burial?”

“Hapu and marae have their own burial grounds, so, who do they think is responsible for preparing the hole. Whanau will have to breach the government self-isolation rules to support the grieving process by preparing the hole and to allow a minister to conduct the ceremony.

“Nobody seems to have thought about our own tikanga and protocols when it comes to funerals. Maori should be allowed out of their bubbles to support the grieving party,” he said.

“As kaumatua to the whanau of the deceased, we have an obligation to support that whanau if they belong to our marae or hapu, and more so if the body is coming back to their final resting place.

Mr Waaka said he could recall when Te Puea Marae rescued the homeless in South Auckland through the offer of accommodation. Mataatua Marae and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi also opened their doors following the White Island crisis.

“We as Maori put our hands up to assist during natural disasters and crisis. It’s called Maori manaakitanga (hospitality).

“We didn’t wait for the government to tell us what to do, instead we rose to the call of aroha and addressed emergency situations.

“Now I ask the question of our government and our Maori MPs,” Mr Waaka said.

“What measures did they take to support their local Maori electorates prior to the lock-down in support of hapu and marae when it came to tangihanga during level four.

“Common sense prevails for supporting the bereaved whanau at hapu or marae tikanga, but there is no indication by government to support Maoridom and allow whanau to assist with burial duties at our urupa and the protocols that go with that.

“My view and many share the same view, is that our government has not consulted enough Maori.

“We want to bury our own with dignity when it comes to preparation and conclusions at the urupa” he said.