Mā te whiritahi, ka whakatūtuki ai ngā pūmanawa ā tangata
Weaving together our expertise, we realise each person’s full potential
In preparing this blog marking the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9th August, I find myself reflecting on what I think is important and given the opportunity to share my views with other cancer control leaders, what would I say, and why would they care? So I’ll start from the beginning, with my story.
I am the youngest of five children and the only girl, so I grew up knowing that if something was important you had to be prepared to fight for it and you should never back down. I guess it would be fair to say that strength and determination are built into my DNA and I have never been one to back away from something just because it’s hard. As a Māori woman and a nurse, I am invested in giving service to my community, and identifying and addressing inequities in health care outcomes has become a burning passion for me, one that has driven my health career.
I am currently Director of Equity in Te Aho o Te Kahu, the cancer control agency in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand). We are a relatively new Government agency, created to give heightened attention and focus on cancer control activities and to improve cancer treatment and care in Aotearoa. While cancer outcomes are generally improving in New Zealand, we are falling behind other comparable nations in terms of cancer survival, and this is particularly so for Māori, who are 20% more likely to get cancer and twice as likely to die from it.
As a nation, Aotearoa has dual accountability to address the significant cancer-related inequities for Māori. The obvious one is recognising that inequities in health are avoidable, unfair and unjust, but arguably more important are our commitment and obligation to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty signed between Māori and the Crown in 1840. The history of Aotearoa in delivering against Te Tiriti has been variable and chequered with failed promises and underperformance, but it would also be fair to say that Te Tiriti is currently in a period of ascendancy and renewed commitment.
With the establishment of a new independent Māori Health Authority on the near horizon, the opportunity to turn the tide is upon us. This means we need to be working under a Te Tiriti o Waitangi framework and requires us to reflect on the enduring relationship between Māori and the Crown in delivering equitable cancer outcomes for Māori. The principles that form the basis of Te Tiriti o Waitangi include the guarantee of:
As a Government agency we acknowledge that Māori leadership is critical to the work we do and that we cannot do this alone. Accordingly, we work closely with Hei Āhuru Mōwai – the national Māori cancer leadership and a key agency partner who gifted us with our name: Te Aho o Te Kahu. This name gives significance to the work we do; it literally means “to be the binding thread of the cloak”. It symbolises the threads that weave across the cloak connecting and binding the many diverse strands to form a strong and enduring garment that provides warmth and protection.
Through this journey, we have met and listened to nearly 3,000 Māori and their whānau (families) who have been affected by cancer to hear their experiences, their grief and their aspirations, so that these can guide and be reflected in the future of cancer care in Aotearoa.
E ngā rau rangatira mā, e ngā mau tangata, nei rā te mihi maioha ki a koutou.
To you many leaders, you gracious and generous people, I send you my words of humble thanks.