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It’s perhaps not surprising that Kiri Tamihere-Waititi is such a fierce advocate for Whānau Ora — the whānau-centred, Māori-driven model of social service delivery introduced in 2010, thanks to Tariana Turia.

Kiri, a clinical psychologist, has been running Whānau Ora services for Te Whānau ā Apanui in the Bay of Plenty for six years now. She’s also the daughter of John Tamihere, who heads Te Pou Matakana, one of three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies.

Here she explains why she thinks Whānau Ora is the only way for Māori.


I’ve been waiting for the results of the Whānau Ora review to come out — mainly so those of us working in Whānau Ora can just get on with the job. The review has been hanging over our heads. An unwelcome distraction. A hōhā.

Labour has never been clear about the basis of their “review”. But given that Whānau Ora was Tariana Turia’s baby, and advanced by a National government, I can’t help wondering whether they want to make some significant changes just so they can put their red stamp on it. Lord knows.

The review panel’s report is now with the minister, Peeni Henare, but I’m not expecting any positive things to come from it. In fact, I’m expecting that there will be a ton of negative feedback that clouds the positive findings. Such is the way when it comes to Māori-led initiatives.

You only need to look at the first news stories we’ve had about the review since the panel handed in their report. According to those stories, Te Pou Matakana or Te Puni Kokiri — I couldn’t make out who — are frauds. Wonderful.

The scandal this time was over Te Puni Kokiri paying out a $600,000 “surplus” to Te Pou Matakana, one of three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies — and Te Pou Matakana then paying that out as a dividend to its shareholders.

Which sounds dodgy, unless you know that the shareholders in question are charitable trusts providing social services, and that the so-called surplus is really an incentive payment, built into these kinds of social service contracts — by way of a Treasury clause introduced under the last government — as a way of tying payments to results.

These incentive payments have become standard practice across social service contracts, including those administered by the Ministry of Social Development.

And yet, what is “standard practice” for others is all of a sudden deemed “fraud” and “not transparent” because it involves Māori.

We can’t win. No Pākehā organisation is scrutinised to the extent that Whānau Ora has been. No Pākehā organisation gets double-audited like Whānau Ora does.

But, as we saw a couple of weeks ago — and heck, for the last million generations — the mainstream media does no favours for Māori, and won’t for Whānau Ora. Because God forbid that Māori have the answers to help their own people.

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen that our Māori news can often be just as good as their Pākehā counterparts at spreading the bad news and rubbing it in our faces.

So, I thought I’d do something unheard of and talk about THE POSITIVES of Whānau Ora. I want to explain to you why Whānau Ora is the answer to our woeful statistics — over and above specialised clinical services.

A few months ago, I went to two conferences. The New Zealand Psychological Society Conference, and the Whānau Ora conference.

There was night and day between the two.

The NZ Psych conference told the same old story of Māori being over-represented in mental health statistics. They used different words, but still with the same siloed, narrow-minded approach.

And then I went to the Whānau Ora conference. Same old story, different words — but with a completely holistic, integrated, systemic approach.

The psych conference was full of non-Māori discussing ways to help Māori.

The Whānau Ora conference was full of Māori discussing innovative ways of helping their own. It was inspiring. The atmosphere was electric. It was fierce.

The themes of the Whānau Ora conference emphasised going back to your roots, dreams, integration, collaboration, aspirations, revolution, advocacy, innovation, empowerment, mana motuhake. It was real, raw, and spoke to the very core of our purpose.

Dame Tariana, in her address to the conference, demanded a call to arms. To fight for Whānau Ora. Merepeka Raukawa-Tait talked about reclaiming what is ours, trusting in who we are, acknowledging our feats, and continuing to fight.

I can tell you, at that minute, I felt a rush of fire going through me. And I was ready at that point to take up arms — literally, with my muskets and all — until another speaker (John Tamihere, CEO of the fraudulent Te Pou Matakana) ruined it all by saying that muskets weren’t an option. Major anticlimax!

The Whānau Ora conference was a celebration of what we are doing well, and how far we’ve come. A celebration of what we know is good for our people.

It was refreshing to be part of a kaupapa with so many people who were equally passionate about working together in an innovative way to help our people. It’s not often you get to be with hundreds of people all on the same page.

But more than that, it was a relief to not have to go into a space with my guard up, ready to sniff out and attack any form of marginalisation or discrimination of my people. So much of a relief that it made me reflect on the responsibility — and sometimes, the burden — we carry walking into mainstream spaces, where we are constantly in defensive mode. Not because we want to be, but because we have to be. It’s exhausting.

So the Whānau Ora conference was a beautiful break away from that fight. To just be. When you can just be, the potential is amazing. And that’s why Whānau Ora is amazing.

Whānau Ora is a philosophy of care. It is a culture of service delivery. It is NOT a contract. It is a systemic, integrated approach to unravelling the mess created by a fractured welfare system, for the sole purpose of helping our whānau realise their aspirations.

Whānau Ora is revolutionary. It is a reinvention of the wheel. A new approach (well, to Pākehā New Zealand, anyway) to addressing the negative statistics that plague our television screens. It is an attack on a system that has failed our people over and over again. It is a revolt against the insanity of continuing to carry on down the same failed road.

Whānau Ora is aspirational. It is not a crisis intervention model of care. It is not an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff initiative like all social services and mental health services are in this country.

It is premised on pushing our whānau beyond crisis point to explore their dreams and aspirations — and more than that, to put action to that exploration. It is giving back permission to dream again, to follow those dreams with a plan of action.

Whānau Ora is whānau-centred. It is not driven by contracts like ministries expect. It is not based on a DHB strategy or an Oranga Tamariki strategy. It is based on whānau strategy and whānau aspiration determined by whānau. It is about whānau leading their journey and drawing from providers what they need to reach their aspirations. On their terms — not the Crown’s.

Whānau Ora has no ego. It has no time for bureaucracy and gate-keeping. It has no time for those wanting to build their own empires. It has no time for mana munchers. It has no time for keepers of the Holy Grail.

It cares only for whānau accessing the support they are entitled to. It’s not about the worker. It’s not about the manager. It’s not about the provider. It’s not about the funder. It’s not about who has the biggest balls.

It’s about the whānau. Everyone, every agency, every worker, whether qualified to the hilt or not, contributes equally — yes, I said equally — to the solution. All perspectives are equally important and must be able to co-exist. For the sake of the whānau.

Whānau Ora is integrated. It is about collaboration, teamwork, and unifying for the greater good. It recognises the strengths and weaknesses of internal and external capability. It works to build on weakness by drawing on the strengths of others — and works to share strengths to build on the weakness of others. For the sake of the whānau.

It’s about recognising the need to integrate at every level of your organisation — contractually, in governance, in service delivery, in staffing, across sectors and agencies. A co-ordinated approach designed to bring everyone together on the same page. For the sake of the whānau.

Whānau Ora is about relationships. It’s about developing meaningful relationships and networks based on trust, authenticity, connection, understanding, reciprocity, mutual respect, and aroha. Yes, I said it! LOVE. As a funder, as a provider, and as a practitioner.

It’s about drawing on important relationships and networks to develop whānau and support them in achieving their aspirations. It does not recognise unnecessary power plays but thrives on the notion of partnership and reciprocity.

Whānau Ora is thinking outside the box. It is not restricted to one-hour time slots. It is not restricted to an uninviting, stink, office room. It is not restricted to a three-month timeframe. It is not restricted to one-on-one sessions with one person. It is flexible, open and innovative. It adapts with ease to the changing environment our whānau live in. It encourages innovative solutions and ideas. For the sake of the whānau.

Whānau Ora is about advocacy. Fierce advocacy. It’s about scrapping the bureaucrats that think the resource and money belongs to them. It’s about being brave and courageous and giving a voice to our whānau who have lost theirs along the way. It’s about responding to a call to arms: to fight for Whānau Ora.

The fact of the matter is, every single approach to “fixing” our people has been designed and decided by Pākehā, and it has made things worse. Partly because each approach acts in isolation, with over-the-top levels of bureaucracy. And mostly because the “specialised workforce” that deliver these approaches have a complete inability to engage with our whānau.

With a measly $40 million dollars, Whānau Ora is on a mission impossible. Cleaning up the mess that $270-million-dollar Oranga Tamariki and $570-million-dollar DHBs leave behind in our communities on a daily basis.

She’s a tough gig. The Crown has had hundreds of years to screw it up for our people — and, boy, did they do a royal job of that. Give us a hundred years to screw it up for ourselves.

I acknowledge that there is an extraordinary amount of time and work that is required for us to realise our own aspirations for Whānau Ora. I also acknowledge that in order for us to realise those aspirations, we need to be resourced accordingly.

Whānau Ora is the only way. Trust us. Come on, Peeni. Where you at, brother?


Dr Kiri Tamihere-Waititi (Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi, Whakatōhea) is a clinical psychologist and the head of Whānau Ora services at Te Rūnanga o Te Whānau, in Te Whānau ā Apanui, Opotiki, Bay of Plenty. She is also leading the development of a Whānau Ora practitioner competency model for Te Pou Matakana.


© E-Tangata, 2018

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