Tā Mason Durie, pictured in 2020, is calling for a kaupapa Māori approach that goes far beyond the three-year political cycle. (Photo: Warwick Smith)

The divisive policies of the coalition government continue to unify te ao Maōri, with a hui taumata held in te rohe o Ngāti Kahungunu last week. 

The hui called for Māori leaders to put forward proposals for achieving kotahitanga in Aotearoa — a call made in the face of government policies to dismantle the Māori Health Authority, roll back official use of te reo Māori, reverse smokefree legislation, threaten established Māori wards, diminish the importance of whakapapa for children in state care, sideline the voices of tangata whenua on projects with environmental impacts, and call into question the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Tā Mason Durie is one rangatira who responded to the call. The hui was, he said, a momentous occasion for te ao Māori to gather under Kiingi Tuuheitia’s encouragement and guidance. Here is the thinking Tā Mason brought to the gathering, republished here with his permission.


Today signifies a new dawn, a new day, and the next step towards fulfilling Māori aspirations for the future.

We are from many different places, different iwi, hapū, hāpori and whānau. We come from different vocations, with different politics. We represent different ages — kaumātua, wāhine, tāne, rangatahi, tamariki. And we hold distinctive and diverse whakapono. But, with the support of Kiingi Tuuheitia, today offers the prospect of us standing steadfast and united as one people.

Bringing us together, from a wide range of interests and connections, carries with it the possibility of a more integrated approach towards Māori development, advancement, and transformation in the 21st century.

It does not necessarily mean abandoning our current efforts, but it does add a new dimension that, over time, could evolve into a Māori-centred system based on the collective wisdom and greatest aspirations of our people.

Titiro whakamuri kia kitea ai a mua. (We must look behind in order to see what is ahead.)

Establishing a kaupapa Māori approach to modern times recognises that there is also much to be learned from earlier generations and their initiatives. In that sense, our future lies behind us.

One hundred and thirty-two years ago, in 1892, a hui to establish the Kotahitanga movement was held at Waitangi. It was part of a national Māori effort to establish a Paremata Māori and it reflected a lack of confidence in the Parliament of those times to suitably address Māori concerns and priorities. But the government was strongly opposed to the movement and established Māori Councils accountable to the government. In 1902, the final Paremata meeting at Waiomatatini, signalled the end of the Paremata.

One hundred years ago, in 1924, Dr Peter Buck (Te Rangihīroa) began establishing a Māori Health Council to advise the Department of Health. Appointments from a number of regions included iwi leaders. But before the process was complete, Dr Buck was advised to discontinue appointments and to disestablish the council. He subsequently resigned his position and left the department. A few years before that, in 1922, Te Puea Herangi had advocated for a hospital to be built on her marae. She argued that Māori would be more likely to go to a hospital if it were on familiar territory and close to whānau. But that option was not seriously considered by the government.

Fifty years ago, in 1974, Māori students at the University of Auckland led a protest march to Parliament to advocate for the recognition of te reo Māori as a national language. The following year in 1975, Dame Whina Cooper led a march from Northland to Parliament, advocating for Māori rights and land. Over 5000 people joined her. “Not one acre more” was the cry.

Forty years ago, during the 1980s, the emergence of a raft of innovations reflected Māori aspirations for tikanga and te reo, as well as for greater independence. At the 1984 Hui Whakaoranga, two Māori health frameworks were discussed — Te Wheke and Whare Tapa Whā. At the same hui, Raiha Mahuta outlined the mission and impact of the first Māori health service, Te Raukura Hauora o Tainui. Within a decade, more than 20 other Māori health services had been established across the country. And at the same 1984 hui, there was a clear call to the government agencies to “give us the money and we will do the job”.

Thirty-four years ago, in 1990, the National Māori Congress was established. The leaders were Te Ariki Te Atairangikaahu, Tā Hepi Te Heuheu and Te Reo Hura

(Tumuaki of Te Hāahi Rātana). The Congress was independent of government controls and had representatives from 37 iwi, though it did not speak on behalf of iwi. Instead, the Congress represented Māori views on matters relevant to all Māori, including economic, social, cultural, environmental and political issues. It advanced a unified national Māori position on significant policy matters, both nationally and internationally.

The possibility of a united approach to Māori leadership led the Congress to meet with the New Zealand Māori Council and the Māori Women’s Welfare League, but after two meetings, the idea was put on hold. In any case, following divided opinions about the government’s intentions for the Sealord deal, the Congress ceased to exist from 1996.

Fourteen years ago, in 2010, after widespread consultation, Whānau Ora was established. It was a new step for three main reasons. First, it recognised that whānau were key to Māori wellbeing. Second, rather than reporting to a government department, it was to report directly to the newly appointed minister for Whānau Ora. Third, commissioning agencies were established to manage and fund whānau services in communities.

Two years ago, in 2022, along with other major changes to the health system, the Māori Health Authority, Te Aka Whai Ora, was established. In one sense, the Māori Health Authority provided a vehicle to relay Māori health needs and priorities, and to bring together Māori health agencies. But it was not accountable to Māori. Instead, as a government agency, it reported to the Minister of Health. In any case, in 2023, the new National-led coalition government made it clear that, central to their policy, the Māori-centred government agency would be disestablished.

Mā whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi. (By black and red together, it is done)

There are many more examples of situations where Māori participation and Māori leadership have been subject to political whim. While the emphasis on Te Tiriti o Waitangi has been critical for Māori participation within Aotearoa, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee fulfilment of Māori aspirations within te ao Māori.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is not an endpoint. Nor is a relationship with the government necessarily the overall aim for Māori. A Māori-led option, based on our shared indigeneity, could enable continuity that goes far beyond the influence and over-reach of three-year political terms and coalition governments. Instead, it would recognise centuries of Māori leadership, and provide greater certainty for our current lives and our future aspirations.

An independent Māori voice is needed so that our future is not entirely dependent on the government.

The policies and 100-day plan of the current coalition government have clearly indicated that Māori priorities will not be afforded much-needed attention. Those of our whānau who are severely impoverished and those of our hāpori or communities with high levels of deprivation will be most vulnerable to the negative impacts of these changes. But Māori, more broadly, will also bear the brunt of those policy changes and the 100-day plan.

At an even wider level, it is the next generation of young New Zealanders who will be affected by the de-prioritisation of kaupapa such as te reo Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The establishment of an independent, fully-integrated Taumata Māori would enable Māori to carefully navigate around those negative impacts and impediments to Māori advancement and to the notion of Aotearoatanga, where the spirit of partnership manifests across all facets of life in Te Ika a Māui and Te Waipounamu.

The independent voice could have multiple relationships. It could reach across Te Moananui-ā-Kiwa to Pacific nations, and right across the world, to unite and collaborate more closely, intently and purposefully with Indigenous peoples and nations, to potentially undertake joint ventures in areas such as Indigenous health, education, sport, media, art, investment, environmental sustainability and digital infrastructure. Further collaboration may be possible with those such as the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, and with overseas trade partners — and perhaps, with the New Zealand Government.

The overarching question is: What would an independent Aotearoa-wide Taumata Māori look like?

It would recognise existing Māori authorities such as the Iwi Chairs Forum, hapū and urban Māori authorities and rūnanga, kaupapa Māori health and education authorities and rūnanga, Whānau Ora, the Māori Women’s Welfare League, the

Māori Council, kaumātua, rangatahi, and leaders and leadership in other fields.

It will also reflect a national contemporary Māori reality. It will not usurp current Māori voices in health, education, business, media, housing or in other fields, nor will it assume leadership over them. But it will provide a forum where Māori voices, in a changing and increasingly complex world, can come together and plan for a coordinated future.

Five broad aims will be paramount, when considering the years ahead:

  1. Our people will be healthy and well.
  2. Our people will be grounded in te ao Māori.
  3. Our people will be part of whānau who are linked to marae, hapū, and iwi, hāpori and kaupapa Māori, and are innovative and aspirational.
  4. Our people will live in environments where waters are safe to drink, lands are fertile and productive, where the air in the sky is safe  to breathe, and the built environment is an extension of our kaupapa.
  5. Importantly, our people will have leaders who are connected and united in a common purpose.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. (My success is not mine alone, but comes from the strength of many.)

A stepping stone towards an independent Māori voice could be the initial establishment of seven or eight rūnanga ā-rohe where teams of leaders would meet to cement relationships and to see how cross-sectoral integrated approaches, rather than sectoral isolation, could make for better outcomes. And the rūnanga would also provide a forum for considering the future, and the ways in which collective leadership could bring shifts not achievable by a single sector alone.

The next step could be establishing a Taumata, a dedicated forum where Māori leaders meet and plan for the future. It would not provide services or replace the efforts of current bodies.

The forum could include representatives from throughout te ao Māori — from the Kiingitanga, from rūnanga, from the Iwi Chairs Forum, from the Māori Women’s Welfare League, from the NZ Māori Council, from Whānau Ora, from organisations such as Te ORA (Māori doctors), the Māori Law Association, Māori organisations and delegation for Māori nurses, academics, and teachers, investors, community leaders, environmentalists, mātanga tikanga and mātanga reo. Other workers, leaders and contributors, including those with lived experience, and those from other community organisations, will also have an important contribution to make.

It will be an independent body within Aotearoa and will foster a Māori-led journey that reflects contemporary Māori society in a global context.

A Taumata Board could provide direction and management, and seek funding from iwi, kaupapa Māori organisations, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Indigenous Committee, and the private sector. And also, perhaps, from the New Zealand Government.

In summary, much can be learned from the past, but our future will be stronger when we speak with a united voice that is independent of the Crown and reflective of the aspirations of our people. Only then will we fully realise our full collaborative potential as Māori in ways that are consistent with the principles of mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga.

As an independent body, a Taumata Māori will be instrumental in constructing a system where Māori can be healthy and well, can be grounded in te ao Māori, can have whānau who are aspirational, can live in healthy environments, and can be led by connected, inspirational Māori leaders.

Together we can take inspiring steps where we will be able to focus on what we will give to, and leave for, our tamariki, our mokopuna and our whānau: a future where they can flourish as Māori.

E Te Ariki, Kiingi Tuuheitia, we thank you for bringing us together so that we can plan for our collective future.

Kia kaha. Kia māia. Kia ora.


Tā Mason Durie, KNZM FRSNZ FRANZCP, has whakapapa to Ngāti Kauwhata me Rangitāne. He was knighted in 2010 for services to public and Māori health. Over his long and distinguished career, Tā Mason has been at the forefront of a transformational approach to Māori health and has played major roles in building the Māori health workforce. His efforts have been recognised by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Public Health Association of New Zealand, the Māori Medical Practitioners Association, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, and the Polynesian Society. In addition to his lifelong commitment to Māori health, Tā Mason champions higher education for Māori, providing national academic leadership for Māori and indigenous development and helping iwi and Māori communities to realise their own aspirations for socio-economic advancement.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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