Marewa Glover says her blend of Irish and Ngā Puhi fighting genes get her into trouble. But they haven’t done a bad job of giving her the strength and stamina to keep up the fight for Māori health.
Her specialty has been tobacco control and reducing the damage that smoking does. But she’s been at the forefront of other health kaupapa too.
She’s now an associate professor at Massey University’s College of Health — and here she talks with Dale about her life and her concerns.
Through the years, you and I have had a good many discussions about Māori health — and particularly about the efforts that you and others have made to get Māori to stop smoking. That’s a tough battle, isn’t it?
I’ve been working on that for 23 years now. And there has been a reduction in our smoking rates. Mostly our people have been quitting at about the same rate as Pākehā have been giving up. But we were behind to start with, and although there’s been a reduction in the percentage of Māori smokers, it looks as if the gap is widening again.
So you can’t help thinking: “Hello, what’s going on here? These strategies aren’t working as well as we were told they would.”
When I started, 50 percent of Māori (above 15 years old) were smoking. And now it’s down to 38 percent overall, but it’s 42 percent for Māori women.
I’ve always said to those who were running cessation programmes that we need to approach this holistically. You’ve got to help people change their diet and exercise if they’re to stop smoking. Otherwise they’re going to put on weight — and that’s a major cause of relapse. But look what’s happened with the weight. It’s a major problem now.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at a conference on Māori obesity. And I’m like: “I’m not the obesity person. Go find the obesity person. There’ll be a Māori expert on that.” And they’re like: “No. No, there isn’t. We can’t find one.”
I was really surprised. We’re behind the eight ball on that one too. Now, though, I’m working on a new intervention: a team weight-loss competition.
I had, as you know, developed a team stop smoking competition. I’d wondered if we could use this for other issues. And now I’m funded to do that for weight loss.
That’s a really complex issue, isn’t it?
Well, it’s a new topic for me. I’ve had to learn and I’m still learning. It’s a huge field and I won’t ever be able to say that I’ve grasped it. But it’s clear that diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several cancers, and all sorts of ill health come from obesity. It’s just crept up on us. And now, of course, the same is happening for Pākehā. Obesity is going to outstrip smoking as the leading cause of illness.
There’s no quick fix, though, is there? And we can see that within our own families.
As a matter of fact, my partner, Steve, is diabetic. He has Type 2 diabetes. I kind of thought I knew a bit about it. So we eat well, eat right, at home. And they’ve had him on different medications — and I drag him out walking. But his Type 2 diabetes status, since the time he was diagnosed, hasn’t really changed. You expect to see some change — and it doesn’t happen. So, it’s a very interesting topic.
My new job, though, is actually a teaching job. I’m now lecturing at Massey and I’ll be co-ordinating courses, which is new for me. So I’ll be able to pass on knowledge to the next generation. And that feels like a really worthwhile thing to do — to develop skill in others.
Thank you, Marewa, for that overview of your work. But let’s turn to more personal stuff now. Like your name.
Well, on Mum’s side, we’re Māori, from the Cook and Baker whānau in the Hokianga. The Cooks were from Waikare — on the other coast.
My father’s father was a Glover from England and his mother was fifth generation Pākehā. We have a connection with one of the very old shops towards the top of Queen St in Auckland. Not far from Aotea Square. It was called Potter and Tanfield, I think, and it sold crystal glass and things like that. It had a really ornate mosaic tile entrance. Well, Tanfield is one of my grandmother’s whānau names.
On the Māori side, the Cooks and the Bakers from the Hokianga are a big whānau. I remember hearing that, if any of the younger generation married back into Māori blood, they would get cut off.
That’s the way the Hokianga was. It was one of those areas that was colonised first and in order for young people to succeed, and improve their chances in life, they were told to drop te reo — and stop being Māori in any way. That was how to get ahead in the world. And that’s what my mum had been exposed to.
Mum’s mother, Kathleen May Gogan, came from Ireland. Harry Cook was in the UK while serving in the first World War. He met this young Irish girl and dragged her back to Hokianga. Poor thing. That would’ve been a shock for her. I’ve actually been over to Duleek in Ireland to see where she came from and I met some of the Gogan whānau who still live there.
I’m quite proud of my Irish genes although they get me into trouble. No wonder, when you mix the staunch Irish fighting genes with the staunch fighting genes I’ve got from my ancestor Tiraha Papaharakeke, because she was a fifth cousin to Hone Heke.
And where did you grow up?
I had a transient childhood. I was born in the Helensville Hospital. My mum, Patricia, and father, Les Glover, were living in Helensville at that time. But we moved a lot. My father had a gambling problem. He constantly lost money on the horses.
I went to 10 schools in 10 years, starting at Verran Primary School in Birkenhead. I spent some time, too, in Coromandel and also over in Australia, in Adelaide (at Walford, a very expensive girls’ boarding school) and then at St Joseph’s High, in Broken Hill. I finished up there with School Certificate.
My father was quite violent so we (I was the oldest of three girls) had it pretty rough. And we were poor from time to time. Luckily, my mum and her sister became ballroom dancing teachers. So my mum had her own business and her own income. And when she eventually had to kick my father out — I was only nine at that stage — Mum still had her own income. She never went on the benefit. I don’t know if they even had it then.
By that stage, my mother and father had got into property. Buying houses. Doing them up. And selling. That partly explains the moving as well.
My father was often violent and angry. He was abusive towards my mother — and he hit us from time to time. So that was traumatic. I don’t have a lot of really good memories of childhood. It’s the trauma that stays with you, unfortunately.
What are your memories of your time in Australia?
When my mum remarried I was sent to live with her. I’d been sent to live with my father and his new wife a couple of years before but we weren’t getting on. Mum and her third husband had moved to Australia with my two younger sisters and they bought a pub in Broken Hill.
So, during the week, I’d be in boarding school and then, at the weekends, I’d be at the pub with my two sisters. We were put to work doing housework, cleaning the rooms, changing the beds, and that sort of thing.
But, as soon as I’d done my School Certificate, my stepfather was like: “That’s it. We’re not paying for any more education.” So my mum brought me back to Auckland and left me with my older half-sister from her first marriage. And they got me a job with the telephone services in the Post Office.
It was kind of okay, but it was my first job and I was only 16 and very naive. And, being a very young person in an adult world, with no support and no adult guidance, I suffered quite a lot of sexual abuse. I ended up flatting with a younger sister, so there were two of us trying to survive in that world.
You did some travelling, though, didn’t you?
Yeah. I saved up and, by 19, I was doing my OE in Europe. At first, I did one of those camping tours — a nine-week bus trip. And I ended up working as a cook on those same tours. I was nearly always mixing with older people. And trying to deal with lots of unwanted sexual attention. Quite a bit of it was what we might recognise today as date rape. I had a pretty rough time and so did my sister.
In fact, when I was dating a guy in Australia, he lost his temper, became violent with me, and I nearly died. That was a turning point for me. I blacked out and during that, a dead uncle, my favourite Uncle Ted (from my Hokianga whānau) spoke to me. That experience helped me realise that there were a lot of very sick people in the world — and that’s why I went to university so I could learn how to help them.
I know that sounds very naive, but that’s what I did. I did a Bachelor’s degree in psychology because I thought I’d become a clinical psychologist. Those university days were a time of political awakening for me because I became involved with various groups on campus. Feminism. Activism. Amnesty International. And the Nuclear Free Australia Party.
But, in due course, you found your way back to New Zealand?
Not straight away. When I finished my degree, I got a job as a community health co-ordinator at a country hospital in Victoria — and next I managed a community health centre in another town. But then I felt it was time to come home. So I came back and did my Masters at Waikato University in community psychology. By then I’d worked out that, if you just work on an individual level, it’s an endless river of people, hurt and in pain.
I couldn’t see that I was going to have much impact that way. So community psychology appealed to me because you work more at a community development level. And it seemed far more consistent with Māori values and my values.
While I was studying, I always had to work to see myself through university. And one of my part-time jobs was working for Rape Crisis as a counsellor. After all that, I went to Wellington to figure out how to become a policy analyst and understand how government works.
That was the key to setting me on the path of working for the rest of my career on tobacco control. I guess the more important issue to me would’ve been to work on reducing sexual violence. But I just found that too heavy. It hurt too much. So, I couldn’t do it. Working as a rape crisis counsellor made me physically sick.
I wasn’t strong enough to listen to those terrible, terrible stories of abuse from the victims of sexual violence. So I went to Wellington and worked at the Public Health Commission. Then I did one job after the other focused on reducing smoking until I did my PhD on Māori smoking so I could get into a position where I can influence the policies and funding and programmes that will benefit us.
I wouldn’t mind betting that’s been a really hard slog.
That’s true. And one of the problems is what Rawiri Jansen, John Tamihere and Tariana Turia have often talked about. It’s the institutional racism in the health system. That’s almost crushed me.
You battle year after year, like decades, for programmes and policies to reduce smoking, only to have them overridden again and again and again. It’s really crushing.
I know how hard it is for so many of our people to give up smoking. So many of our young girls and boys are trying to cope with tough circumstances. They have violence in the home. Their education is interrupted by constant moves. I know how hard it is because I went through it. I’ve been there. And I smoked.
And it hurts that the people who are in control of funding haven’t had that kind of background. They don’t know what we’ve had to go through to get to where we are. So I have a deep compassion for our people, especially our girls and women, who still have that kind of lifestyle and are still being victimised.
Another factor perhaps is the damage to your self esteem that comes from that kind of experience.
Well, more and more of our ways are being replaced. There’s been a breaking down of the whānau. That was a result of the pepper-potting housing back in the 1950s. I’m a child that had to live with the impact of that. Often being the only Māori at the school. There might’ve been some other brown kids but we were all supposed to blend in.
There was that whole thing of trying to hide that you’re Māori. My mum used to tell me to stroke my nose to try and make it thinner and don’t go in the sun. She wasn’t allowed to go in the sun because she’d go too brown. All those sorts of really damaging things that say: “You’re not okay. It’s not okay to be Māori.”
Tough as it has been for you, I’m sure one of the positive elements through all this is that you’ve been a role model yourself.
Paul McDonald, who was here at Massey University as the head of the College of Health, told me when he employed me that it’s important to have Māori women as role models — women who’ve been through all that I have and managed to survive and build a successful career. How are students going to feel if there are no lecturers from their world they can relate to?
We need to be in here for the Māori students that would like to get a degree. There’s lots of different ways to improve our lives and to fight the institutional racism and the ongoing globalisation. But one useful way is getting a degree and getting into a position of influence where you can have a voice — and where you can speak against the decisions that are damaging for our people.
There’s got to be Māori in these institutions, to support the younger Māori to come through and do it as well. Can’t say that it’s easy. I think of Hone Heke. We’ve got to have people, warriors, on all of our battlefronts — and cutting down flagpoles.
For Māori, it’s very important that we still have radicals who’re willing to speak out. Even if it means they’ll lose their jobs. I’ve had fantastic role models: Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Syd Jackson, Moana Jackson, Moana Maniapoto, and John Tamihere.
Speaking out. Going out on a limb. Building Māori businesses. That’s what we have to do.