Mana whenua prevent protesters from occupying Wainuiōmata Marae in Lower Hutt on March 4, 2022. (Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon)

The pandemic has been tough and exhausting for many people, writes Joanne Doherty. But not everyone who’s suffered has been out on the streets protesting. 


Today, March 4, is the 72nd wedding anniversary of my parents, Tui and Eddie, and I am knitting a herb garden. It’s a cowl to keep me warm this winter. I have charts to follow and photos of my herb flowers for colour references. Although it seems complicated, it is simply plain knitting in the round.

I am sitting at the Wellington Blood and Cancer Centre with my husband Jack, who is reading and sleeping intermittently as he receives cycle 3 of his chemotherapy for mesothelioma.

While we’re here in this gentle environment, my much-loved friends and colleagues of several years are protecting their marae in Wainuiomata from unwelcome protesters wanting to camp there after being ejected from Parliament grounds.

These are the people who provided our Covid vaccines and boosters, who generously gave their marae to the community for the Covid response, who feed whānau and ensure they are cared for, and who tirelessly work long hours and weekends of mahi to inform, educate and vaccinate whānau.

On our drive through the city this morning, Jack gave the thumbs up to several police officers. One at the window responds, saying: “Thanks mate, a few bumps and bruises, but okay.”

In the hospital, visitors are more restricted today to ensure fewer people are coming in, in order to protect those who need to be here.

It’s a Friday, and I hear nurses discussing their weekend plans, changing their lives outside of here to protect patients. One of them says she’s decided to go camping on her own because it’s safer than joining friends. How can they continue to provide a chemotherapy service if they all get sick? she asks.

And then I think of the people who came to protest at Parliament three weeks ago. I supported their right to arrive at Parliament and protest, having done so myself during the Springbok Tour and the Foreshore and Seabed hikoi. It’s a good place to go in a democracy such as ours, to have your say and then go home.

But I was alarmed at the violent hate messages, particularly towards the politicians, the media, and the health experts who have led our response. I felt scared for them and their families as I read the messages and slogans.

The Trump flags, the swastikas, the misogynist messages about our prime minister all made me feel sick. It was alarming to hear the denials of scientific knowledge by many of the protesters interviewed, or their belief that wearing tinfoil hats would protect them, or that masks could cause lung cancer! Also worrying were the funding sources for the protest, and the not-so-hidden agendas of many of those who gathered.

Of course, there were lovely families there, kids playing, music to dance to, and kai to eat. There were professionals attending who couldn’t work because of the mandate. People I know attended to protest.

But there’s always a disconnect when I hear nurses and teachers talk about choosing to lose their jobs rather than be vaccinated.

I want to say to the nurses: I can’t understand how you think you could continue to care for my husband with cancer, or a newborn grandchild in a neonatal unit, or visit my old aunty’s home to redo her dressing on her leg, if you aren’t vaccinated.

And to the teachers: Why do you think it’s safe to teach my grandchildren in daycare or primary schools and secondary schools, and not be vaccinated?

Your quest for freedom snatched, and then refused to give back, the freedom of so many in Wellington — students, workers and residents who were abused and frightened as they walked by in their masks.

It was heartbreaking watching you attempt to destroy the mana of Pipitea Marae as you yelled about Te Tiriti o Waitangi rights. And I could make no sense of your numerous “Protect our Children” claims culminating in the symbolic burning of the children’s playground.

This worldwide pandemic of Covid has been tough and exhausting. Everyone has suffered, everyone has a story. It’s not a competition. Our son Jude needed to come home as soon as he heard of his dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and he couldn’t.

As Omicron reaches its peak, our mokopuna can’t visit their Poppa Jack, and their parents hold back, too — right at a time we need company and support from each other. Everyone’s story has its grief.

What is ahead for us as a nation of people, and where do we go now? The borders are opening, the mandates will lessen as the Omicron peak does, the grass at Parliament will be resown and the children’s playground rebuilt.

The answers don’t lie in far-right funding and ideology from the US, or in the dismantling or purchasing of democracy.

The answers are held in the divine gifts and values of Aotearoa: manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, wairuatanga, compassion, forgiveness and wisdom.

There is much to ponder as I return to knitting the herb garden.


Joanne Doherty is a writer, and she belongs to Te Wakaiti, a small, bicultural marae close to Featherston in the South Wairarapa. Her mahi in health, in particular the cancer pathway for whānau Māori, has meant long years of support and friendship with colleagues and friends at Kōkiri Marae. Joanne lives at Muritai, near the entrance to Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

© E-Tangata, 2022

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