8 Pipiri 2018
P: Kia ora kōrua – Jenni, Maria, I acknowledge all those that are gathered – unseen, and those that I occasionally see. I send up the love and am grateful very much for this opportunity.
I whakapapa to Ngāti Porou through my mother. Tūturu. She is a Karawhata, a transliteration of Crawford. We come from Te Araroa through Ropata Karapata and Keiti Te Ahurangi who was a puhi of the area before she married my great great grandfather. She used to argue in the land courts about the land blocks, and how the women were losing collective title because they were marrying into settler men. It was interesting to me, and it was recorded by my grandmother. Her name was Marcelles Crawford and she had in her whare, up in the ceiling, a manuscript and when she died I found and I copied it by hand. I left the original for the whānau and I’ve since studied it and recorded a lot of our whānau women’s herstories and what they were told by their mamas and their grandmothers. Out of that I have been able to fatten up, or put the flesh on the bones, of some of the women’s stories more in a contemporary setting over the last 3 or 4 generations. So from that I wanted to do a lot more work, in and around, how our people came to be. How my mother came to be and how I came to be.
I am a state ward of 14 years and my story is fairly much public. I did that purposefully for a lot of people who have been through state care, who have been adopted, who have been whāngai’ed out – whilst there are lots of wonderful experiences out there captured, there are some extreme and painful experiences, that people have incurred and it’s not always easy to talk about that. Why because it makes us appear weaker than others, and somehow marred, somehow we have asked for it, somehow we’ve invited it, and it keeps us from telling the world of the deep, dark secrets. But I chose to have a voice because, my reckoning right from when I left state care, was I always spoke about what was happening to us. I had to to stay alive, when I kept my voice to myself, I would get sick in the throat. I had really bad tonsillitis/Quincy where my throat poisoned up – you know our throat chakra – we hold a lot of the harm, repression there, and there’s no flow and the lack of flow keeps the toxins in. And of course I didn’t know it then, but I recognise now much later in life that a lot of the reason I was sick is because I was carrying the mamae for myself and my brothers. It was telling me, my old people compelling to speak up, and I have written down my experiences, so there is a record of my lived truth.
I spent all those years in state care with my 2 younger brothers. There is about a year, between us all. The boys were in nappies when we were taken into care. And we were taken by the state because of nothing short of racism. When you look at the DSW notes, you can tell from the decisions that the social workers were making at the time that interracial unions were frowned upon. Children who came out of an interracial union – that wasn’t tika at that time, we’re deemed to be marred, or less than. You either had to be Māori or you had to be Pākehā – you can’t be a mix of the both. And it wasn’t so much a case of Mum and Dad arguing and fighting, or giving each other the bash – I can remember seeing this go on – even now I look back on my early childhood memories, I would much rather have stayed in with my parents, than being brought up in state care – shunted, and shifted, and sexually abused, and fucked around, and beaten up, and my brothers have said the same thing. So we were taken by the state from our parents who were quite capable of bringing us up and we were never returned.
The thing that pains me the most is I still have nightmares. I can understand and accept everything from the past, but the thing I can’t quite get over is I still hear the cries of my baby brothers and not being able to get through the door to find out what was going on with them, to protect them. And the last thing my father said to me before he dropped us off was, “Take care of your baby brothers, they’re too little”. And the thing is, he was telling me to do something that I was too young to do myself. I was 5 years old, I couldn’t even reach the door handle of the door of the room where I knew my brothers were being abused in. Anyway, that’s one of the memories that I have. I might talk all over the place, but what I am saying is that we were taken and we didn’t need to be.
Once you are inside state care then they have to justify having taken you in the first place, and often they will demonise a Mum and Dad further to justify the taking. And I’ve heard that from hundreds of my state care whāngai and adoption brothers and sisters over the years – that when they’ve gone back and they’ve tried to make heads and tails behind the decisions made by social workers, other state care representatives at the time, they all said a lot of it was based upon outright racist decision making. The whole idea that white supremacy was deemed better for our well-being. When I talk about white supremacy, its about them not understanding whakapapa connections, what happens to children when they are taken away from their family links, the whakapapa loss, the wairua, and those linkages to your blood bonds. And when you look at those Department of Social Welfare notes they tell you a lot, they tell a lot of back story, and you can compare it to the decision making today that social workers and white-stream front line workers, working with families in need make, it’s the same sort of decision – all based on ‘white is best’, ‘white is right’, and ‘why can’t you be more like us’, ‘this is our way’, ‘it’s our way or the highway’…
J: What time period was that, was it in the 60’s or 70’s?
P: Yeah 60’s and 70’s, I was aged 5, ’67 when I went into care and I grew up in care into the 70’s it was 1980 when I got to leave.
J: So you were born in 61 62?
J: I was born in 61 and was with you in the era of that time.
P: We were the ones you know where um Donna Awatere did her research, as part of the oral Accord Report.
J: In the 80’s
P: We were the ones in care that her research was based around – that whole blowing the whistle and actually examining what was going on for children and particularly Māori children and Māori girls. They talk at the moment about Māori boys going through Epuni, Kohitere and Lake Alice and the like, but when you look at some of what Māori girls experienced based on them not being ‘enough’, more ladylike, more white, more feminine. And a lot of my kōrero today is we need to realise that those state of minds, those attitudes, are still prevalent right now, specifically in the Oranga Tamariki and the Family Court. That you are not white enough, you are not motherly enough, you are not protecting your children enough, you don’t know how to make the right decisions; we have to do that for you. That level of misogyny, and the whole intersectionality between being Māori and being a woman. Wearing the layers of ignorance down through the generations, as a result of colonisation. Colonising Christian values, spare the rod spoil the child, women are secondary, all of that, and why our men behave towards our women the way that they do.
Anyway, what I can say, is that as a child growing up in state care, I was always aware of never belonging to anybody, and you’re constantly told that growing up – “you’re nobody’s child, nobody wants you”. You begin to believe it after a while, and then after a while you stop fighting. My brothers stopped fighting. They stopped. They would tell me, “Don’t tell, don’t tell! Stop it! Stop it! You’re getting us into more trouble”. But I would never stop trying to tell the social workers that we were being, we were being abused.
When we got a little bit older, they were pitting us like dogs against one another for adult entertainment. That’s where I learnt to fight. That’s where I learnt how to physically stand up for myself. They made me a fighting machine. So they would put me up against really big boys – and we loved each other, we didn’t want to hurt one another – but we would have to. The caregivers are not screened, and they have their mates that come over on a Friday or Saturday night, and they get the children out in the back-yard for entertainment. And so they’re having a few drinks, and got the chairs out, and they’re watching children fist fighting. You know actually rolling around wrestling and fist fighting one another, and hurting one another. And they would keep on putting me in because I was really good at what I did. And the reason I was really good, is they said they threatened to pit my baby brothers in if I didn’t. So I learnt how to maim other children and in doing so how to be maimed and handle the pain.
And then one day I turned on the caregiver – and I still remember him – the smell of the beer on his breath, and his cigar, still a smell I find really hard to stomach… I stood up to him, and I beat him. You know I was about 13 or 14, I stood up to him and I physically hurt him. I beat him back. Kicked him fair in the balls, and I got him down, and I just kept on putting the boot in. I got done for beating him. And nobody asked why I did it. And what it did it just confirmed what he had been telling the social workers every time I told stories about some of the injuries that the kids were getting. You know the bite-marks and bruises, that I was making it up and I was one of the children that was so damaged that I was causing the fighting between the kids. I was blamed as the instigator. Children don’t do that to each other. Why they did it – it was a way of keeping children separated from each other. Separated from comforting one another, because we didn’t have anybody else. It’s an age old British ploy, you know if you look at it, taking the layers away… the British keep the commoners fighting among themselves and the gentry sit back and watch it happen. Entertainment, extreme power and control. And then you learn to doubt yourself, and be nothing, to feel nothing.
So I guess what I am talking about is that I had this compelling need to always, no matter what, to speak up about it, and even though I wasn’t believed and I was always called names, and told that I was the trouble-maker – I hate the word the trouble-maker – I never stopped speaking out and telling. And I think once I started to grow up, and leave the state care, and talk about some of this stuff, my throat got better. And there was a period where I got into the self-medicating that comes after a traumatic time and post-traumatic stress disorder. The norm for me was being in fight or fight constantly having adrenalin running through my body – you know watching for the next incoming – that becomes a norm for those who are in a constant state of not being looked after, not being cared for. There was hardly ever periods of happiness, or children actually playing, we were always looking over our shoulder waiting for something else to happen. So the self-medicating is something that a lot of trauma victims or survivors talk about.
My fallout was drugs and alcohol and getting in to a violent relationship straight away. Then I had my boy. And I lost a couple of other babies because of the stress and the beatings. But I think my boy was my saving grace. And like I said, he’s my best friend. He came to save me. And he still talks about it “I came to get you out of there Mum, I came to make you stay”. And consequently he’s a great inspiration for me and we talk to each other a lot and I speak up and I talk about state care survivor-ship. I talk about the fact that our tamariki are still being tracked through a system, in fact more so than ever before, like a conveyor belt. Straight from care to incarceration, and it’s our people that are being targeted. So once you begin to wake up and understand the historic nature of your whānau, which I did – you know with that historic manuscript that I did, and the need to talk, or express myself, also comes out in teaching. I taught myself how to write, and I got in to social work. I escaped the violence of my boy’s father. He was a Mongrel Mob prospect, and whilst I understood a lot of the history around what makes people get into gangs, there’s some not so good stuff. And my path was not to go down that one. My path was to be solo really. So I brought my boy up on my own and I had a lot of help from Women’s Refuge to do that. And my calling was to go back and study, and I did.
One of the things that they always told me as I was growing up is, and this is part of the isolating and fucking with your head, so that you won’t rebel, is that “You will never amount to anything. Never, ever amount to anything. You will always be nobody”. Well I’m not a fucking nobody. And if you fullas that did all the abuse, who are still alive now, I would be quite happy to shove that right down your throats. And I hope that my whānau are telling you over there, with a digit in your face “She’s amazing! She came here to do what she came here to do, and you guys will have to just go back and live another life until you wake up to yourselves”. I get to go home and celebrate don’t I? I don’t have to come back to all of this.
So state care … I guess what I’ve learnt over the years, that it’s a machine. And it’s built on racism and white supremacy. And it’s built on telling people what they want to hear: that child protection is needed, colonial justice is needed, that Māori cannot do it for themselves, we have to do it for them. It’s just built on lies, and more lies, and it keeps us from being able to be self-determining. I come from both Welsh as well as Ngāti Porou whakapapa and people say to me “Yeah Paora, you’re so fair your both Māori and non-Māori”. But I say to them yeah it’s not about blood though. I stand and claim my whakapapa on my mother’s side, because that’s where I am needed the most. And I guess what I am saying is that I’ve learnt so much from an insider perspective. And that is – if I’m to say to the powerful, “lived experience is powerful”. And vulnerability can be a state of privilege and I got that lesson from my boy. What he was saying is those that live the hardest, or have the hardest journey, who live closest to death, or extreme hardship, are the ones that bring the light. Because how would we know had they not done that. What we need to wake ourselves, what the world needs to wake up to itself and what it’s doing – to one another, to each other, to mother earth, to the whole global being here. What is means ‘to be’.
Well the state care journey was necessary, and I’m really grateful for it. I might be a survivor, but I’m not a victim. I don’t see myself as a victim. I see myself as privileged. And that I was given a divine job by my tūpuna to come here and speak up about what’s not ok that is happening to our people, what’s not ok that’s happening in a wider sense. Globally. But my specific focus is on tamariki. Our babies going through state care at rates twice that of non-Māori, and the lies that come out… I find it very difficult to say the words ‘Oranga Tamariki’ because it’s such a bastardisation of the concept. And I don’t mean the surface, floating around on the surface, concept -I mean the depth-of-the-Pacific concept of well-being of our children. And I’m not saying when I’m talking about our tamariki, that only Māori children matter – all children in Aotearoa. But Māori are the ones that are predominately targeted because of racial decision making, racial profiling and ignorance, and the reason why I am always barking on about Oranga Tamariki and it’s change from Child Youth & Family, it was never a change. It was just a rebranding cos they rolled over the same senior managers that have been there for fucking forever, into the new child-centered model – child-centered to me means child exclusion. To separate them out from all that they know. Which is exactly what happened to us as children. Because when you make children separate from their connections they are much easier to target and get them to conform, to be voiceless and silent. And we’ve got more uplift happening now in our child protection system than before we had Puao-te-ata-tu. And when you look at the figures we’ve got 6,545 children that have been uplifted just in the last year. When the target, the cut-off, the red light cut off for government was 5000. And we know when Puao-te-ata-tu came out that, that was a result of lamenting, and holes in the whakapapa, and nannies crying out that their babies are being stolen. They’ve been picked up for reasons other than care and protection – because they’re Māori, because kids gather together, because she’s running away from wherever it was and they pick her up and put her right back..
Here’s something, I’ve been around hundreds and hundreds of survivors that have been through state care. When we talk together almost all of them say… It was very rare to come across a child – now in their adulthood who said “I was never harmed whilst I was in state care.” All the rest will nod their head and go, “It happened when we were in state care!” “Yes I may have had some of that going on, yes and we had Jake the Muss fucking going on, but I would much rather have gone to my nanny or my uncle than to have been shunted, and shifted, and fucked around, in abusive state care.” Who did not take responsibility, or have any accountability measures in place for how they look after their children, the screening and properly encouraging and training and awhi of and resourcing care-givers.
We were brought up in faith based care, which in those days because it’s a good Christian third contractor party – it’s not a direct state care institution. They call it third party contracting. And so they contracted this service to a faith based institution who were supposed to provide children’s home services for children that were taken from their parents.
J: Family homes?
P: Yes family homes. Now we weren’t, you know, offenders or children who were breaking the law and unruly. We were really well behaved and really young, too young – and they put us into a faith based family home. And the attitude then was that if you were good caring Christian people the screening wasn’t really required. Well they found out later that in one of the homes that we were put, that the father had been done for rape of a 2 year old. They had a record of it. We found out this years later, it was all very hush hush at the time. The onus was on his wife who was a good Christian woman to become caregiver in the home and he was out working. But he still came home at night time, and that’s where a lot of the pitting of us happened. I’m not going to name the faith based institution because that just kind of it narrows it down, I haven’t decided what I am going to do about that yet. Whether it is even worth it. He died a painful death, he fell off the back of a truck drunk and he also had liver damage. He reaped what he sowed. I do believe that things come around again and you get your just deserts. That’s why I choose to live a life in unconditional love. And whilst it may sound, I’m angry and I still carry pain, I’m at peace with everything that I’ve ever incurred. But it doesn’t mean that I have to talk nicely about it. Who talks nicely about the rape of children? I have had Pākehā social workers say things like “Paora maybe someone would listen to you if you only talked a little bit nicer. You always sound so angry and aggressive”. That’s an annoying thing for me when know-it-alls, with their white fragility, tone police us. That they think they have the right to tone police us. Well you can go shove it up your jumper because you have no idea, and until you do have an idea, just…
So whilst we are on that, there are several things that I want to say, I’m saying that the system, Oranga Tamariki is horribly flawed. It should be called ‘Tamariki Trauma’ instead of ‘Tamariki Ora’. You are uplifting our children at the rate of Fort Knox, why? Because of predictive risk modelling – such as the Tuituia Assessment Framework which was a predictive risk modelling tool that came from overseas, that was Māori-fied by some very nice Māori academics who now work for the Oranga Tamariki. Tuituia means to weave together which is an absolute lie, another contradiction of term, to weave together – it does nothing but separate babies from their whakapapa. And whilst there might be some really good stories of children saying “we’ve gone on and had a wonderful time in care” – I would put my life on the line to say that the majority of stories of children in state care are about separation and trauma. And who are you, who are you to work in the Master’s house and then degrade the name of some of our front-line activists for speaking out. Your’e actually helping the Master.
I’ve talked about the assessment process that the Police are using, that social workers are using. The research that’s coming out about predictive risk modelling from Auckland University – I think her name is Emily Kiddell, she’s a member of the Reimagining Social Work platform – and she’s got some really good research that talks about how we were never supposed to go down the predictive risk modelling track. But we have gone down that track, and predictive risk modelling is supporting those in power, their decision making against those wishes, or plans, or wants, of the wider whānau of the children that have been uplifted. It supports the state and not the whānau. It doesn’t strength assess the whānau. It assesses their limitations. That’s a problem. Another problem is that you’ve got ignorant social workers going through often poor social work training programmes. And the only ones I’ve got any time for is Raukawa and…
J: Te Wānaga o Aotearoa?
P: Te Wānanga o Raukawa and Aotearoa. They’re two Wānanga that I have had a lot to do with in the way that they train their social workers in a Kaupapa Māori Wānanga styles. Where they come out with deep knowledge of how to work with whānau rather than against them. What you’ve got elsewhere is often half-arsed, deliberately not taught, lack of bicultural or Te Tiriti centered training over a four year period. Tagging a little bit of Māori on does not make you culturally competent. We’ve got culturally incompetent social workers working at the frontline as interns doing fine brain surgery with our whānau. We need to stop that. The other thing that we need to do, is we need to have our own approval body to approve who are competent to work with our whānau. Not a Pākehā body and registration standards, that are say paper based from a Tauiwi perspective. Yes you’ve ticked all the boxes, you sound like you are competent enough to work with our whānau, and as soon as they are in the seat, a powerful seat, whānau are saying, “We can’t work with this young 20 year old she has no children and no idea and when we try to tell her that it’s not working, that we’re not understanding, or she’s not listening to us. She calls us confrontational”.
That’s not happening in one or two offices, that’s happening across the motu. You can tell a really good office that works with our people when they have low uplift rates and high alternative ways of working with that whānau. Passing them onto NGO’s that actually do the collective work with them. Where you’ve got high uplift you’ve got cultural incompetence and that is something that we need to be addressing. What we’ve got is a production line now that is working so well with a tinkered around Oranga Tamariki Act by a bunch of fucken amateurs who have taken whānau first out, helicoptered a few Māori kupu in – in replacement, and then that law says that Māori have no right of recourse. Once the Family Court judge signs on the bottom line, slams down that gavel, that these Māori children can go to this forever loving home if that whānau have not been involved in the process and try to come back and claim their children, their mokopuna, they have no right of recourse, why? Because the one recommendation that came out of Puao-te-ata-tu to go into the Children and Young Persons and their Families Act has been cleverly lifted by the National government and we lobbied and we fought and we called ourselves Hands Off Our Tamariki but we lost the battle.
It becomes a forced production line to ‘forever loving homes’ – within six to twelve months if a social worker’s saying that these parents are not complying so we can put these children into forever loving homes. The whole forever loving homes myth is so that the government can sign themselves off from these children and its another way of forced adoption. It doesn’t work! A lot of family members are saying we’re not getting the resources, we’re not getting the support, this is happening too quickly. We’ve got these damaged children and some caregivers are really anti the whanau. They have no idea what it means, whakapapa and wairua connection, and the power of that. And the power of our own to stand up on their own two feet and say NO! You have no idea about us. You have no right to make decisions about our babies – that is for us to do. You are not experts – you are not! You put yourselves there, and the system allows for you, for white supremacists to put themselves into positions of knowing. Hell, even a white woman can take our moko kauae taonga put it on her face and claim it! Well maybe I should get the Union Jack tattooed on my arse for all of the abuse that my brothers and I incurred – that’d be something!
So a lot of my work at the moment is around lobbying. Has been for years. Lobbying for state care survivors, to give voice, to have a say – especially women. And I think it was when I challenged, a few years ago, I challenged ANZASW. A couple of their people, who were trying to do research without any Māori at the table – and they treated me so badly that I put it into a blog. And that went viral. And they were really, really, angry with me. And I started to get a really bad name in social work as being a raging activist, because basically I was calling them out saying ANZASW was not bicultural. They’re monocultural and waving their Tino Rangatiratanga flag every time the Queen goes by, you know, or some Māori business comes up, it was littlebitism rather than their espoused biculturalism. And anyway they didn’t like it. And I’ve been challenging social work ever since. Because my premise is that you are still transacting our people to clip your tickets on, filling your jails, and also creating an industry where you collect your pay from. And the start line is over here with our babies, and you’re picking them up for reasons other than neglect and abuse. That they come from poverty.
You know, when you keep on putting people into damp housing and you see how often their children are going to the doctors, or not going to the doctors cos they can’t afford to fucken pay for it. And they keep on getting the croup, and rheumatic fever, and then their children are taken off them because they appear too many times in the health system. Somehow the parents have caused that! When you look – if you’ve got off your fucken arses and really investigated what some of those frontline reasons are, what’s underneath it all – that you are taking the babies – and that was made public you would find that mostly there’s a small, there’s a much smaller section of children being taken from parents where they absolutely have to be taken, because they are beyond reproach, beyond being able to help. And those children need to be made safe. But don’t put them where they’re never going to have any connections back with their whānau. When you take the whānau first out, and all of that, and whānau hapū and iwi, and you basically whiten the Act that allows your neoliberalist privatising, which is another vinyl layer on the production line, so that can slip and slide a little bit better, straight into the arms of the abusers. And I don’t mean that everybody, every caregiver and foster caregiver in Aotearoa are abusers, a lot of them are good people, but they are not resourced, they’re not trained enough, they’re not looked after enough, to really be able to cope with some of the behaviours that these children have…. Complicated babies need really well trained people, not just normal Joe Bloggs over the back fence. Stop uplifting where you don’t need to uplift, and concentrate on the ones that really need the care. You change the model and then you start uplifting more thanthe system can cope with. There’s no places to put these children. When there’s no places to put these children – you know what social workers do – they don’t do the checks. They haven’t got the time to do the checks. Haven’t got the time to have the relationships. They’ve only got time to pick them up in the first instance, and then we’ll sort it out later. You know how traumatic it is for a child to be taken from their whānau? That is where the biggest trauma occurs.
Is there anything else you want me to talk about?
M: Thank you for sharing what you are sharing…
P: It’s an absolute industry, it’s an absolute machine. And it’s slick. And they changed the laws and a whole lot of amateurs came there. That Children’s and Young Persons and their Families Act was actually fine. The one thing it didn’t do, is that it didn’t give iwi the powers that iwi were supposed to have, equal to the General Director of DSW. And that was what, it was supposed to do. But what happened it was blocked left, right, and centre. So that the vision, that the visionaries who put it all together to the best of their ability, was that iwi were supposed to be their own decision makers and look after their children. But the system didn’t resource that did they? They resourced family group conferencing for a while and then they gave them a chocolate biscuit and a cup of tea inside the CYPS office. And it didn’t become family centered decision making around the caring for their babies. It became a state centered process – and that’s what my masters was based on. It’s a big fat lie that the family group conference is an amazing piece of [legislation]. It does the opposite – it actually rubber stamps what the state wants, in the main, not what the family want or need.
M: I really liked the connections you made with how things were, and how they’ve continued under different names and kupu Māori, so that it looks one way, while it still operates at another level.
P: It’s very slick and it sucks people in. And then you’ve got very powerful legislators and ministers who blatantly – at the moment, you know for example, have a nice Facebook page and they’re only posting the really nice stories from children who are celebrating getting a trophy, and have been in care, and have lovely caregivers. But you see some of the comments that are coming from people who’s the complete opposite – and they are white. So it’s very PR. They put a lot of money into their PR. They’re putting it out there. And children are still getting locked up in residential centres that are supposed to be care and protection. And they number 63% are Māori in the care and protection residences. And 72% of the kids in youth detention centres are Māori. Now that’s targeting, and it’s still happening. In fact, it’s worse than it’s ever been. And people say to me “How do you change that?” and I said well here … in fact, I presented just last week to the restorative Practices Aotearoa hui. Dame Nadia Glavish and Moana Jackson and a few other choice people that believe in restorative justice…
J: The one in Rotorua?
P: Parihaka. I presented there and they were shocked. I was talking about the same stuff and they were shocked and they said “Surely not, surely not” and I’m saying “Why are you guys working in restorative practice, working with our tamariki, if you do not even know what the stats are. I’m not just making this up because I’m a state care survivor.
Here’s another story. Went to a hui with Oranga Tamariki staff who are doing the nice PR thing – “we’re going to be up and running in 5 years’ time” she was talking about the new child centric model and the various stats and different things, and I get up and I said “Yeah but you’ve got 73% there, 62% there, and the rate of uplift between zero and 5, and uplift off the birthing table is this many”. And she says, “I don’t know where on earth you’re getting your stats from Paora but it’s just the same sort of thing from you isn’t it? We’re here to show you that we’re doing really well”. I said “Um those stats aren’t made up. They’re not my stats, they come from your website”. And she said “Oh no that can’t be right. Those stats are way off”. And I said, “They come from your website”. And I had to tell her 3 times, hell she didn’t even know about her own Oranga Tamariki stats from 2016-2017. They don’t even know their own numbers. That speaks volumes.
Just yesterday a social worker who has graduated and got a job in Oranga Tamariki, she tells me this story of her very first experience of uplift. Her colleague who sits next to her, this Pākehā woman uplifts two Māori boys from their parents – quite justifiably so, because they’re terrible P users. But it’s the way in which she did it. She brought the boys into the office and locked them up in an office where they couldn’t get out. There’s no windows there and they’re holding on to each other crying. And this older Māori woman goes in to the office and picks these boys up and starts to awhi them. Pākehā woman comes in and says, “What are you doing?” “She says, “I’m giving these children some love and care. Why are they sitting in here alone and crying?” She says, “Well I tried to console them but they don’t want to come to me” She says,“because you took them from their parents!” Where is the manaaki? Where is the awhi of these children? We’re supposed to be a child centered, you know, where is best practice? Putting them in an isolated office where they’ve got nobody to care for them is not conducive to the wellbeing of those children. It’s traumatic. And these are the things that we are not talking or hearing about.
But what we see are lovely posters up on the Oranga Tamariki office with brown smiling faces of our babies and Oranga Tamariki declaring “we are tika, we are pono and we do it with aroha.” And I’ve just been in the WINZ office listening to a woman, an older woman, she had wet herself because she had been going between Oranga Tamariki down to WINZ to try and get the benefit for her mokos, and WINZ wouldn’t let her use their toilet. She ended up wetting herself because she couldn’t go with her mokos across the intersection to the public toilet across the road. There’s a lot that is happening at the frontline. Where is the compassion gone?
And the other thing you need to be listening to is the stories that the Backbone Collective have been talking about. They’ve captured a lot of Māori women’s stories,and Pākehā women, through surveys and talking to them. But exactly what I’ve been talking about for the last 5 years, especially in my PhD research, the uplift of children because of family violence. The onus is on the mama to protect herself, well protect the children from witnessing family violence. All the mamas are saying that they’re doing all they can do. I’m not talking about the ones that are out of it on P – that’s a small group. Most of them who are in family violence relationships and 2/3 of the incidence reports that come through from the Police to Oranga Tamariki, because they’ve got children in the home they have to report, and those social workers are picking up those kids based on the Police predictive risk assessments. They go in and they pick them up straight away, regardless of the degree of which is going on. Even in the first instance. So the children are getting uplifted and when you’ve got 2/3 of the notifications coming through from Police where there are children present, that’s a very big number. And again, just like what happened to me, it’s very hard to justify an unnecessary uplift and use of resources. So therefore, it’s easier to demonise the mother and justify it later on.
I don’t believe that Oranga Tamariki are there to protect children, they’re there to be an industry, to be a machine. I’m saying give it back to us. Give it all back to us. Let us do it. Let us, who number in our thousands, who are qualified enough and care enough, to actually get a machine going for ourselves that is led by women and men on an equilibrium basis. And that we can have the resources to provide and capture these children. Not uplift them completely from their homes, and their schools, and their communities … and uplift. If Papa’s doing the fucken abuse, then uplift Papa. Put him over there in a supported house, give him all the stuff that he needs to be taken care of over there, programmed, and whatever – but don’t, don’t uplift our women and children, so that the children lose both Mum and Dad, and their wider whānau. That’s happening too much. And when we take them away from Mum and Dad, often it’s our older folk that are bringing them up and they’re not being properly resourced in the way that non-Māori get resourced for bringing these babies up. Is that making sense?
J: A little yeah but it’s beautiful to hear you say the words that yeah
P: Our old people shouldn’t have that. They should be collectively supported and they should be honoured and loved and thanked. I said to my boy if we were back in the old days son, that baby, his baby, would be coming to me. And he said, “You know what Mum, I’d be ok with that”. He said, ‘You brought me up in a beautiful way”. He said, “But nah I want him to myself”.
J: But he understands that mana of whāngai in terms of…
P: He does. He was lucky I’ve put him into, kohanga started around the time he was born, and I put him straight into it. That was my my gift back. I was just starting to find out about whakapapa reclamation – what that means. And to stand in your own mana means to stand in your own truth and honour yourself. All you’ve got to do is stand. You don’t go back to being on your knees. And that’s powerful.
If I could say anything it’s to our people: Stop believing that the state has Māori interests at heart. Stop selling your your ngakau. Stop hocking off your arses to uplift and support the state transactions – transacting our babies along that that conveyor belt. Wake up. Decolonise. Unsettle yourselves. Learn who you are and why you came into this world. That you came from the love of thousands, and those thousands are not wanting you to be a cog! Be a spanner for your people, not a cog for the state. And give us back our babies. Stand up. Have a voice. Challenge the system. Wake up to yourselves. Free yourself, and your own family members. Your own whānau. You don’t have to be cogs of the state. You can still have a voice and collect your pay. We can do it for ourselves. We can look after our own child protection needs. We can even, when we’ve got nothing – less than 4% of the land is ours.
Now I think that we can turn things around. There are some things that I can see coming out of the Adern government that are starting to change things. But that’s going to take a long time. And it’s slow, and it’s kind of drip feeding in a lot of places. And Royal Commission – it’s a great big shiny canon with that’s been given powder puff to fire – you know as ammo. So I haven’t got a lot of faith in it. But we have to keep on fighting. Never give up. Never, ever give up. Never, never lie down. Cos once you lie down, then you know you’re useless. You’ve bent over. You may as well just roll over and die – well that’s the way I feel. I’ll be doing this till I die, and I keep on getting rewards. I love my life. I’m married to a beautiful woman. I’m a Mum of a wonderful young man who respects women, who respects his whakapapa, loves his wife and child. And I think I finally can see that, that’s the example of the potential for everyone. You potentialise yourself when you stand in your own mana. I don’t know if I can offer anything else.
J: Thank you thank you for speaking up and everything you do.