Te Hitori o Te Kaunihera o Nga Neehi Māori o Aotearoa

Te Kaunihera Neehi Māori o Aotearoa (Te Kaunihera) was established in 1983.

At this time, the challenge of an obvious lack of Māori nurses to care for Māori patients was put to the Auckland Hospital Board.  Māori nurses in Auckland responded to the challenge issued by MP Matiu Rata, Ranginui Walker and advocate Atareta Poananga in the NZ Herald and called a hui.

Eleven Māori nurses attended the hui and participants resolved to network amongst Māori nurses and call a further, larger hui to discuss forming an organization, to collectively share each other’s nursing stories and experiences.

The inauguration hui at Te Tira Hou Marae for the Auckland Māori Nurses Group was held in October 1983. Pia Makiha of Te Arawa, the group's chair, called for hui attendees to focus on Sir Maui Pomare' vision of training (Māori) health professionals who could plan and implement health programmes for Māori.  A register recording the names, nursing qualifications, experience and tribal affiliations of each Māori nurse was taken.

The group grew and in February 1984 the first national hui of Māori nurses was convened at Te Puea Memorial Marae (Mangere). This was attended by Te Arikinui Dame Te Ata-i-Rangikahu, the Minister of Health (Aussie Malcolm); and Director of Nursing from Department of Health (Dame Margaret Bazley). At that hui it was unanimously decided that the name of the Māori nurses group would be the National Council of Māori Nurses, Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa. The kaupapa of the Council was also set – Waerea te ara ki te ora - Clearing the way towards total health and wellbeing.

“The Minister of Health in his address to the hui, stated that he:

supported the hui and Māori nurses forming their own group
believed in self-responsibility in health and saw the then Waahi Marae initiative at Huntly as an example of Māori taking responsibility for their health
saw (Māori) nurses as the bridge between the department (of Health) and the people
felt that we must promote sensitivity and awareness of our people’s customs and culture
knew nursing to be a healing profession and our success was measured in the harmony created, not the tensions (Report on the Māori Nurses Hui held at Te Puea Marae. February 24-26, 1984).

The newly formed National Council of Māori Nurses (NCMN) went on to attend the national Māori Health Planning Hui Whakaoranga and accompanied Health Minister Aussie Malcolm onto the Hoani Waititi marae in West Auckland.

Pia Makiha, our chairperson stood beneath the tāhuhu (main ridge pole) of the whare hui (meeting house) to address the hui and explained who we were and why we had formed. Also attending were past and current presidents of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, some of whom queried our presence and relevance in their midst. This was a significant Māori health hui as it was the first of many more to follow throughout the country.

The hui recognised Māori health as a Government priority and provided the platform for another two important pieces of work developed by renowned Māori intellectuals; Dr Mason Durie presented Te Whare Tapa Whā, his Māori health model, and Dr Rose Pere presented Te Wheke, her whānau health model.

By the end of 1984 Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa had appointed PutiPuti O’Brien from Ngati Awa as patroness. The constitution was signed by 15 members on  November 30 and a new leader for the organisation, Mereana Solomon a senior Auckland Hospital nurse from Ngāpuhi, was nominated and appointed as president. Mereana remained as the first president for the newly formed Te Kaunihera until the first annual general meeting (AGM) held at Wahiao Marae in Whakarewarewa, Rotorua. Gisborne principal public nurse Matire (Tum) de Ridder was elected the next president in 1985.

Integral to establishing Te Kaunihera was a $6000 Ministry of Health (MoH) grant in 1985 so the council could hold a series of consultation hui amongst whānau, hapῡ iwi, Māori organisations and Māori nurses throughout the country. Wherever they went, the Māori nurses were accompanied by  a network of supportive kaumātua and kuia (Māori elders) who were the cultural voice of Te Kaunihera. Presentations and explanations about our kaupapa – Waerea Te Ara Ki Te Ora – were made to all Māori attendees and it was during these consultation hui that Te Kaunihera was given the mandate by iwi to speak on their behalf about Māori health and nursing matters.    

This role was also supported by Health Minister Aussie Malcolm when he addressed the NZNO's predecessor – the New Zealand Nurses Association’s (NZNA) – annual general meeting on April 4 1984:

“I have been talking a lot about Māori health lately and I think it appropriate to mention today because it goes back to the roots of nursing in New Zealand……. It is the story of individual nurses who gave their lives to improving the health of Māori and settlers in very remote areas……and as always, nurses are at the forefront of this process of change.

One of the most exciting, and for me personally rewarding developments I have seen as Minister of Health is the emergence of the National Council of Māori Nurses. This group has tremendous mana and I want to recommend them to you as a profession. They have gone out of their way to be totally correct in terms of Māori culture, and to establish their right to stand tall as a valid group among the Māori people. But they are also in every way your professional sisters. As they work at the forefront of change in our health services in relation to Māori health, they need the good will and support of the entire nursing profession. When they talk to the Māori people they are recognised as nurses. When they talk to the nursing profession please recognise them as Māori. They understand the need to promote sensitivity to the customs of minority groups, customs surrounding birth, sickness and death, which are so often at odds with our traditional hospital procedures. I enlist your help in promoting a better service in a truly multicultural society” [Part of the Minister of Health’s address to the AGM of the NZ Nurses’ Association, Wellington. April 1984] (Thompson, 2014)”.

Extract from Thompson, L.(2014).Te Kaunihera o Nga Neehi Māori o Aotearoa: Te Timatanga - The Beginnings.Nursing Review. December 2014 Vol 14 (6)

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