Hundreds rally to call for change at Oranga Tamariki

9:22 pm on 30 July 2019

Protests around the country - including more than 300 delivering an open letter to Parliament - have called for Oranga Tamariki to stop taking children from their families.

The Hands Off Our Tamariki Network have handed an open letter to Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson at Parliament this afternoon, demanding the State stop removing Māori children from whānau.

Speakers at the protest told the crowd Māori should be the ones caring for their children, and the state must leave their mokopuna alone.

Sarah Taiapa said she could not believe children were still being taken by the state in 2019. She said to preserve the Māori culture, tamariki must be kept with whānau.

"This here is raising the awareness and physically getting the people together to face the problem face-to-face.

"Just to show that we are here, we care, this is a problem, as something does need to be done about it."

Protesters who are calling for change at Oranga Tamariki at the Cenotaph in Wellington on 30 July 2019.

Protesters calling for change at Oranga Tamariki at the Cenotaph. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Sheilagh Walker, of Ngā Puhi, came down from Whangārei to be at the protest and said it was time for a change, and the prime minister and politicians needed to step up and do something.

"Our prime minister really needs to realise - no disrespect to her - yes, she supported the Muslim community but hey, right here in Aotearoa [for] tangata whenua ... the theft of our tamariki and whakapapa is a priority."

No caption

Wellington protesters rallying against what they say is the unfair removal of Māori children from their whānau by Oranga Tamariki. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Oranga Tamariki came under renewed scrutiny this year after the attempted removal of a newborn from its mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital.

Jean Te Huia was one of the midwives at the centre of that case.

She said Oranga Tamariki's policies were racist against Māori, and continued to hurt iwi, hapū and whānau through the generations.

"When we look at the statistics of children in state care today, they are third, fourth and fifth generation.

"They are children of state care, their parents were and their grandparents were."

The march arrives at Parliament.

The march arrives at Parliament. Photo: Ana Tovey / RNZ

Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis briefly addressed the crowd and was met by shouting.

He said that while there are too many Māori tamariki in state care, he accepted sometimes children needed to be taken away from unsafe home environments.

He said he had not seen the video of a newborn being taken from its mother at Hawke's Bay hospital.

"I don't need to watch it to know that something terrible happened, just like I haven't seen the 15 March video to know that something terrible happened there. We know what the situation is."

Sarah Taiapa at the Oranga Tamariki protest at Parliament today.

Sarah Taiapa at the Oranga Tamariki protest at Parliament today. Photo: Ana Tovey / RNZ

Mr Davis spoke to the protesters at Parliament today and said his message was that too many Māori tamariki were in care and too many were dying, but he accepted that children did need to be removed from their parents when they were at risk.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said legislation that came in a month ago overhauling Oranga Tamariki would make transformative changes.

"Everything [protesters] are asking for with regard to the fact that ... the best place for children is in loving families, all those things we don't disagree with," Ms Martin said.

She said that was why the government had this year invested $1.1 billion into a new operating model for Oranga Tamariki to make it what it was always supposed to be.

Oranga Tamariki protesters in Christchurch.

Oranga Tamariki protesters in Christchurch Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

In Christchurch, more than 40 protesters gathered to call for a change to Oranga Tamariki's child removal policies and for the resignation of Oranga Tamariki's chief executive.

The group marched from Christchurch's Bridge of Remembrance to the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.

There they stayed to sing songs, share personal stories and perform a haka.

Organiser Gwyneth 'Piwi' Beard said Oranga Tamariki chief executive Gráinne Moss was unfit for the role and should step down and be replaced with a New Zealand-born representative.

"It's all been whitewashed Māori ... why do we have someone that doesn't even belong to this country, that doesn't understand the Tiriti of Waitangi, that doesn't understand tikanga Māori ... leading [this] organisation?

Ms Beard said the youngest victim of suicide in state care was just 12 years old.

She said the process was tearing families apart and many mothers were victims of abuse or had disabilities. She said that to take a child away from them for that was unjustifiable.

Christchurch mother Nikita Reuben said her most recent experience with the ministry was her newborn baby being taken away from her, and she wanted her story to be heard.

"I was also a child in care here in CHCH, I was beaten with chains, molested. I was isolated from my family, didn't know that I had 10 brothers and sisters on my dad's side.

"I also have five kids that were illegally uplifted because I was a victim of domestic violence through my upbringing and care."

One protester said the Oranga Tamariki policies needed to change because it was an unfair and racist system.

"The common thing about every story is that they take the kids and then they find silly reasons to do the visits," Tina French said.

A protest in Dunedin also had a group - including school children - marching through the central city to the Octagon.

Protesters at the Octagon in Dunedin watch as school children perform waiata.

Protesters at the Octagon in Dunedin watch as school children perform waiata. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti principal Marcia Cassidy said many at the school had experienced children being removed from whānau.

Ms Cassidy said children needed to be raised in safe and caring homes free from any abuse.

But she said the process for taking care of children needed to be far better than what was currently on offer.

"There's something wrong with the system if the minority group in the country of which we belong cannot go anywhere else as holding all the major statistical places within the system, the system is obviously not working for the people that it needs to be working for."

Ms Cassidy said she was concerned that attitudes towards Māori were stopping Oranga Tamariki from working with Māori.

Police escorted the singing protesters to the Octagon, where the children performed a waiata and a haka.

Academic Rawiri Waretini-Karena, at the protest at Parliament, said the practice of taking Māori babies had been going on far too long.

He said the state was participating in the annihilation of Māoridom.

"If you think about the UN definition of genocide, part of that process is the taking of babies and giving them to caregivers not of that culture.

"Why is Oranga Tamariki, or even this New Zealand government, [complicit] in genocidal practices."

He said enough was enough.

"Māori for Māori - we need to look after our own.

"We have the capacity, the aroha, because they're ours."

Four inquiries have been launched after public outrage at an attempt to take a baby from its Māori mother in Hawke's Bay Hospital two months ago.

Ms Moss said in a statement she acknowledged today's protests and accepted people felt strongly.

"Our staff come to work each day determined to do their absolute best to keep tamariki safe, and help them reach their full potential," she said.

"We all want the same thing in the end, and that's for children and young people to be safe and loved."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs