A kaumātua has told the Waitangi Tribunal "cultural sovereignty" should be the foundation for making Oranga Tamariki compliant with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and no tamariki should be denied the opportunity to grow up within their culture.
The evidence was heard on the third day of a Waitangi Tribunal hearing, currently underway in Auckland, into the practices of Oranga Tamariki and why there are so many Māori children in state care.
Ngāti Hine kaumātua Waihoroi Shortland told the tribunal that while his whakapapa is Ngāti Rangi and Te Aupōuri, he was "chosen" by Ngāti Hine.
This is called, "tamariki atawhai" where the child is raised within another whānau, hapū and iwi outside of their own, the closest thing within tikanga Māori to being legally adopted.
Waihoroi said the "stars lined up" for him at birth as when he went up for adoption, he was offered to another Māori mother, whose adopted child had just been taken back by their birth parents.
"There was never a time in my life that I didn't know who my birth parents were, from the first instance of understanding my adoptive parents made sure that I was aware that I was a child of Ngāti Rangi, and a child of Te Aupōuri.
"They invested in me the language [te reo] that was my first language... my most expressive language and the thing that gives me most confidence anywhere I go."
He said being taught his whakapapa and te reo Māori served him well throughout his life, and it was "critical" other tamariki Māori were given that too.
"In situations where tamariki need to be cared for outside of their immediate whānau, it is critical that the child still has access to his or her culture. It is also critical that those tasked with caring for that child, have an understanding of what that entails.
"Without this, regardless of whether one has the best of intentions, the child would be denied an opportunity to grow within his or her own culture."
He said that instead of Oranga Tamariki focusing on removing the child, they need to help heal the family.
"When whānau are not in the equation, nothing gets fixed."
"Because at the moment, whānau do not fit any equation that relates to bringing it together and [there needs to be] some investment in that area - and some real investment to rebuild the whānau," Shortland said.
When asked by Judge Michael Doogan what would be the foundation for Oranga Tamariki to be compliant with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Shortland said it was investing in "cultural sovereignty", or the "means by which we express who we are".
"Without a means of expressing your cultural sovereignty, you're as lost as anyone out on the open sea of life," Shortland said.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley outlined his concerns with how 7AA was being enacted by Oranga Tamariki.
The iwi entered into a funding agreement with Oranga Tamariki in 2017, He Kakano, but there has been "tension" with the interpretation of the agreement.
Stanley said local management were not open to change, and they have previously restricted the number of children they put into the care of Ngāi Te Rangi when the iwi does something Oranga Tamariki staff disagree with.
He called for the disestablishment of Oranga Tamariki.
"I do not propose to power share with an organisation that is fundamentally racist, you cannot power share with an organisation that operates in that manner."
He said the iwi also struggled getting additional resources, which were only available when they were "compliant with the local manager".
"Oranga Tamariki set the parameters within which they will fund us regardless of whether we think there are other solutions for it. We have no input into the design of the contracting model and it is an ongoing cause of tension between our teams and Oranga Tamariki."
Stanley said 7AA strategic partnerships didn't go far enough, and proposed all government departments that have a role in supporting whānau - not just Oranga Tamariki - give iwi organisations control of how the funding operates.