28 Oct 2020

Power transfer from Oranga Tamariki must be radical, Waitangi Tribunal told

7:24 pm on 28 October 2020

Researchers who are also former wards of the state have stressed the key changes needed to ensure any Māori-run alternative to Oranga Tamariki doesn't just turn a "white bureaucracy to a brown bureaucracy".

Annette Sykes.

Whakapapa is being severed by the Crown when it removes tamariki, lawyer Annette Sykes says. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The second week of the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into why there is a disproportionate number of tamariki Māori in state care is under way in Hastings.

Lawyer Annette Sykes said the treaty breach at the heart of the joint submission by claimants Dr Alison Green, Dr Rawiri Waretini Karena, Kerri Nuku and Donna Awatere Huata was simple.

"Our whakapapa is embedded into the land of this country. It is that whakapapa that is being severed by the actions of the Crown.

"I could not in all my time in these proceedings think of anything more horrendous than the severance and disconnection of children from their whānau and their whakapapa."

She said transferring power and resources to a Māori authority would not create transformative change, and would only be notional if the recommendations her claimants have set out are not also enacted.

"We don't simply want to transfer a white bureaucracy to a brown bureaucracy.

"If there is to be a transfer of power, it has to be a transformative one to a process of facilitation that is sourced and built on kaupapa Māori values."

Change urged for Family Group Conference process

One of these recommendations is an overhaul of the Family Group Conference process, proposed by Paora Moyle, a former ward of the state, and a social worker for more than 30 years, who has also completed a Masters in Family Group Conferences from the perspective of participants.

Moyle said the conferences do not assess the whānau according to their worldview and strengths.

"It's not an indigenous process or 'Māorified', it's not a whānau-a-hui, a hui-a-whānau - you can't put a Māori name to a process that bastardises our people and calls it okay."

Moyle said Oranga Tamariki must employ skilled tikanga Māori advocates, and ensure all its employees have cultural competency.

Paora Crawford Moyle, a veteran social worker and advocate for people who have been in state care.

Oranga Tamariki needs skilled tikanga Māori advocates, Paora Moyle says. Photo: RNZ

She also said social work training was failing, and needed to cover institutional racism, genocide and white supremacy, in addition to educating social workers about Māori practices of collective well-being.

Canada example

Dr Alison Green is completing her post-doctoral research at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, comparing the policy for removing indigenous children from their families in both Canada and New Zealand.

She points to a federal government law passed in Canada last year as a mechanism New Zealand could draw from to put in place the structural changes needed to devolve power from Oranga Tamariki to Māori.

Bill C-92 gives First Nations, Inuit and Metis collectives in Canada the right to create and enforce legislation to look after their own children.

In January this year in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, the Cowessess First Nation enacted their own legislation which gives them to the right to operate their own child protection services based on their cultural practices.

Green suggested those redesigning how Oranga Tamariki interacts with Māori children should approach the Cowessess First Nations.

No place for 'tinkering'

She said the problem in New Zealand was that the state refused to relinquish control, and always retained the ability to override Māori decisions.

"Tinkering with the legislation in 2017 and devolving state-determined child and family welfare services by way of contracts for Māori to deliver is not structural change, it will not reduce the disparity, and nor will it deliver tino rangatiratanga.

"A number of iwi have memorandums with Oranga Tamariki, but these operate to help the state do a better job and devolve some services to iwi to deliver, but don't advance tino rangatiratanga," Green said.

She proposed an interim Māori authority be created which would formulate a plan to move the care of tamariki Māori out from under the Crown and "into our self-determining spheres".

Green said this interim Māori authority would be made up of leaders from hapū, iwi and Māori authorities, who would also develop a national tamariki Māori care and protection plan, and would set about slowly drawing away funding and resources from Oranga Tamariki.

The hearing will continue tomorrow with submissions from investigative reporter and PhD candidate on Māori children in state custody Aaron Smale, and Ngāti Kahungunu chair Ngāhiwi Tomoana.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs