4 Nov 2020

Leading Māori nurse confronted with 'force of hate' online

10:34 am on 4 November 2020

The Māori head of the New Zealand Nursing Organisation says she's been the victim of incessant, targeted online abuse - including death threats - for the last 18 months.

Kerri Nuku, kaiwhakahaere for the Nurses Organisation

Kerri Nuku Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

It comes after a New Plymouth nurse was stripped of her registration last month for calling Māori nurses fat, cunning and lazy on social media.

Kerri Nuku said she had been afraid to speak out about her own experience online, until now.

"It's really difficult being a leader of an organisation where upholding the reputation of our organisation has taken precedence over upholding my mana," she said.

"That is the level of responsibility that myself and other nursing leaders have, we protect the reputation of nursing and we protect the reputation of an organisation that we know is a big vehicle for change for our people. But, often, we don't protect the mana of our whakapapa."

The Māori co-president or Kaiwhakahaere of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation has featured regularly on at least two public Facebook pages set up as community hubs for New Zealand nurses.

She's been accused of corruption and misspending, called names and received multiple death threats.

Some of the death threats and comments directed at Nuku include: "You can kill the blood sucking parasites, Kerri and Tepuari of the union", "The ship is sinking for sure, kill the captain Kerri", "Delusional Māori puppet", "Narcissistic Nuku", "I'm over the blinkin poor Māoris" and "[Māori] have backstabbing in their blood".

Through tears, Nuku said the abuse had an immense impact on her and her whānau.

"Having anybody wrongly misrepresent or make allegations or trample on your integrity hurts, and it hurts to have my family see that," she said.

"Every time a Māori woman is succeeding or being promoted for a piece of work that they're doing, there comes this force of hate which, unfortunately, seems to be coming from within our own nursing fraternity. The thing that makes this difficult is that I know that as soon as I start to raise this issue, there will be another round of attacks.

"The wicked thing about social media is that it's so public, and you can never give your side of the story."

The attacks began following a special general meeting last year among the executive which sought to remove the former president Grant Brookes from office.

He later resigned, along with three board members.

Some of the online abuse is centred on accusations that Nuku drove them out on her own, and conspired to ensure there were more Māori on the board.

"The harm is that I spent years building up my reputation, working the hardest I possibly can, working tirelessly to raise the voice of Māori nurses and also to fight for equity within a health system that doesn't recognise Māori nurses but also over-represents us in poor health outcomes. And through misinformation and misguided people, they can destroy you," she said.

"I'm not prepared to walk away and I've still got things to do, but it is very difficult."

Nurses can make complaints about online behaviour through the Nursing Council, but Nuku said many don't because there was no way to remain anonymous and there was fear they would be targeted.

In a statement, the council said it was difficult to investigate a complaint without the name of the complainant, who is usually the primary witness in any investigation.

"The Nursing Council must adhere to the principles of natural justice which includes the right to know the allegations against you and who made those allegations," it said.

"In serious cases where it is possible to obtain information from other sources the council may be able to keep the name of a complainant confidential, but this is often the subject of legal challenge by the nurse's lawyer."

The council said it had required the New Plymouth nurse, who was last month stood down for two years for making racist comments online, to complete an approved education programme on cultural competence, ethics and the Council Code of Conduct.

Naomi Waipouri

Naomi Waipouri Photo: SUPPLIED

Meanwhile, Wellington nurse Naomi Waipouri is waiting to hear back from the council about a complaint regarding racism online.

When she's not working, she's spending her time online defending her Māori colleagues.

"I was commenting almost 24/7 and it's had an impact on not only my work life, but also my social life," she said.

"I try to act like I'm not afraid, because I want those who are following my story, our story, to be strong and courageous as well, but deep down I am."

She has also made a complaint to Netsafe - but said they couldn't do much as she hadn't been the direct target of the online abuse.

A further complaint to the police resulted in a referral to Victim Support.

"I would like to see the nurses who have been putting these comments out there have some sort of conditions placed on their registration, especially their use of social media. I'd like them to attend some sort of cultural training, and just apologise, kanohi ki te kanohi."

The Nursing Council said it had received a number of complaints about inappropriate social media posts over the last two years, but only one charge of professional misconduct has been laid.

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