A pamphlet about Covid-19 pulled from circulation last week after it was deemed racist implies Māori themselves are a virus, a tā moko practitioner believes.
The opinion comes as the Bay of Plenty District Health Board reveals it spent $4000 on producing and distributing the pamphlets, and that 4000 copies were printed.
"Let's Give Covid-19 The Boot" was distributed by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) and provided information about the Pfizer vaccination.
The pamphlet featured cartoons of a virus with a mataora or full-face moko. Another image depicted a person stabbing a virus with a tewhatewha or spear.
The health board last Friday apologised for the pamphlet, with the chief executive saying the imagery should never have been used and launching an investigation into how the pamphlet came to be.
Tā moko artist Julie Paama-Pengelly, of Ngāi Te Rangi, said she believed the design was "shocking".
In her view: "Obviously, [there's] the implication there Māori are a virus. That's pretty serious, I guess it's the most racist part of the content".
Paama-Pengelly said the tā moko art form was almost lost and to see it pop up "in a seemingly trite form" was disappointing.
"Cultural appropriation is about power. You can only [be] culturally appropriate if you have more power than the people you are appropriating from," Paama-Pengelly said.
"Actually having an ethical stance and looking at the power imbalance so if, for example, you think its a great idea to put a face on something, are you the right person to do that?"
People did not realise they were altering Māori language when appropriating in this fashion, she said.
"Māori symbolism is actually a language of communication. It immediately changes the way you read that traditional practice - that's a huge issue with tattooing."
The health board has apologised, with chief executive Pete Chandler saying the imagery should never have been used.
All pamphlets would be destroyed and the design would never be used again, the DHB said in a statement.
Apologies had also been made to local Māori, Iwi and hapū partners, and whānau by DHB chair Sharon Shea and Te Rūnanga Hauora Māori o Te Moana a Toi chair Linda Steel, board chief executive Chandler, and Manukura executive director Toi Ora Marama Tauranga.
Working alongside other DHB directors, Chandler had started an investigation into how the pamphlet came to be.
In response to questions about what checks took place before it was distributed, Chandler said: "Our investigation is progressing as rapidly as possible and we will be in a position to answer this question once it is completed."
The statement came from the following Bay of Plenty Times questions:
• What checks took place?
• Who was the most senior person in the DHB to approve the pamphlet?
• How widely was it distributed?
• How did it bypass all the DHB checks even though it was an official publication of the DHB and public health service?
Research and consultation was the key ticket to designing responsibly and ethically, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa creative director Joshua Brown said.
Brown (Ngāti Kahungungu) has worked on a series of Covid-19 campaigns for the Government including Karawhuia and had questioned himself on the definition of a "Māori designer" after seeing the pamphlet last week.
"Is it Māori because there is a Māori artist - because they have brown skin? Is it because they can speak Māori or because they can put a koru on it?
"You can't have a superficial understanding of what is Māori design - they have to live and breathe and be able to see the world in that way."
In reference to the mataora, Brown said the traditional practice was a different language and if people didn't know it, they should leave it alone.
"The most dangerous people are [those] who have a little bit of Māori understanding but are not humble," he said.
"When you are overconfident you then step into things you don't understand like tā moko and patterns."
Waiariki Te Paati Māori MP Raiwiri Waititi last week condemned the use of mataora on the virus.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said he felt "absolute despair" when he saw the images used in the information booklet.
"That is a really despicable piece of work," he said.