Aotearoa New Zealand is grappling with two intertwined and violent realities. The first is that tamariki Māori are disproportionately represented among children taken into state care.
The second is that tamariki Māori are highly represented among those who have experienced abuse while in state care, with all the harms and trauma that abuse brings them, their whānau, hapū and hapori (communities).
As a primary weapon of colonialism and state power, state law is heavily implicated in these realities and in the failure to adequately respond to them to date.
Although the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of those in state and faith-based care in Aotearoa is under way and plans to reform Oranga Tamariki and shake up redress for survivors of abuse are also progressing, we need to truly transform our current responses if we are going to honour te Tiriti.
Our current responses may embrace Māori terminology, but they fail to embody the substance of tikanga Māori or to address the colonial roots and the systemic drivers behind grim realities such as the overrepresentation of Māori tamariki in state care.
State law, legal practice and legal institutions have contributed to the disproportionate representation of Māori children in state care, partly because of the core pathways into state care: The youth justice system and the welfare system.
Our current law has facilitated Māori children to be taken from their whānau, and by failing to provide for robust oversight and monitoring of tamariki in state care, an environment has been created in which abuse can flourish.
At the same time, by failing to offer adequate opportunities for healing that abuse and its consequent harms, state law has not only continued to facilitate abuse but is abusive in itself, contributing to the profound ongoing damages experienced by survivors, their whānau and broader communities.
The deep pain of cultural disconnection and the other forms of violence experienced by Māori who have gone through state care has had ripple effects for survivors, their whānau, hapū, iwi and hapori.
The ongoing effects of these harms and the resulting trauma can be seen in the negative statistics on Māori mental and physical health and high rates of addiction, self-harm, family violence, tamariki being taken into care, incarceration and suicide, as well as reduced educational achievement, levels of employment and access to housing.
In light of these failings of the state, a by Māori for Māori solution to the over-representation and abuse of tamariki Māori in state care is needed, one that is developed by an independent Māori collective funded by the state.
In particular, it should be Māori with a lived experience of care and Māori survivors of abuse taking the lead.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi arguably requires a Māori, survivor-led and tikanga-based approach that restores the mana of state care survivors, their whānau and communities.
Dr Fleur Te Aho (Ngāti Mutunga) is co-director of the University of Auckland's Te Puna Rangahau o te Wai Ariki | Aotearoa NZ Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law.