A Covid-19 vaccine information booklet using Māori faces on cartoon virus figures has been labelled "despicable" and "an absolute disgrace" by local Māori leaders.
The information booklet, distributed by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, was immediately withdrawn from circulation after it was deemed racist and will be destroyed.
An investigation has been launched after the publicity material, "Let's Give Covid-19 The Boot", was issued by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.
It provided information about the Pfizer vaccination with the Covid-19 virus portrayed as Māori.
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.
"It's quite horrific when you look at it and as you scroll through it just gets worse. It's all about imagery and the optics of it, sociologically, all the bad things are the 'horis' and we've got to get rid of them."
The health board's chief executive, Pete Chandler, issued an apology, saying there was no way the imagery should have been used.
He said how the leaflet came to be published would be investigated and he would now be personally approving releases.
Stanley gave credit to Chandler for getting on the front foot and removing the booklet from circulation so quickly.
"Pete did a good job of pulling it and front-footing it. Chandler is pretty good at that and this is his first term as a CE. He got on to it pretty quick and you have to give him credit for that.
"The review process is the key. That would've gone through a lot of reviews and they have failed."
Ngai Tamarawaho representative Buddy Mikaere said he was more disappointed than offended by the material.
"This is Aotearoa 2021, I can't believe this sort of thing is still happening, I can't believe they did that," he said.
"I can see that somebody would've thought it was very funny and a good way to publicise it but there are other images you could use.
"It's just more ignorance and people not thinking before they do something."
Mikaere conceded the fact the DHB had pulled it up and apologised was progress.
"Given that Bay of Plenty is one of the highest Māori populations, they needed to [act quickly]."
Waiariki MP and Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said his office had requested a hui with the District Health Board to better understand how the error happened.
"As a person with a mataora, I think the use of it on a virus is completely inappropriate," he said.
"A mataora is symbolic of life – tikanga, whakapapa, where you come from, and especially your tīpuna. They are about peace, contribution, oranga and the revitalisation of our culture. The fact that the sacredness of mataora is being associated with a virus that is killing millions of people is an absolute disgrace."
He said the images used in the booklet had the potential to taint the symbolic meaning behind mataora and ta moko.
"Viruses and disease like Covid-19, have no whakapapa and connection to us or mataora - so the depictions are completely wrong in the first place.
"We know that Māori are statistically more likely to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19. We also know that historically, the health system has failed Māori.
"Using symbolism from te ao Māori that puts mataroa/tāmoko on a cartoon Covid-19 virus, is not only offensive but could also potentially reinforce our people's distrust in the health system."
Tauranga City Council Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said she had a long association with the Bay of Plenty DHB as a local MP.
"I'm sure the intentions were good and that they were focused on targeting a vulnerable group for immunisation which includes our Māori communities," she said.
"But it came out very wrong. I'm pleased it was withdrawn quickly and apologies have been given."
In a statement, the joint chairs of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board and Te Runanga Hauora Māori o te Moana a Toi Sharon Shea and Linda Steel, the CEO Pete Chandler, and the Manukura – executive director Toi Ora Marama Tauranga apologised to local Māori, iwi and hapū partners, and whānau.
All remaining materials will be destroyed, and the design will not be used again, the statement said.
Shea said: "I saw the design last night (Thursday). I was offended by it. It was wrong. Since last night, I have been informed it was designed by a Māori artist and had input from Māori marketing specialists and it had gone through an approval process, including consultation with some local iwi.
"However, it is clear that the process was not as robust as needed, and this design has caused offence. On this occasion, we have failed our Māori community, and we apologise. It's not good enough."
She said a review to ensure "robust approval processes" were in place would begin immediately.
"Our Māori community are some of those most at risk from Covid-19, and this issue is an unwanted distraction from our important job of delivering as many vaccines as possible to our valued kaumatua, kuia, pakeke and whānau."
When questioned further by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend about who was responsible for the creation of the booklets, a DHB spokesman said: "A review is currently under way and we will be making no further comment at this time".
While the Toi Te Ora Public Health logo was included in the booklet, clinical lead Dr Phil Shoemack was quick to distance the organisation from its production.
"We are disappointed and dismayed that this booklet has been published," he said.
"Toi Te Ora Public Health was not involved with the development of the booklet and our logo was used without our knowledge or permission, and with no approval from us. We would never support material with imagery such as this."
The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend also sought reaction from members of the public in downtown Tauranga yesterday.
Welcome Bay resident Tiana Te Heke-Kaiawha, 30, said: "This flyer is not only racist and disrespectful towards Māori, but it's also highly offensive to farmers as well. "
"My late koro, Dan Wharemoki-Kaiawha, would also be absolutely appalled."
Welcome Bay resident Tracey Came said she was "horrified" when she read about the flyer.
"I think it was inadvisable and very culturally insensitive to suggest that the Covid-19 virus is Māori. It was like another example of insidious racism and being disrespectful to our tangata whenua is not okay.
"I think the flyer was well-intentioned but it was absolutely way off the mark."
A Matua mother of two, said: "I think it was really racially inappropriate and insulting. There is nothing about the Covid-19 virus that is Māori."
A retired Tauranga nurse, who also asked not to be named, said she did not find it racist or offensive.
- Additional reporting Sandra Conchie