Māori have suffered disproportionately in every pandemic-epidemic event to awash our shores. During the 1913 smallpox epidemic, Māori begged the government for life-saving vaccines. The government produced more than 750,000 doses. The vaccine was frequently given to Europeans in towns first and the remainder was distributed to Maori. Gisborne received only 200 doses of vaccine for a community of 12,000 Māori and Pākehā. The Waikato community at Taupiri, where there was a serious outbreak, received only enough to vaccinate 80 of 300 Māori who lived there. The Hokianga received none. Our ancestors did not have access to a lifesaving vaccination. We do.
On the back of the 50-year Māori renaissance, Māori are in the strongest position since colonisation began to successfully combat a pandemic. Our communities are strong. We are better educated. We have great leaders wāhine and tāne, young and old, the abled and disabled, and iwi and urban.
But Delta is next level. We are entering our most vulnerable time. Our young, impoverished, infirm, and disabled on the margins are most at risk. They distrust government and rightly so. They are the victims of systemic cumulative intergenerational racism in education, social welfarism, employment, housing, justice, and health.
Since a surge in Māori cases started on 29 September, Māori have been the highest number of new cases 16 of the 17 days. Set against low vaccination rates, the rising number and increasing proportion of Māori cases is the main concern.
Māori are 16.7 per cent of the population. From 5.7 per cent of all Delta cases on 1 September, we are now 44.9 per cent of new cases since Auckland went to alert level 3, 44.7 per cent of all active cases in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, 26.7 per cent of cases during the Delta Outbreak, and 24.1 per cent of those who have been hospitalised.
Māori are 36.7 per cent fully vaccinated. Another 21.1 per cent have received their first dose. Combined, 57.7 per cent of Māori have partial or full vaccine protection. This is under three-quarters of the national overall rate of vaccination of 79.9 per cent. Of most concern are those in the 12-34-year-old age cohort. More than 50 per cent are unvaccinated. If there is hope it is that the number of Māori getting vaccinated has increased by 79,000 or 28 per cent over the last calendar month. This is nearly double the 15.9 per cent increase in pakeha vaccinated.
We need as many young role models as possible to speak to their peers in this age group, including any who have already had Covid-19. Ko ngā taiohi o tēnei whakatupuranga ngā rangatira o apōpō. The young people of this generation are the leaders of the future. Many are at risk from long Covid-19 complications, the worst of which affect kidney and liver function, the lungs, heart, and brain.
We also need leadership. Delta is not a political football. Opposition for the sake of opposition is a pathway of empty rhetoric upon which we all lose. We need across-party political leadership. Decisions protecting life is all that counts.
We need people who look like us and speak our language whether in English or te reo Māori to tell our Covid story. We have the largest and most capable Māori Members of Parliament in history. They need to stand and lead, including in daily briefings.
Driven by a cognitively dysfunctional smug white racism, a fringe medical minority, and the tithe-enriched self-anointed, the anti-vaccination freedom movement exploits the fears and suspicions of the mistrusting ethnically destitute and abandoned.
The freedom to accept vaccination or not may be a human right. The freedom to place others at risk is not. The freedom riders derive and thrive on a duplicitous advantage drawn from the privilege of living in a country with the best record in the world of combating Covid, the reward for which could be hectares of unmarked graves.
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland - without a booking
My great-grandfather lost his wife and two children to the 1918 Spanish flu. His brother served on the Western Front. He returned to Aotearoa in September 1918 and was dead by Christmas. The first to fall and not knowing whether his body was infectious or not, he was buried outside of the whānau wāhi tapu under a beautiful tree in a lonely but peaceful meadow. My grandmother lost a brother to typhoid in 1911, another to the Spanish flu and a brother and sister to tuberculosis in the 1930s.
They did not have the luxury of a vaccine. We do. Get vaccinated to protect our whakapapa and your whānau. Be a good ancestor for future generations.
• Dr Rawiri Taonui is an independent writer, researcher and adviser.