Each year as politicians spill onto Rātana Pā; they march past the Temepara Tapu (temple) without a blink. They dutifully proceed into the tent and wait to deliver speeches designed to feed journalists who sit, hungry for a headline.
Unwittingly, they overlook that the Mōrehu they speak to are not part of a political rally, but members of a movement bound by faith. Mōrehu do not come to the pā to see what will make the news. They come in search of sustenance. Whānau come to honour the founder's birth. They come to support their mokopuna as they take part in the talent quest; they sing, eat, play, pray together. They participate in sports; they take their troubles to the āpotoro; they connect.
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Over 40 years ago, anthropologist Joan Metge coined the phrase "talking past each other" to describe that clash of philosophies when worldviews collide. At Rātana last week, these words resonated as the Whānau Ora claim came into focus.
Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana was so disillusioned about the perilous state of tangata whenua that he embarked on a world tour in 1924 to petition King George V to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi. My grandfather Sam Woon, my father Tariuha and my mother's two sisters travelled with him to England to have the treaty ratified. On both occasions, the tours were snubbed by the Crown on the advice of our government.
Close to a century later, as my sister Dames and I laid our claim with the Waitangi Tribunal, I ponder the unfulfilled promises of the treaty that continue to cause such distress. Like those before me, I ask how can some get it so wrong? How can they walk right past whānau as the greatest source of wellbeing and believe an artificial construct – a provider, a service, a department – can do better?
Whānau Ora is not the panacea to all problems but it starts with whānau as the solution and that's a great place to start.
Politicians should be wary of dismissing Whānau Ora out of spite for the Māori Party. I introduced Whānau Ora long before the party was born. In 2002, (under Labour) we established He Korowai Oranga; a Māori health strategy. Labour would never invest into the strategy and six long years lingered before we got a government to commit.
When the Māori Party signed up to a coalition agreement in 2008 we negotiated "significant outcomes" in Whānau Ora to be explicitly written into the agreement. In April 2010, Whānau Ora was introduced as a core policy, with a dedicated vote; a minister and $134 million to kickstart the approach. With a population around 775,000, (approximately $173 per Māori); it was hardly a windfall. It was, however, a start.
With that funding, the three commissioning agencies have started to turn the tide. Whānau Ora is an approach to reduce reliance on others by strengthening ourselves.
Whānau Ora has brought generations together to confront decades of trauma. It has reunited addicts with loved ones. It has listened to gang leaders to work with them to create a better future for their mokopuna. Whānau Ora has enabled whānau living in our regions to come together across the rural divide. It has invested in enterprise, in learning, in hope.
In last year's budget, the Government announced $2.3 billion for four planes to replace the Orion fleet and $1.4b for Auckland rail. Last week's $3m ($3.80 per person) for Whānau Ora does little to address the systemic gaps in policy and practice.
I remember Dame Iritana (Tāwhiwhirangi) ringing me one night in dismay. Amidst her tears, she told me that she feared our people had forgotten how to dream. We have united to take this claim because we know that, through Whānau Ora, the capacity to dream has been restored.
But we see also navigators, tired from inadequate pay and job insecurity. We hear of whānau entities struggling to be viable because the funding does not enable sustainability. And we watch the relentless scrutiny our commissioning agencies are exposed to; the fastidious demands of officialdom in layers of reporting, and the indifference of agents of the Crown in failing to work together with Whānau Ora.
We cannot just walk on by. Whānau deserve more.
• Dame Tariana Turia was co-leader of the Māori Party from 2004 to 2014 and was the first Minister for Whānau Ora in 2010.