It is my fervent desire that the launch of Whanau Ora in this country will come to be viewed by history as one of the great milestones in modern Maori social and economic transformation.

For the 25 providers who have been selected, the hard mahi (work) now begins. I do not think that it is dramatic to state that the hopes and aspirations of a nation - Maori and Pakeha - rest on our collective shoulders.

For Waikato-Tainui in particular, Whanau Ora is particularly poignant. It marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle by Waikato-Tainui to be acknowledged as the rightful partner in the provision of whanau-focused social services to all who live in our tribal area.

We have waited a long time. Almost 100 years ago in October, 1918, the influenza pandemic that killed 20 million people descended upon New Zealand. Official estimates put Maori death rates at nearly five times that of Pakeha.

Historian Michael King noted that the pandemic "almost annihilated" whole settlements and its effects were intensified by the fact that the greatest number of deaths were in the 20-40 age group. Whole communities were left without mothers, fathers, wage earners and leaders.

In the absence of any state support, Te Puea, a granddaughter of the second Maori king, Tawhiao, took in more than 100 orphans. She took some children into her own home and placed others with surviving adults. She saw each of them every day, supervised their mealtimes and took on the responsibility for their education and welfare.

These children would later become the nucleus of the workforce responsible for turning a disused patch of land in Ngaruawahia into Turangawaewae Marae, the focus of a resurgent Kingitanga. That is the kaupapa of Whanau Ora: Iwi solutions to state neglect and indifference.

In Whanau Ora we also pay tribute to a new level of maturity in the partnership between Maori and the Crown.

Whanau Ora is where the buck stops. Because, as the late Sir Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta stated in The Tainui Report: "Decades of neglect have clearly had their toll on the Maori ... [and] as a result Maori have become the victim of a history in which they have not been active participators in determining their direction. They have witnessed history, other people's history, roll over them and determine their fate."

For Sir Robert, "the best policies and programmes are those that reflect and meet local needs and for this to be achieved there will need to be local community involvement and control."

Last month, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett issued a challenge to iwi to act upon the appalling child abuse statistics that plague our communities. The plight of these children was, in the minister's words "our nation's shame".

In 1772 - before colonisation - an expedition led by the ill-fated Marion de Fresne spent three months in New Zealand. The explorers noted the women "seemed to be good mothers and showed affection for their offspring ... The men were also very fond of and kind to their children.'

They observed that Maori domestic life was relatively free of casual violence, children were rarely hit and any harm to them was likely to provoke raids from kinsfolk.

Viewed from this perspective, child abuse and domestic violence is not "New Zealand's ugly secret". The 11,000 Maori children (out of 21,000 annual abuse cases) represent the grinding reality of any indigenous population that suffers alienation from their lands and the destruction of their chance for a prosperous economic future.

When a people lose their whenua they lose more than a patch of dirt. They lose their sense of self. And as they lose control over their destinies, they also lose self control. As scholars have noted, when the environment in which we live is polluted you will see the deterioration of the wellbeing of the people.

Whanau Ora provides us with hope that we have seen an end to the tokenistic approaches of the past - an acknowledgment that ad hoc, underfunded central government responses hamstrung by silo mentalities and patch protection do not and can never work.

Whanau's Ora benefits will be reaped by all New Zealanders. The vision of Waikato-Tainui is inclusive. As we have been kaitiaki (guardians) for the Kingitanga for more than 150 years, so shall we become kaitiaki for all who choose to live within our boundaries.

Ki te kotahi te kakaho ka whati, ki te kapuia e kore e whati. (Kingi Tawhiao.)

(Alone we can be broken. Standing together, we are invincible.)


* Tukoroirangi Morgan is chairman of Te Arataura Waikato-Tainui. The tribe is a Whanau Ora provider.