When I was a child I had what might be described as a typical Maori upbringing. We didn't have much but we always had plenty to eat. In reality, we lacked nothing.

I don't remember going to a doctor until I was a teenager at boarding school. Our kuia healed and nurtured us; they were our pharmacists and our specialists. Inappropriate behaviour within the whanau would be dealt with in a whanau hui. It was rarely repeated.

In one world view, our whanau might be described as deprived or "at-risk". In an age where categorisation of difference counts, low-income households are quickly singled out as "vulnerable". Predictive modelling tells us that the persistence of poverty is a useful proxy for disadvantage.

I say, however, that is just one world view. For my world and the world my mokopuna will inherit is shaped by the belief that the epitome of a healthy whanau is not reliant on indicators of deprivation but is instead driven by a belief in our own inherent wealth. Our wellbeing is intimately tied to the concepts of caring - the application of manaakitanga, wairuatanga, ukaipotanga. We are our greatest opportunity for hope. Our relationships encourage interdependence; we know that our strength comes through all of us taking up our roles and responsibilities to one another. In essence, that is all Whanau Ora is, and ever has been.


Whanau Ora must not be assessed based on reports of Te Puni Kokiri incompetence. Nor should the approach be assessed based on Crown incompetence in establishing ineffective infrastructure and processes to direct Whanau Ora implementation.

One hundred and seventy-five years of Crown mismanagement of Maori wellbeing will not be turned around in four years, it will take decades or generations to break some cycles that have been imbedded in the lives of our whanau and in the thinking of the Crown. This is a direct consequence of the Crown seeking to manage according to what it has imported from its own experience with Western models and theories.

It is quite inappropriate to evaluate a model based on kaupapa Maori and fail to explain or describe the application of kaupapa. The definition of kaupapa is both comprehensive and compelling. In describing how the principles serve to guide "the selection of indicators and outcome measures, and allocation of funding for whanau-centred initiatives" the report refers to "nga kaupapa tuku iho [which means the ways in which Maori values, beliefs, obligations, and responsibilities are available to guide whanau in their day-to-day lives]". These inherited kaupapa are instrumental in helping to shape and strengthen a whanau. Those kaupapa are then further defined in the six Whanau Ora outcomes.

If the question is Whanau Ora, the answer is one word: outcomes. The Whanau Ora approach recognises a collective entity (the whanau) and endorses a group capacity to be self-determining; it is intergenerational; it is built on a Maori cultural foundation - and most importantly, it is driven by a holistic approach to wellbeing aimed at achieving measurable outcomes. Because it is holistic, Whanau Ora includes whanau health, education, housing, income, employment, relationships, and wealth.

The results expected of whanau-centred initiatives are explicitly bound up in the framework. The expectation is that whanau will be: self-managing; living healthy lifestyles; participating fully in society; confidently participating in te ao Maori; economically secure and successfully involved in wealth creation; and cohesive, resilient, and nurturing.

So that's the real story of success we want to know: are we making a difference in the quality of life for the whanau who experience this new approach? A consequence of the recent reports is that we are assessed to be failing when compared with a set of Better Public Service targets that ignored or denied the opportunity for Whanau Ora to be included among the chosen 10.

I go back to my childhood - and the thousand pairs of eyes that watched my every step. The aspirations of my whanau for me matched their dreams - that we would have the collective capacity and strength to pursue our aspirations; that we enjoy the highest quality of life, we live longer, we are leaders and role-models for spiritual, mental, physical, and cultural health and wellbeing.

Whanau Ora has been hugely important for many whanau who now have a plan to improve their lives and we can't let them down. For their sake, I ask us all to have the courage to believe. To believe in the value of an outcomes-driven approach to bring out strengths, not weaknesses. To believe that whanau are the source of our greatest solutions. To believe plans, and targets that whanau set for themselves provide the building blocks for a stronger future. Just to believe.