Māori community responses to Covid-19 in Taranaki offer proven models that could help elsewhere, say organisers of the effort on the ground.
On Wednesday Te Pāti Māori released its Covid policy, calling for Māori to be resourced and empowered to lead the ongoing public health and vaccination programme for Māori.
The policy includes an independent statutory Māori Pandemic Response Group, international borders closed until Māori vaccination rates hit 95 per cent, and a Māori home isolation strategy.
Vaccine mandates would be restricted to hospital and medical clinic staff, with other unvaccinated frontline government workers able to work with frequent negative Covid tests.
Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine have carried out over 1000 Covid tests since the virus was found in wastewater samples and then six cases discovered in Stratford.
Co-leader of Te Pāti Māori Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has been on the streets in Taranaki with her iwi Ngāti Ruanui, taking saliva tests and vaccinating.
She said with help from others, like Auckland's Te Whānau o Waipareira and the Māori pandemic group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the iwi response has been proven on the ground.
"If you look at how we've vaccinated and how we've gone into saliva testing those are all about showing innovative models that we can take and build our own whānau and community resilience."
Preparing home packs and rongoā (medicine) packs ready for Covid was another proven method to help.
"We don't have hospitals in Stratford and Hāwera and Pātea with the capacity to take the weight off the community.
"The problem is the Crown's refusing to take these brilliant models and make them a part of a Covid community response because they're trying to run a one-size-fits-all approach, and that's just not the case.
"You can see whānau that our policy is one that has been tested on the ground. We see what you are doing, we see the long hours our hauora providers, our whānau ora, our hapū are doing, and no solution is coming from the Crown."
She said the problem ran from DHBs right up to ministers.
"It's not accidental that 17, 18 per cent of the population are Maori and they're now nearly half those that are infected. The Government and its officials – and sadly [Ashley] Bloomfield's responsible – have refused to allow officials to listen to what those on the ground are saying."
Te Aorangi Dillon is helping organise the Ngāruahine response, with a testing team on the ground in Stratford for 12 days on end, except one day dedicated to a marae vaccination clinic and saliva-testing training.
The Taranaki DHB has been assisting Ngāruahine Iwi Health Services with nurses and swabbers in Stratford, and for its pop-up clinics throughout this year.
But Dillon said that while the relationship with the DHB was slowly improving, it was the Māori-led nature of the effort that worked.
"I don't think Māori are the ones that are lacking in understanding that Māori can do the right thing for Māori – we've proven this."
She said Ngarewa-Packer and her co-leader Rawiri Waititi have both been at the frontline of the response and their Covid policy reflected that.
"She knows what we're about, she knows what we're doing on the ground, she's been on the ground herself... These are two people who aren't sitting up on some tower looking down, they know what's best because they're in amongst it."
Dillon said there now needed to be kōrero now about how whānau could support themselves when Covid arrives and what services would be needed to help.
She said the Government's home isolation policy seemed to rely on houses with at least two bathrooms, and a room to dedicate to a person with Covid, "and for many whānau around here that's not a reality".
"The kōrero swirling around for us down here is do we use marae to house those larger whānau? And it's only a conversation, I'm not saying it's going to happen, but it's a conversation outside the square about how to tautoko our whānau."
Dillon said the wider community in Whakaahurangi (Stratford) had been "phenomenal", providing support and kai.
"People have gotten used to us in Whakaahurangi and trust us. They trust our model we're enacting – and it works."
Te Pāti Māori's Covid-19 Pandemic Response Policy proposes:
• Empower and resource Māori to lead our own Covid-19 response
• Establish an independent statutory Māori Pandemic Response Group
• Abolish government mandates
• Affirm autonomy to set tikanga for tangihanga
• Invest in holistic wellbeing
• Implement a Māori home isolation strategy
• Support whānau who are struggling and have been impacted by Covid-19
• Keep our international borders closed until Māori vaccination rates hit 95 per cent