Māori resilience to a COVID-19 response

To every whanau, especially those featured below who not only agreed to share their view on this page but like many others, rallied to make critical decisions with urgency, then enabled and delivered support that ensured Māori communities were, and remain, looked after with the necessities in life, kai and aroha.
These vignettes demonstrate Māori resilience in this unprecedented environment.  Ahakoa te aha!


Deputy Police Commissioner

Wallace Haumaha (Te Arawa, Tainui and Matātua) candidly shares how he has been “unbelievably inspired by the remarkable resilience shown by Iwi/ Māori from North to South during a time when our communities are most exposed, suffering anxiety, stress, tensions and even their own vulnerability.  Instead, the strength of Māori has been tested when we most needed it. Māori have rallied together, gathering resources, kai, hygiene packs, and have invested hugely in focusing on the safety of our people and our communities.  I have met with Iwi leaders across the country during this extraordinary time, Māori agency officials, gang leaders, Ministers of the Crown and the bottom line is we all want our people to be safe, the korero and feedback to me has been - this is a time to reshape our thinking, take away labels, see people as people, particularly women and children who need our support at this time, an opportunity to reset the dial to bring our people together.  The korero has been genuine, compassionate and caring, unlike anything I have seen before.


Selwyn Parata (Ngāti Porou) says, “resilience is one of those relative terms” when referencing the households in the East Coast district that has some of the lowest incomes in the country, with the adult median income sitting at about 40 per cent less than the national median. 

“In our district we have a paucity of health and social services and major gaps in our infrastructure. Not surprising, with all that, the leaders of Ngāti Porou communities away from home have told us resoundingly – to keep our focus firmly on the iwi kaenga (the home folk). Like every other rural district, our local farms and orchards are contributing kai to those in-need, our forest owners are providing fire wood, our commercial entities are ‘leaning in’ despite the unprecedented hit to their own bottom lines. In our district, the iwi voice and contribution is hardwired into council and agency processes.  We don’t talk about Māori responses here.  We talk about Tairawhiti responses, and back ourselves to be right in amongst it. Parata also credits the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund and recovery stimulus packages as being of great assistance.  “It [funding] gives our families and communities a fighting chance to get back to ground zero, which, for too many, wasn’t that flash to begin with. 

But it will help get our people back to work, or into work, and that’s crucial if we are to stand up to the uncertainties of life post lock-down.


Helen Leahy, Pouārahi, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, credits the greatest resource amongst whānau as “the expression of manaaki, keeping spirits strong and caring for one another, to remind themselves of the resilience and the courage that will get us all through.” Equally, engaging communication and a strong network of Whānau Ora navigators across the South Island has also been evident.

“Close to 3000 online surveys and calls to our helpline have been received, representing 11,772 members of whānau. Whānau in urgent situations are supported with immediate assistance (food, power, data, fire wood) and all whānau are invited to work with a Whānau Ora Navigator to help them plan for future needs.   In week two, we rolled out 20,000 hygiene packs to whānau across the South Island and are negotiating ongoing food distribution, milk and power.  


Pouarahi Te Putahitanga 

 Whanau Ora



Chairman Te Rūnanga

o Ngāti Porou

From an iwi perspective Willie Te Aho  (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) explained the importance in having to close down the rohe borders from Hawai in the south to Oweka in the north, and developing alert levels that would resonate with their people. “In Raukokore there is a plaque dedicated to our whānau who were impacted by the Spanish Influenza that reminds us of what our tīpuna went through. This cruel lesson has been the catalyst for preparing and fighting, and moving forward to ensure the livelihoods of our people are protected. He tohu aroha maumaharatanga ki a rātau ngā uri o Kauaetangohia o Pararaki o Maruhaermuri i riro i te mate uruta rewharewha o tērā rau tau okioki mai rā koutou e.”Whilst the Government has declared movement into Level 3 Lockdown for the country, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui have opted to stay with the Level 4 guidelines, “hei oranga te whānau, hei oranga te iwi. Our response has been one of aroha and manaakitanga, something we as Māori are so good at doing.”

It is who we are, we knew we were not moving into Level 3  likethe PM directed, rather, we moved into Alert Level 5 for Te Whānau-ā-Apanui to further ensure the safety of our people. This has been a great time of learning for us, where we have been able to share mātauranga, kōrero tuku iho and more of how our tīpuna managed pandemics or other circumstances alike. It is important that these stories are shared because they are now our legacy.




Ngāti Tuwharetoa

Rakei Taiaroa (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is no stranger to the needs, wants and opportunities for his people, having served more than 30 years on the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board.  As the current Chair for Tūwharetoa Settlement Trust , Taiaroa says the Tūwharetoa COVID-19 recovery response that he and his team have been working towards, is one of a commercial and socialist approach.

“Simply put, it is all about an opportunity to reset and refocus ourselves; to figure out what is working for us as an iwi and what is not. We’ve been collecting data on our people to identify and fill any gaps.”

Like many other iwi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa have around 30 per cent of their tribal members living within their tribal areas, the remaining 70 per cent live elsewhere and are less rural.

With unemployment being the most certain predicted fallout from COVID-19, Taiaroa says Ngāti Tūwharetoa are focussed on lessening the impact for those tribal members who reside in and around their central North Island base.

“Our main goal is to provide something for our people for when the country  comes out of these alert levels.”

As well as looking into creating employment and training opportunities in forestry, farming and at the Tongariro Prison, Taiaroa says his team have embarked on sustainable and commercial ventures  all of which will help strengthen Ngāti Tūwharetoa people beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.






Mercia-Dawn Yates (Te Arawa, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Maniapoto) is a Councillor for the Rotorua Lakes Council.

She’s been described as a multi tasker, multi skilled and driven individual who was already a local identity well before her local body role.

A single mum of three, including a down syndrome 23-year-old son Te Manaia-a-Hirini who accompanies her in all that she does in the community. This means his profile almost rivals that of his mums.

"He pō, he pō, he ao, he ao. Ki te whai ao ki te Ao Mārama. In these extraordinary times, the dawn of a new day has certainly brought with it uncertainty but also opportunity. It has provided us with an opportunity to reset. Te Arawa is made up of a confederation of tribes. So to witness the swift, immediate mobilisation of our united iwi in response to Covid-19, demonstrated the severity of what was at stake - our whakapapa!. We needed to act nimbly. It also highlighted the importance of iwi partnerships with local government, the DHB, other agencies and our community. This unlocked networks within our rohe, some were our most vulnerable whānau. What I observed was the act of humility - it was not a time for ego. The overwhelming sense of resilience was evidenced by many volunteers who willingly responded to the karanga. He mihi maiohā tēnei ki o tātau ringa raupā. Mā te kite, mā te hanga, ka puāwai āpōpō.



CE Te Puni Kokiri 

When asked what Māori resilience looks like in COVID-19, Te Puni Kōkiri Chief Executive Dave Samuels (Waikato-Tainui and Te Whakatōhea) says, “Māori communities and iwi have been outstanding in the initiative they have shown with their selfless generosity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the country, whānau and iwi have been quick and resolute in protecting their hau kāinga.”The regional network of Te Puni Kōkiri meant it was able to call on its pre-existing relationships with hapū/iwi,  key agencies and had in-depth knowledge to help set up local Māori hubs and distribute support and resources to vulnerable and hard-to-reach whānau.

“From the outset, we opened the door of the public service to Māori communities, and have kept it open. We were determined to show our communities we were there, that the government was there, and that the public service had a face in Māori communities at this critical time – kanohi kitea.”

The collaborative approach encouraged by Te Puni Kōkiri resulted in a coordinated response for whānau and Māori communities in their regions: bringing together hapū, iwi, marae and local Māori providers to work alongside key Government agencies and regional Civil Defence Emergency Management teams..


Ngāhiwi Tomoana, has always spoken passionately about the prosperity of Māori, often provocative and always futuristic. He is also not shy in advocating what and who is responsible for the inequity of resources to Māori that has historically hindered potential. He cites both World Wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic, Roger-nomics and the stock market crash in the 1980s, resulting in “40,000 plus Māori being ejected from lifetime ‘safe’  government jobs, adding by comparison,“Māori will lead the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic if given equity in resources.”

Philosophically, however, Tomoana offered, “throughout those devastating periods [flu pandemic] my father’s generation chorused "he kai kei aku ringa"- we have the power within our own hands to get through this. Today with our prolific and confident Iwi Māori social, governance, political, cultural and corporate bodies, we can partner or lead the government out of this tricky period. We’ve all done this so far by providing kai and health products right across our respective rohe.  We’ve worked with public, private and crown agencies on a daily basis. The Māori health sector has stood up proudly and efficiently. We are ‘crisis hard’ given our pre COVID-19 predicament.

Most important though, is that we [Ngāti Kahungunu] have been in the homes of our whanau including Pasifika. 

He kai kei aku ringa- we have the future in our own hands!



General Manager

Waikato- Tainui


Marae Tukere, Ngāti Mahuta, General Manager, Tribal Development and Wellbeing at Waikato Tainui, says they didn’t need to look far for guidance in coping with a pandemic, “our own role model, Te Puea Herangi, our tongikura advocated many years ago our ability to respond would be with aroha and manaakitanga.”

Tukere says the ability of the tribe to mobilise as quickly as they did in terms of engaging and reaching their most vulnerable tribal members and communities was comparable to that of local, regional and central government agencies. 

“We established our Iwi Pandemic plan the Monday prior to the Alert Level 4 announcement, we shared our plan with our Tainui Waka iwi whānau and then to wider iwi.  We soon led the conversations with Tainui Waka whānau around the establishment of an iwi call centre within a week, including support from key crown partners such as the DHBs-Waikato/Counties, MSD, and TPK to meet the immediate needs of our tribal members and wider Waikato communities.

“Taking Te Hiiwa to our tribal members, but also the wider rural communities meant greater access as well as an opportunity for increased immunisation and/or screening that otherwise may not have been there. Last numbers show an estimated 2000 vulnerable tribal members (kaumātua and under 5’s) received a flu vaccination in weeks one and two of lockdown. 


Chairman Te Rūnanga

o Ngāti Kahungunu


Director Oranga Tamariki 

Raniera Albert (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) Director, Partnering for Outcomes says he is quietly pleased a spike in the demand for Oranga Tamariki services has not yet been recorded during the COVID-19 Lockdown. "We know vulnerable tamariki are amongst the thousands of tamariki who have been confined to their respective homes. While the lack of demand is encouraging, we are constantly reminded of trends that indicate Māori are at the deficit end of statistics. I hope and pray whānau have listened intently to the PM’s message Be kind to each other and that it’s worked. We definitely sought more resources for our site managers and whānau caregivers throughout the country during this challenging time, because home can be a loving and safe haven for some and sadly, a living hell for others.”

Oranga Tamariki Site Manager, Melissa Pye reports whānau caregivers of vulnerable tamariki in the Whakatāne region are making great use of the extra time and uninterrupted focus during Lockdown.

“Baking, craft activities and making up games, whānau caregivers are all being creative with tamariki in a more focussed way. Also, our Iwi providers report they are working more closely with whānau and probably having better engagement and outcomes, which has been a silver lining for Oranga Tamariki.


Hone Harawira is arguably the biggest voice out of Northland and as lead in the Tai Tokerau COVID-19 border controls, former Māori Party MP and current leader of the MANA Movement, speaks out about a real concern for his people.“I really fear for our people in the North. I don’t think they really understand the danger that COVID-19 presents, how it can come in waves, and how it can be transmitted. It’s not the same for us in Ngāpuhi as it is for others because we are three to five times more likely to suffer.  This is because of our high numbers for lung cancer, liver problems, pneumonia, emphysema, rheumatic fever, all making it a natural breeding ground for something like COVID.”Crediting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with implementing the Level 4 lockdown period, Harawira believes the country needed to realise the gravity of the situation. “Congratulations to the PM for coming out hard, and even the Police for enforcing the lockdown and supporting our iwi checkpoints. It sent a clear message to people to slow down and go home.”

In terms of the rural outlook, Harawira is also concerned about the lack of monitoring for community transmission and the need for his vulnerable community to be tested more vigorously. On top of Northland’s border controls, Harawira said they’d been talking to McDonalds in Kaitaia to do testing in their car park but when news of moving to Level 3 broke, McDonalds had to withdraw their offer so they could prepare for their business re-opening.

“I’m grateful for their offer. We’ll just keep doing whatever we can to help our people get through this crisis,” said Harawira.





Te Amohaere Jefferies (Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Whakatōhea, Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Raukawa) is a Kaiako at Te Kura o Te Kaokaoroa o Patetere i Pūtārūrū which is a kura made up of many tauira of which around 90 live in Matamata, one of the most highly hit cluster zones in Aotearoa.

“Many of our whānau, kaiako included, live with vulnerable or elderly people so re-opening our doors to Level 3 will not be taken lightly.”

Jeffries believes resilience is part and parcel of being Māori. “It’s just a part of who we are, really good at getting on with the job and doing it, and in saying that, we prepared early for Alert Level 4.”

A teacher’s only day allowed for the organisation of workbooks and contact hours etc. “Our main focus has, however, been on ensuring we as kaiako stay connected with our tauira and their whānau – providing relevant resources online daily and really just being available when parents or tauira need help.”

“We didn’t want to over-teach but check in daily and be there for any assistance tauira and parents alike might need.



Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu


Te Whānau ā Apanui 


Te Arawa



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