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How Iwi respond to crisis?

14 April 2020
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I was lucky enough to spend the months between September and Christmas in Waikaremoana, seeing how Waikaremoana, Te Uru Taumatua and Te Urewera Board’s kaitiakitanga of Te Urewera was going up at the lake. I’m back in Auckland now, in time for the lockdown, and it’s made me reflect on the advantages that Tūhoe people, particularly those living in the rohe, have in a crisis like this one.

In a crisis, one of the most important things to get through is co-ordination. As the government has said, there is no shortage of food and essential supplies right now – that’s why we have been warned over and over again not to panic buy at the supermarket. We won’t run out. If everyone shops normally, there will be enough toilet paper and hand soap and canned food for everyone, and there won’t be bare shelves on the days when people who need it do their shop.

However, it’s a different story for some people who are living in remote communities, or who can’t organise transport – or who can’t risk leaving their homes even for a short time because they are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

Supermarkets have great supply chains across the country, but not the last mile to people’s homes. Tūhoe, through Te Uru Taumatua, has scale and relationship with suppliers, that means that it can negotiate ongoing supply chains for necessary provisions in a way that individuals, and even villages, may find difficult. And through the Tribal Authorities, it knows who needs what and can arrange distribution around the rohe.

In towns and cities across New Zealand, some neighbours have distributed forms in letterboxes for residents to identify themselves and ask for assistance. This is a great community minded initiative, but it relies on having neighbours willing to go the extra mile – and it shows up that many people do not even know their neighbours at all. It’s something to envy that Tūhoe communities already have these networks that can get the information about who to help directly through to whanaunga who are organized to help.

The local infrastructure and resources of communities in the rohe has also helped establish greater resilience for this and any future crises, such as medical centres, and the whole Te Tii complex in Ruatāhuna. Sadly, while lockdown is in place Te Tii’s café can’t serve it’s amazing breakfasts, but having readily available petrol, a medical centre and wifi/cell coverage helps connectivity with whānau elsewhere. These projects all benefited from sharing experience and resources as an iwi – building on the learning and skills gained during the creation of Te Kura Whare and Te Kura Whenua.

In the same way, the government has a huge amount of money and resources of its own to deal with disasters. It is very good at doing that at a large scale, and terrible at doing it on a community level. Iwi can bridge the gap. The iwi means there is a single point of contact for both Orana Tamariki to make sure that at-risk Tūhoe tamariki are kept safe but placed in Tūhoe homes for lockdown, and for Tūhoe families to report problems and seek assistance.

The iwi structure is not just a very useful way to organise help from outside, but also an important focus for how Tūhoe can help each other. National services are overwhelmed

Ben Thomas

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Blog Post How Iwi respond to crisis?
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