An iron fist in a velvet glove: Karanga mai

By Rose Ariana

I come from a family with connections to both te ao Pākehā me te ao Māori that enables me to walk through two different worlds. While I am proud of both connections, studying has made me realise just how Māori I am and like others, education has helped me flourish in the way I think and the way that I see the world.

Throughout my nursing degree, I have learnt that a large proportion of Māori live with sickness and in poverty, live in poor housing conditions, are in and out of the criminal justice system, do not speak Te Reo Māori, do not complete their degree programmes, are significantly more likely to commit suicide and are more likely to experience psychological disability than those who are of non-Māori descent.

These negative statistics at first made me point fingers and lecture my nephews to stay in school. And then, when I became aware of conversations that systematically marginalise Māori and trap ignorant people into heated conversations about ‘Māori privilege’ I realised it wasn’t a Māori issue at all but a New Zealand issue.

This made me want to yell about the need for change but, being one of the few Māori in my degree programme with a passion for supporting others, made me feel whakamā in using my voice alone. I wanted to be brave especially when it concerned Māori and my peers, but I didn’t know where to start but I knew that I had to keep calm. I had to disguise my anger as passion in an iron fist and instead take a velvet glove approach.

In seeking out other Māori in nursing, I learnt that there is less than 20 Māori nursing students in the three year groups on the Wellington campus. In knowing the statistic of a low completion rate of all Māori students, it made me wonder why there aren’t more Māori in the nursing programme. Could it be related to the lack of visible support and a Māori mentor? Who knows really.

What I do know, is that students won’t succeed in their studies if they feel unsupported and arguably, if the programme they are part of doesn’t embrace and celebrate diversity.

New Zealand is a multi-cultural society, we are exposed to a diverse population as soon as we leave our front doors. But sadly, in the nursing programme, we don’t hear indigenous narratives enough in order to understand why it’s so important to be diverse in our thinking. Diversity makes us stronger, it allows us to relate to more people, be empathetic to ethnic injustices and innovative towards finding solutions to help each other. The more people that are able to understand the historical and social processes that have hindered Māori from flourishing further, the more we can address these issues and find a path forward.

I am part of a small team of current and previous nursing students, who approached the Massey at Wellington Students’ Association in 2016 for help on organising a noho marae trip. The purpose of the trip was to strengthen our knowledge of Māori Health, so that we collectively as future nurses are able to provide culturally competent care for Māori people. This was seen as a positive initiative and was well received by the students.

The proposal to organise a noho marae for nursing students in the first place was followed by a disappointing Māori Health paper, which took precedence in discussing Tikanga and Kaupapa Māori. The students felt that they didn’t get enough contact time with the lecturer and no exposure to the Māori world despite having only two contact days with a tutor on the weekend before their clinical placements begun.

The noho marae experience was meant to be a positive initiative to nurture a growing interest in Māori culture amongst my peers: poipoia te kākano kia puāwai; nurture a seed and it will blossom. In a nursing context, if Māori are statistically the most at risk population with higher rates of hospitalisation, then this paper would be the substantial vehicle at Massey in driving adequate knowledge of Tikanga and Kaupapa Māori for a culturally competent group of future nurses. The majority of the faculty members responded extremely well to the trip and encouraged us to see it happen but issues unintentionally emerged in its production, such as:

– The lack of cultural advisory in the nursing department.

– No access to an alternative marae as the current campus marae remains under construction.

– Cultural avenues would likely only be student-led.

– Lack of a Māori mentor in nursing .

– Lack of a Māori Health lecturer .

– Lack of a Māori voice

I understand the realities of what we were asking for in our proposal and the paperwork that might mountain as a result but I was hopeful that my school would have the necessary cultural advisory to make it happen. Emails were exchanged while the previous Nursing Executive and I organised numbers of students, the marae we would attend, bus services, a budget and a marae agenda with learning outcomes. I had various members of staff want to have meetings with me and when I would ask for a time that would suit them, they Houdini’d. I know they were busy and that my proposal was pushed to the bottom of the pile, but I remained hopeful that there would be some turnaround in staff that meant we would be supported.

The entire trip was organised over a period four months and to be held in January but the noho never happened and the email request for a guarantee that a noho marae would happen in the future for the next cohort of nursing students was ignored. Whilst our team was upset that the students were missing out on an opportunity to further their learning, I turned to the National Student Unit to learn about how other nursing schools around New Zealand optimised similar educational events and supported cultural events.

Whilst it was discussed that many nursing schools also had problems with their Māori Health paper, they still had access to a marae and like us, a whānau room where they could debrief and support one another. Other schools were surprised to hear about the lack of a marae, a source of unity and cultural identity for Māori students, and the little Māori people Wellington Massey had in nursing.

In a non-confrontational, non-demanding and non-aggressive presentation, nursing students from all around New Zealand came together and presented the desperate need for a shift in attitude to support the well-being and growth of struggling nursing students. We wanted to sit down and tell them about how we experienced the space they created and together, find solutions to make it better. Which is what we did to advocate for ourselves and for each other.

What I took away from that meeting was not only connections for a future noho marae but to facilitate a student-led wellbeing mentor system called the Tuakana-Teina programme and to encourage manaakitanga amongst my peers.

Supporting and celebrating diversity is how we can grow safer spaces that support not only overall health but academic success. And while I would point to a better equitable structure in our leadership as the first solution, what we can do as students is support each other, so that we are able to embrace diversity and hear those diverse voices loud and clear.

The lesson that I have learnt in the months of planning and discussing ideas to better support and advocacy on campus, is that the collective wairua of students who are passionate about enhancing the learning community and advocating for their peers, has been a humbling experience that has brought us closer together.

Which is beautiful in itself but the greatest lesson of them all is that the future isn’t a place that we are running towards, it’s a place that we create through our spheres of influence. And, with the upcoming leadership, strong kaitiakitanga and a loud Māori voice, I think Massey Wellington will have a good team to call for change for both Māori and non-Māori.

Because the need for change is right now.

In response to this piece, the School of Nursing said it was committed to the Treaty and applying the principles to nursing practice and admitted a lack of Māori mentors and lecturers available to support Māori students in the nursing programme.

“Indeed, the School of Nursing fully recognises the importance of increasing our Māori staff if we are to attract more Māori nursing students, to ensure their success in the programme, and to support them through postgraduate studies and into faculty positions.” 

“The noho marae visit was an inspired idea and the School would look to work with others on the campus to support future plans in the best way possible.”



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