Māori hearing of inquiry into historical abuse in state care begins with two youth survivors' evidence

Warning: This story discusses child abuse.

The ugly side of New Zealand's treatment of young Māori in state and faith-based care was aired on Monday.

It was the start of a 10-day Māori public hearing of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in state and faith-based care, focusing on racism, intergenerational trauma, and contemporary experiences of abuse while in care.

The karanga at the beginning of Monday's hearing was not only to the living but also to those now dead with no voice, like the father of one witness, Tupua Urlich.

He was a second-generation victim of state care and suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of his caregiver.

"You take me away from my whānau and place me with someone who beats me nearly every single day," he says.

"I missed so many days of school due to the bumps and bruises and black eyes that he left me with."

Urlich was one of two youth survivors giving evidence on Monday.

The inquiry is looking at abuse up to 1999, and while their abuse happened after that, they argue they're victims of state-inflicted trauma and racism that goes back generations. They say it left them with no connection to their whakapapa, identity and culture.

"I was far safer in those first five years of my life than I was after the state intervened," Urlich says. 

The chairperson of the Commission's treaty advisory panel Prue Kapua says the practices of state and faith-based institutions dismantled Māori families.

"The policies and practices that were brought in with the settler government and from there on were aimed at dismantling our own practices, our whānau, our hapū."

It's estimated up to 250,000 children, young people and at-risk adults were abused in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 2019. 

The Royal Commission says it doesn't know how many of those cases would have been Māori, but they do know Māori were and are overrepresented in care and were abused more than any other group.

The hearing is one part of the Royal Commission’s wider Māori investigation and will continue until next week.

Where to find help and support: