Opinion: Why Māori service providers were essential during lockdown and are key to recovery

Now that we’re looking to post-COVID recovery we can’t afford to leave out these vital service providers in planning for a better future.
Now that we’re looking to post-COVID recovery we can’t afford to leave out these vital service providers in planning for a better future. Photo credit: Supplied

The well-worn phrase, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” was there for the whole country to see during the various levels of COVID lockdown.

The tough ones I’m referring to here are the Māori service providers, frontline workers and local iwi groups. They started marshalling their resources even before New Zealand shut up shop.

Not surprisingly because they know their communities well. They know who the vulnerable families are and they know that without support on a number of fronts these families would find it difficult to survive 48 hours of lockdown, let alone 48 days.

They’re virtually all women. Social services is not for dummies. Get it wrong and you can make things worse not better. These workers had to act quickly to reassure families not all hygiene products would disappear off the shelves because of panic buyers. That food packs would come their way as soon as a local distribution system was up and running.


The providers were essential workers. When other agencies they thought would be there in support chose to batten down the hatches and retreat into lockdown as well, Māori and community providers continued to work. They kept themselves safe and carried on. Of course Māori men were in there supporting and helping where they could but it is Māori women working in this sector who have my utmost respect. They foresaw the tipping point so mobilised outreach to hundreds of families at the flax roots. 

When Māori families are asked to separate themselves from each other for days on end I suspect most Pākehā would not comprehend how difficult that is. The Māori families I know rely not only on their immediate family but also their extended larger family for support during difficult times. Whether it’s a housing crisis; come and stay with us, money shortage; here this’ll help you out, family harm issue; I’ll take the children for a few days so you two can sort things out. It’s all this and more, every day of the year. Just knowing family is there to call on is the reassurance many families need. The families are surviving, but hardly thriving.

Now that we’re looking to post-COVID recovery we can’t afford to leave out these vital service providers in planning for a better future. They can inform us what worked, where improvements can be made for next time - and there will be a next time - and who must get in behind and share the workload. They know the areas of work that can be devolved and they know who to trust with the information and data they collect. I cannot imagine any Māori service provider passing personal and confidential information to anyone, for any reason, other than for the release of vital supplies.

Maori service providers supplying food packs during lockdown.
Maori service providers supplying food packs during lockdown. Photo credit: Supplied

Any initiatives from the various sector groups coming before the government need to have Māori representation otherwise we will be relegated to the back of the queue. The voices of Māori women need to be everywhere at this very point in time because funding decisions are being made right now for the long term. They bring a different lens and that is the gift of intergenerational thinking. We don’t just think about our own selves - we think of the collective - we know that the decisions made right now will impact our family for years to come. 

We’re not out of the woods by a long way. There will be more struggle and deprivation for existing families and we are already seeing the ever increasing number of people joining the ranks of the unemployed. The tough will keep trying to position families to cope. 

The tough ones have been Māori women. They know what’s at stake for vulnerable families when they try to cope alone. They weren’t having a bar of it. They stepped up, did the job and are now back at work. They “went hard and went early“. I applaud them all. 

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is Chair of Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, councillor at large for the Rotorua Lakes Council, and current Board Member of the Lakes District Health Board.

R&R with Eru & K'Lee is a lively current events show with a unique Māori perspective. Te reo speakers K'Lee and Eru deliver entertaining and intelligent discussions on issues arising from popular culture and our modern lifestyles. Tune into R&R with Eru & K’Lee at 9am on Sundays on Three.