Not 'all the white man's fault': Winston Peters on Māori grievances over tamariki care

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says Europeans shouldn't be solely blamed for grievances Māori have with Oranga Tamariki and the treatment of their children.

On Tuesday, an open letter will be presented to Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson by the Hands Off Our Tamariki network calling for the halt to the removal of children from their whanau's care and a new system led by Māori.

But Peters isn't convinced, saying on The AM Show on Tuesday that giving Māori sole charge won't instantly fix issues around the treatment of their tamariki and that we shouldn't just blame Europeans for problems.

The topic of uplifts has been in the spotlight recently after Newsroom released a video investigation in June showing officials from Oranga Tamariki - the Ministry for Children - at a Hawke's Bay maternity ward attempting to take a young Māori baby away from her family out of concern for the child's safety.

The video has prompted an internal review into the Hawke's Bay case, an inquiry by the Children's Commissioner into the agency's protection of Māori children under three months old, and a more wide-ranging investigation into the uplift process by the Chief Ombudsman. The Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency has also announced one to ensure a review is led by Māori. 

Screenshot from the Newsroom investigation.
Screenshot from the Newsroom investigation. Photo credit: Newsroom / Screenshot.

Hands Off Our Tamariki supports a new system led by Māori and their philosophies, attempting to keep at-risk Māori tamariki within the care of their family or hapu and working alongside the family to ensure a safe, positive environment.

On average, three Māori children are taken into care every week and that number is rising - while the rate of uplift for non-Māori is staying static. 

This idea of a Māori-led and focussed system has been supported by many key Māori figures, including Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere has also supported a system with "Māori solutions".

On The AM Show on Tuesday, one of the organisers of the march, Rihi Te Nana, said the need for a Māori-led system was clear.

"What is front of mind is that the Government actually accepts that Māori can look after their tamariki and children and the problem that we have at the moment is that the state has done for 156 years a very poor job of looking after our tamariki," she said.

"Māori have very good networks, we are able to find safe whanau that tamariki who are in crisis can go and stay with and we can also support the whanau in crisis, to think about the issues that they have and how within our context we can walk alongside them to support them to move forward."

Rihi Te Nana.
Rihi Te Nana. Photo credit: The AM Show

Te Nana accepted that sometimes children need to be removed from abusive homes and families, but she wants that to be only the last resort after the whanau has been worked with. 

She also said that children get abused in state care, so it can't be presumed tamariki automatically become safer when they are uplifted. 

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters, however, questions why Māori children should be left in an environment that has seen them "brutalised".

"As somebody who has spent his whole life in the Māori world and that context of growing up in a Māori settlement way up north, let me say we are hearing a lot of language from certain radical Māori, in my view, that somewhat suggests that the very culture or value that spawned this child in the first place, that has seen this child brutalised and damaged, is the place that we can safely repose that child and we want the healing process to start. How on earth does that work?" he said on The AM Show.

He praised the work of social workers who "go to work everyday hoping to do the best they possibly can" and said many don't deserve to be "dumped into some sort of criticism of being hopeless, being culturally insensitive, and don't care".

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: The AM Show.

More money has recently been channelled into Oranga Tamariki by the Government for early intervention services to put support around families and their newborns. Partnerships between the agency and iwi are also being developed. For example, Ngāti Kahungunu and Oranga Tamariki will now work together to prevent children going into state care.

At the start of the month, there were also a flurry of new care standards introduced for the agency.

Te Nana said mainstream white responses don't work for Māori, citing statistics regarding the number of tamariki abused in state care as an example of a poor outcome.

But Peters also doesn't want Europeans being solely blamed.

"Let's not have this view that somehow it is all the white man's fault and if it were not for that, Māori would be, in terms of looking after their children and their people and their women in particular, perfect," he said.

"See what sort of society, at the early part of cohabitation as populations and as cultures, was happening in this country, because it wasn't all the paradise that people say so.

"For all its failings, I am so glad that the English got here and settled this country rather than some other cultures, because with all its failings, it is so much better than all the rest of the world."

The rally will begin at 12pm at the cenotaph below Parliament and move to Parliament grounds at 1pm. One petition supporting Hands Off Our Tamariki has more than 17,000 signatures on Action Station.