The Māori Council is holding its own hui on New Zealand's response to COVID-19 following a lack of Māori representation at Epidemic Response Committee meetings, it says.
The executive director of the council Matthew Tukaki says Māori already have a lot of social determinants against them including higher than average unemployment rates, suicide prevention and mental health issues, and a larger homeless community. It's a "big issue" that could be heightened due to the pandemic.
"My fear is that we exit COVID-19 and every social determinant has been amplified. This is at a time when the Māori community has been mobilising across the nation. Everything from kai packs and checking on kaumātua and kuia - our Māori wardens have been out there doing amazing work," Tukaki told The Project.
He says many Māori groups and organisations have been ignored by the Epidemic Response Committee, including the Māori Council.
"We've been waiting for the invitation. We're also very unique in that we have our own active parliament - we're the only statutory body representative of Māori in the country. And yet Simon Bridges, chair on the epidemic committee, has not just ignored us but ignored just about every Māori organisation around town.
Tukaki reached out and "had a crack" at Bridges for the lack of Māori representation on the committee.
"I'll be honest, I gave him the verbal flying jandal and said, 'Why is it you don't want to hear from Māori? What is it about what you're trying to achieve here that excludes us at a time when everybody knows that those social determinants are only going to be amplified and get worse? Are you afraid of hearing our stories?'
"Quite honestly, if he doesn't act, the Māori Council will act in its own right."
He says the council will hold its own hui live on Facebook at 12pm next Monday about New Zealand's future post-COVID-19. Māori people and organisations are encouraged to appear, have a conversation and share their experiences about the pandemic.
"While it's our right to appear before that committee, it will also be our right if we're not included and we'll hold our own forum. Also, it's open to all New Zealanders, not just Māori."
Tukaki's reasoning for wanting more Māori groups on the Epidemic Response Committee is because it feels like they're "never engaged".
"We are partners in this endeavour, Māori and non-Māori alike. But often it feels as if we're left behind sitting at the back of the bus, we're never engaged. And when they do want to engage us it's like a brown box-ticking exercise, and that has got to end.
"We need a nation-building plan that's inclusive of both the Treaty [of Waitangi] partners but also all New Zealanders at the same time."
Bridges says it's his aspiration to hear from more Māori at the committee, and he's considering a day dedicated to hearing from them.
"It's always the aspiration to hear from more folk at the committee, I can tell you quite clearly I probably have 50 proposals from really significant bodies and agencies who want to come along," he said on Tuesday.
But he couldn't confirm when Māori would appear at the committee.
"It does depend a bit though on how long the committee goes for, we're full this week of course."