Rongoā Māori practitioners worried about Bill set to go before Parliament that regulates natural health products

A new Bill set to go before Parliament is causing concern amongst practitioners of traditional Māori medicine.

The Therapeutic Products Bill will regulate how pharmaceutical and natural health products are manufactured, tested, imported, promoted, supplied, and exported.

"Straight away it tells me that directly they will actually try and stop me from doing what I'm doing naturally in my home for my whānau," Awhitia Mihaere said.

Mihaere has been practising rongoā for more than 20 years. It's a practice that has laid dormant for a century.

"All rongoā practitioners can tell you it's been very hard. 1907 was the Tohunga Suppression Act, around about 2008 it was reintroduced."

The Bill aims to ensure these products are safe and deliver what they promise. But rongoā Māori specialists said the Bill overreaches into their traditional practice and is worried it could suppress their ability to deliver their services to whānau.

"So if I wanted to send some of my tonics I send to my whānau, the Therapeutic Act means that actually, you can't send that kumarahou for lung support to your whānau. It's all about regulations from the time you start to the time you put it into the packet."

Mihaere said the demand for Māori healers in the hapori has increased over recent years.

All practitioners have operated independently, however, the impact of the proposed Bill if passed into legislation could potentially change that.

"It's like bringing back the Tohunga Suppression Act on us once again. We are not therapeutics. Just the word on its own does not align with our practice. We're rongoā practitioners."

Mihaere is not alone in her concerns - it was discussed at a Rongoā Wānaga at Massey University in Te Papaioea last month, where hundreds of Māori healers came together.

"It's controlling what we can do. Imagine if we're being controlled more, what's going to happen then? Are they going to say what's going to be in the rongoā next? What are they going to say? Say they'll outlaw romiromi, and only have massage therapy?" Charlotte Mildon said.

Mildon, who is chair of the Aotearoa Rongoā Māori Collective, said rongoā Māori practitioners are frustrated by the lack of consultation.

"At the moment, they're only asking one person with one organisation sitting at the table with them doing the decision making. None of the other healers from other rohe. We have a right to say what it is we want for our healing and how it goes for each whānau, for each hapū."

Awhitia Mihaere.
Awhitia Mihaere. Photo credit: The Hui

The Aotearoa Rongoā Māori Collective has sent a petition to Parliament opposing the inclusion of rongoā Māori in the Bill, which is set to be introduced into Parliament before the end of the year.

"That's not okay. What you're trying to do under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tino rangatiratanga under our taonga and our taonga that belong to us and we have absolute sovereignty over our healing ways."

The Hui has received the following statement from the Ministry of Health regarding the Therapeutic Products Bill.

"We recognise the importance of rongoā, and we have been carefully considering how to recognise and protect rongoā Māori as part of our work on the Bill. This has included consulting with Te Kāhui Rongoā, a governance body for rongoā practitioners, Māori clinicians and health providers, and working with our colleagues in Te Aka Whai Ora - the Māori Health Authority," they said.

"Our vision for the Bill is that it protects, promotes, and improves individual and community health, and enables the delivery of high-quality services that meet the needs of Māori and all New Zealanders.

"We understand that many people and organisations will want to make a contribution on this important issue. When the Bill is introduced to Parliament, there will be a further opportunity for people to have their say at Select Committee."

Mihaere said the Therapeutics Act will stop great practitioners from practising.

"It's a unique practice to us as Māori within our whānau, and our hapū. Each whānau has a specific rongoā, one that is just specific for them," she said.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.