Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa National Council of Māori Nurses

1983 –

Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa National Council of Māori Nurses

1983 –

Theme: Māori

This essay written by Linda Thompson Erihe and Tania Rei was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Hemaima Hughes in 2018.

1983 – 1993

Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa, the National Council of Māori Nurses, was set up as an incorporated society in 1993, with a registered membership of 300, predominantly Māori nurses and community workers.

The council was established in 1983, with support from the Mana Motuhake Māori political party. The issue of health services provided to Māori patients by hospitals under the control of the Auckland Hospital Board was raised at a Mana Motuhake hui in Auckland in 1983. The major concern was that Māori patients were not receiving appropriate hospital care, and this was exacerbated by a shortage of Māori nurses. Two Māori nurses present at the hui, Linda Erihe and Turuhira Cunningham, organised a meeting of registered Māori nurses living in Auckland to enable further discussion of the issues by nurses.

Eleven Māori nurses attended this first meeting, and formed a steering committee to investigate the possibility of forming a national organisation of Māori nurses. Their first task, however, was to organise a national Māori nurses' hui. For several weeks the steering committee networked extensively to inform Māori about the hui, and gather feedback from them regarding their health care. It also drafted a constitution (confirmed at the council's inaugural hui in 1984), lobbied for funding and other resources, and conducted general public relations work designed to increase awareness of the new organisation.

The first national hui of Māori nurses was held at Te Puea Memorial Marae in Auckland on 24 February 1984. Representatives came from Te Tai Rāwhiti (East Coast), Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland), and Te Tai Tokerau (Northland). Dame Te Atairangikaahu was the guest of honour. Guest speakers Aussie Malcolm (Minister of Health), Margaret Bazley (Director of Nursing in New Zealand), and Yvonne Shadbolt (from the Auckland Technical Institute Nursing Department) acknowledged the problems in Māori health care, and supported the idea of setting up a National Council of Māori Nurses.

The first president of the council was Mereana Solomon (1984–85); she was succeeded by Matire De Ridder (1985–88), Tuila Tenari (1988–91), and Linda Erihe (1991–94). The council's founding patron, Putiputi O'Brien (Ngāti Awa), performed a kaumatua role and provided expert knowledge gained from her own extensive nursing experience. The council was affiliated to both the New Zealand Nurses' Association and the New Zealand Nursing Council. It also had a more informal affiliation with the Women's Health League and Māori Women's Welfare League.

By 1993, nine national hui had been held at various North Island venues. The executive also met three times a year. The council maintained a register of members' names and tribal affiliations, and recorded the names of hui participants.

The council's work was focused mainly on appropriate health service delivery, and on education and training for the nursing workforce, particularly the issue of cultural sensitivity by health practitioners toward Māori patients in public hospitals. In 1990 it published a booklet on cultural safety within hospitals, aimed at improving health services for Māori. As an outcome of its work in health education, the council had strong links with Māori nursing students, who began organising in 1986. It provided support for them, assisted in nursing education programmes and acted as a parent body.

The council was committed to bicultural development within the nursing profession. Despite the 1990s restructuring of the health sector, the council continued to see its role as one of supporting Māori health service providers, health professionals, community workers and others working in Māori health, as well as contributing to the education and training of the nursing workforce in New Zealand.

Linda Thompson Erihe and Tania Rei

1994 – 2018

Ngā mihi mahana kia koutou katoa. Nau mai, haere mai ki te hikoi o Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Maori o Aotearoa i nga wa o mua.

Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa, the National Council of Māori Nurses, mourned the passing of their founding patron, Whaea Putiputi O’Brien, at the age of 93, on 25 August 2015.  Her passion for nursing and advice to those entering the profession was enshrined in these words: ‘Tomo mai ki te akoranga hauora, whakahokia ki te ao whanui – enter to learn and go forth to serve.’

Item about the life of Putiputi O'Brien (Ngāti Awa) which screened on Te Karere in 2015. Sourced from: Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō.

Key motivations for founding Te Kaunihera in 1983 had been to increase the number of Māori entering the nursing profession, and to meet the need for Māori nurses to play a major role in the delivery of primary, secondary and tertiary health care, including nursing education. Early efforts to break down barriers had included foundation nursing programmes that offered a Māori health perspective, in order to encourage young Māori into nursing. A long-held vision was to develop a kaupapa Māori training programme for nurses, because of the high attrition rates of Māori students from mainstream programmes.

From 2004 to 2009, the ‘moemoea’ (dream) of a kaupapa Māori nursing programme was diligently and collaboratively created, designed, developed and progressed by members of Te Kaunihera, the community, and stakeholders. This was realised in the three-year undergraduate degree, Te Ōhanga Mataora Paetahi, Bachelor of Health Sciences Māori (Nursing). The intention had been for this to be offered by Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi at its home base of Whakatāne. The Tertiary Education Commission had directed the wānanga to offer the degree from Tāmaki Makaurau. This proved problematic, and after students successfully sat their state finals in November 2011, the degree ceased to be offered. In 2014 it was relaunched with a slightly modified programme, which had full Nursing Council and New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) approval, and in February 2015 it at last got underway on the Whakatāne campus of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, led by former Waiariki Nursing School head Ngaira Harker.

Tapuhi neehi (registered nurse) graduates from the programme were dually competent in te reo me ona tikanga Māori, as well as meeting the registered nurse scope of practice competencies prescribed by the Nursing Council. Te Kaunihera celebrated the success of this unique nursing programme, which in 2018 had its fourth cohort of tauira neehi Māori (Māori student nurses) wishing to participate in this pathway.

In 2014, after some setbacks, Te Kaunihera was again growing, with close to 300 members, many of them senior Māori nursing leaders. Five branches had been established or re-established over the previous year, including an Ōtautahi (Christchurch) branch.

In 2016 Te Kaunihera returned to Ratana Pā to celebrate their 30-year progressive hikoi of Waerea te ara ki te ora tatou ngā  iwi: clearing the way towards total wellbeing for our people through nursing education.  From July 1986, when the first national hui of tauira neehi Māori had been held at Ratana Pā near Whanganui, Te Kaunihera, as the ‘parent body’, had continued to provide support and leadership for those attending these events.

The annual hui provided the opportunity for Te Kaunihera to remind ourselves of the purpose and objectives for which these events were established. They included, first, enabling and nurturing all Māori nurses within an environment strengthening Māori identity and offering experience of what it is to be Māori – for Māori by Māori – a right under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The hui also provided an opportunity to bring together tauira neehi Māori and Wharangi Ruamano (Māori Nurse Educators) from all over Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu, to support each other, exchange ideas, reflect on individual nursing journeys, share highs and lows/positives and negatives of our journeys, and examine best practices through peer reviews and exemplars. They were designed to enable our cultural knowledge and learnings, share that validation and provide strategies to achieve success.

Moreover, the hui allowed for nursing education programmes to be compared and contrasted, and for knowledge and practice to be acquired and explored, so as to ascertain what worked and what did not work. They also demonstrated strong connectedness through whakapapa and whakawhanaungatanga, and how integral this was to support tauira in their future practices of meeting and interacting with each other and with their whānau/clients. They assured  tauira that they would be regularly exposed to positive, inspirational, influential Māori speakers and role models, so that they in turn would be inspired to climb their own Maungateitei, aspirational mountain, to success.

By 2018 Te Kaunihera o ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa had 11 branches, and its membership encompassed Māori registered nurses, enrolled nurses, health care workers and tauira. It was presided over by Tumuaki (president) Mrs Donna Foxall, supported by Kahui Kaumātua, and governed by a National Executive Committee of Māori registered nurses (composed of a Director of Nursing, educators, clinical practitioners) and tauira, representing the voice of regions and branches from Tai Tokerau in the north to Ōtautahi in the south.

As an organisation, Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa continued to engage in strategies promoting whānau, and sustaining its energetic leadership to preserve and promote the unique position of Māori nurses in achieving positive healing outcomes.  It also aimed to affirm the values of the Māori nurses’ collective and to maintain competent and effective practice, striving for successful development and integration of programmes and projects, and an efficient infrastructure able to meet the demands of progress and future growth. This meant developing greater capacity within Te Kaunihera in terms of leadership, mentorship, expertise and technical/financial resources.

The mahi was continuing: revitalising, nurturing, energizing and growing the communication with all Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa branches and stakeholders, and continuing to seek opportunities to increase membership, strengthen current relationships and grow new ones, and  be engaged at all levels to contribute towards hauora Māori, whānau ora in the wider health, nursing, education and social sectors. ’Ka whawhai tonu mātou – struggle without end.’

Whakamutunga te kōrero inaianei. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.  

Hemaima Hughes

Unpublished sources

National Council of Māori Nurses records, 1983–1992, in possession of Linda Thompson Erihe, Marton

Raureti-Carson, Yvonne, 'The History of the National Council of Māori Nurses', MA research essay, University of Waikato, 1990

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