Maori survivors faced ‘significant racism and torture’

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Maori survivors of care abuse want urgent change to Aotearoa’s care and protection system, which has seen whānau suffer from significant racism, torture, slave labor and disconnection from whakapapa, according to an investigation.

Over the past two weeks, ngā mōrehu (survivors) have testified in a special hearing for Maori as part of the ongoing Royal Commission into Care Abuse, which included kōrero with hundreds of Maori survivors.

Twenty-five of the survivors shared details of their experiences of not only abuse, but also racism, being disconnected from their whakapapa and estranged from their whānau, and blatant exclusion from the Māori tikanga system.

Friday was the final day of the hearing at Ōrākei Marae in Auckland where the Crown and Royal Commission delivered their closing statements.

A panel of survivors and experts also responded to what they had heard, insisting that any changes to the system must be Survivor and Maori-led.

In conclusion, Commission Counsel Julia Spelman agreed that the path forward, particularly for Maori, must be different.

“Looking forward, survivors have been consistent in their call for Maori-led and Maori-based solutions, and that means a collective approach.”

She said the Commission had heard “strongly and repeatedly” that the “significant abuses” suffered historically continue to this day.

“But we also heard about the particular Maori experience, the significant racism, the cultural abuse, the deep trauma that was inflicted on survivors throughout their lives by removing them from their whānau, iwi and hapū in cutting ties with the whakapapa, leaving them disconnected from their culture and identity.

“For many survivors, their resilience that we saw over these weeks was grounded in the strength they drew from tikanga, and clearly that is the critical path forward.”

Crown attorney Melanie Baker concluded by saying there were many “disturbing themes” throughout the hearing, including “horrible physical, psychological and emotional sexual abuse”.

She said the whānau voices that had been heard over the past two weeks would “help drive change to prevent further abuse and to inform what reparations look like for those who have suffered.”

Read more: Maori victims share horrific details of abuse in state care

One of the expert panelists, Denise Messiter (Ngāti Pūkenga ki Waiau), said the themes of racism, rejection and disconnection shared by survivors stuck with her.

She said Maori had been exposed to “systemic and structural torture”.

“I heard that they were dumped and put in places with people they didn’t know with no connection to their whānau, no connection to their whakapapa, no connection to their whenua, no connection to their tūpuna .”

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Tupua Urlich (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga) is a survivor who was in state care from the age of five until the age of 15.

He told the inquest how urgent the changes were and shared a strong message for the Crown.

“Stop killing our people. That’s what you’re doing. We may be alive but many of us are dead. Many of us can’t feel because it was never safe to feel .

“We can’t wait, our people can’t wait. Abuse doesn’t stop when you leave the system. It stays with us and affects us in different ways.”

He said that the role of the Crown in the future should only be resources, and nothing else.

Paora Moyle (Ngāti Porou), another panelist and survivor of state and sectarian abuse, acknowledged the need for protective services in Aotearoa, but called for an end to the system as it is.

“I’m thinking of just burning it into the ground and starting over,” Moyle said.

“This needs to stop. I want transformative change in my life.”

Read more: Embracing Māoritanga to help survivors of state care abuse heal

The prison care ‘pipeline’ was also mentioned by many survivors, including panelist Gary Williams, a member of the Royal Commission’s Survivors Expert Advisory Group.

“Stop the pipeline. We often talk about the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we have to stop people from being pushed over the cliff. It’s a place of torture, it’s a place where Maori like we disconnect from our identities and spend the rest of our lives being people we weren’t meant to be.”

Commissioner Julia Steenson concluded the hearing. She said the state, faith-based institutions and even society must be held accountable for what was done to Maori survivors.

“They were repeatedly tortured, isolated, raped, used as slaves, and much more. They told us how they were then spat out by the racist system that judged them and by the society that judged them.

“Having to bear the cross of intergenerational stigma and trauma which for some has kept them from connecting with their whakapapa, their identity, from finding employment, from keeping employment, resulting in persistent poverty all trying to cope with all the mental and physical impacts that trauma like this brings.”

The audience was organized by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei in their marae, who gave the audience the name “Tō muri te pō roa, tērā a Pokopoko Whiti-te-rā”, which speaks of hope and healing for the survivors of abuse in care after years of darkness.

Kaumātua Taiaha Hawke of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei closed the proceedings with a kōrero in te reo Māori, followed by waiata Māori and a hymn.

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