Prioritising Te Reo Māori in Māori Health Workforce Development Strategy

With the demand for te reo Māori growing, avenues for learning need to be a key strategic focus area for the Māori Health Workforce. Renei Ngawati shares her whakaaro and insights into her latest project. 

Aotearoa has experienced a shift in the demand for mātauranga Māori, especially in education and science research. More recently, the demand for te reo Māori use and recognition from both Māori and non-Māori has increased in a way we could not have foreseen. Now more than ever, ensuring our present and future kaimahi Māori are not left behind in the pursuit of their own mātauranga and te reo Māori needs to be at the top of the Māori Health Workforce Development (MHWD) priority list. The need for te reo Māori to be a focus area in MHWD strategy is already apparent and finding solutions at an individual organisational level to national level is now on the table. 

Toi Tangata, as an agency that provides an avenue for mātauranga Māori learning for kaimahi Māori across health, sport, kori tinana and kai oranga, is reminded often of the challenges kaimahi face. We also see aspirations kaimahi have in their own pursuit of knowledge and hononga to their whakapapa Māori. Toi Tangata is currently leading a scoping project (funded by Te Mātāwai) to establish the need for te reo Māori learning support for kaimahi Māori in the health sector. It is exciting to learn and hear the aspirations of kaimahi and what they aim to achieve within their own personal and professional goals. I am privileged to be able to scope out what this support could look like from across the different areas of the sector. 

It is not an uncommon story that as kaimahi Māori across different roles, we can leave ourselves behind when working for our own hāpori Māori. We have pursued careers, chosen that study discipline over learning te reo Māori or Māori studies and relied on our connection to our iwi, hapū, and whānau for our fix. In our roles, we can act as the intermediary between access to kaupapa Māori driven services for our whānau, but don’t necessarily prioritise our own mātauranga or kaupapa Māori learning. In recent years, demand for fluent reo Māori speakers and competence in tikanga Māori are more and more common on the job description. Being that expected ‘Māori’ person in the organisation is as strong as ever.  Seeing a positive increase in reo Māori use in the workplace can spur the feeling of being ready to put ourselves first. To put our own Māoritanga and te reo Māori at the top of the list. This again highlights the need for Māori Health Workforce (MHWD) strategy and provision to reflect not only the demand, but the desire to learn. 

This is not just a story from observation. I am also part of this group. The ones that took being around reo Māori speakers as enough. Putting higher education learning first – the degree, the upskill in this area, that postgrad te mea. I weaved reo Māori into my everyday life as I was growing up, but have not yet treated learning te reo Māori like approaching a degree – full time and all the time. I have faced the same barriers (some self-inflicted) like so many of us including 1. whakamā 2. time 3. financial support to cover living expenses while studying full immersion. In that order. Taking time off for immersion learning is increasingly harder as whānau responsibilities grow. As a kaimahi hauora and former Māori health lecturer, I looked at the solutions to MHWD from a sector lens. But when we had to take my then three year old girl, Uru, to the A&E one day, she couldn’t really understand the nurse because my girl only spoke te reo Māori. As a Māmā, I thought, this is the final straw. From the kainga, to kohanga, kura, whare wānanga and then out to the workforce – equity is being able access te reo Māori in any service we use. 

From the kainga, to kohanga, kura, whare wānanga and then out to the workforce – equity is being able access te reo Māori in any service we use. 

Māori Health Workforce Development has a vital role in building equity based services and ensuring our whānau are accessing services that are reflective of us, as Māori. MHWD schemes over the last 20 years and earlier have focused on the recruitment and retention of Māori students and kaimahi in the health sector with three main focal areas a) recruitment including NCEA science attainment for secondary school students to enter into health related studies, career exposure programmes;

b) increasing the number of Māori graduates in health related studies; and 

c) support systems to retain new graduates and established kaimahi. 

MHWD has also included cultural competence in the health sector as a major focal point for both Māori and non-Māori as part of improving health delivery to Māori communities. Recruitment and retention schemes into health related studies have played a significant role in supporting Māori students. I take this time to acknowledge the ongoing support of schemes like Whakapiki Ake, MAPAS, Kia Ora Hauora, and the Rangatahi Programme. 

In my former University teaching roles, it was apparent that there was a change in the ‘type’ of students entering into health studies. Those who were coming into study with reo Māori either from Wharekura or had grown up with reo Māori in their lives, and needed academic support with their science-related subjects. Then Māori students that came into health-related studies with high science attainment with less exposure to Māoritanga in their lives. After coordinating a rangatahi in health sciences mentor programme in 2015, it was highlighted again that Māori students from various backgrounds needed added support to grow their cultural confidence. 

One event during this year sparked it for me. A dad of one of the students, stood at a pōwhiri and cried talking of how he was not able to speak te reo, but is happy that his son could start this pathway while studying. This dad was well aware of the expectations that were laid in front of his son as a future practitioner. I asked myself after that – how do we, as a sector, support graduates and current kaimahi Māori to gain the cultural confidence they need not only for themselves, but in their careers? How can they, we, confidently take that place as a health promoter, doctor, nurse, midwife etc and meet our own needs as a ‘Māori practitioner’? To be that comforting Māori face for whānau? Those with more ‘Māoritanga’ would be expected to make themselves available as part of their role. Others may experience that expectation, but also feel that they are not yet able to fulfill that need. Being able to speak and understand te reo Māori was at the forefront of all of the conversations I have had with students and kaimahi alike. 

I think of the pātere by Koro Bub and Nan Wehi Ka titiro hoki au and how fitting it is for a time now where health equity investment needs to include te reo Māori so kaimahi aren’t left looking, wanting, or needing to choose between their career and their reo. 

Koia nei ngā mea e wawatia nei e tāku ngākau 

As part of the scoping project Toi Tangata is leading, if you would like to have your say, please click the link to this Survey: Establishing the need for Te Reo Māori learning support for kaimahi hauora.