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Understanding how Māori whānau bounce back from adversity

Dr Jordan Waiti.

The importance of cultural identity and having the appropriate resources and strategies to help Māori whānau cope with the challenges of life have been highlighted in research from Massey University PhD graduate Dr Jordan Waiti.

His thesis identified resilience strategies used by Māori whānau who had experienced adversity, such as a whānau member committing suicide, facing long-term illness, being sent to prison or being made redundant.

Dr Waiti, who is of Ngāti Pikiao, Te Rarawa, and Ngāti Haupoto descent, says that despite these challenges, each of the whānau in his study exhibited resilient traits enabling them to bounce back from adversity. “Due to the effects of colonisation and our subsequent socio-economic status, many Māori whānau experience a variety of life-shocks throughout their lifetime. However, the families I spoke to drew on a variety of skills and resources which enabled them to overcome adversity and flourish.”

His research findings show that whānau resilience can be represented by four platforms, each representing specific protective strategies and coping mechanisms that promote resilience:

-     Whanaungatanga (networks and relationships)

-        Pūkenga (skills and abilities)

-        Tīkanga (values and beliefs)

-        Tuakiri-ā-iwi (a secure cultural identity).

Dr Waiti says these platforms represent a conceptual framework, “which whānau, hapū and iwi can add to their kete of knowledge to call upon when required.”

The importance of cultural identity

A key finding of his research was the critical importance of cultural identity. “Maintaining a secure cultural identity has been at the forefront of Māori aspirations since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Earlier detrimental government policies that focused on assimilation highlighted the need for Māori to retain their cultural identity to help navigate successfully through life.

“In the current climate under a neoliberal government, it is fair to say whānau will continue to endure a variety of life shocks as a result of government policy – inadequate housing, food insecurity, unemployment and job losses, poverty and, subsequently, a decrease in health and well-being. Therefore the findings of this thesis could be applicable in the years to come.”

The 33-year-old, who recently graduated, says his motivation to study began while at high school at Hawkes Bay’s Te Aute College. “We were frequently reminded of the past deeds of our old boys. People like Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck, Sir Maui Pomare and Dr Pita Sharples. My time at Te Aute College enhanced my pride in being Māori. It was here that I knew I wanted to contribute to Māori health and development in whatever way I could.

“This lead me to do an honours degree which focused on exercise psychology for Māori, and a master’s degree focused on the psychology of physical activity for Māori. My motivation to do a PhD stemmed from these two studies and my time at the Eru Pomare Māori Health Research Centre in Wellington.”

Dr Waiti says the opportunity to join a project supervised by Sir Mason Durie and Associate Professor Te Kani Kingi was too good to pass up and he says the topic held personal appeal. “I could relate to it as my own whānau and friends had experienced a number of life-shocks themselves. I was also attracted to the idea that I would be doing it within the public health field, which operates at a population level.

“The health and educational gains that we, as young Māori, experience today is a result of the hard-fought battles and the advocacy of the many Māori who have paved the way for us.”

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