More than a century after two Māori midwives helped establish Whānau Āwhina Plunket, the organisation has acknowledged it has failed tangata whenua throughout its history.
A five-year review into the Well Child Tamariki Ora programme revealed there was inequality, bias and racism towards Māori mothers and their pepi.
The report also found that over the organisation’s 114 years, its own storytelling had often overlooked wāhine Māori or portrayed them as bystanders. It was only in 2020 that two respected Kāi Tahu and Kāti Huirapa midwives Mere Harper and Ria Tikini were included in Plunket’s history.
The findings were welcomed by the charity, who say they are determined to achieve equity across its services. It also acknowledged its founder Dr Truby King had “problematic views” on eugenics which harmed women and Māori.
Plunket CEO Amanda Malu told Breakfast it was “absolutely essential” the organisation “lift up that true story” of Harper and Tikini’s work with King in Karitāne.
“We’re very deliberately acknowledging and apologising for [King’s] views and the harm they caused because if we want to go forward … and achieve that pro-equity goal, we have to acknowledge our past and be very clear about standing up and owning it. That’s what we’ve been doing,” Malu said.
Malu, the great great granddaughter of Harper and the great niece of the first Plunket baby Thomas Ellison, said the findings of the review were “heartbreaking”.
She said she felt a great responsibility to her tīpuna to turn the organisation around.
“You see those impacts still rolling out today,” she said.
“We know we’ve got a long way to go.”
Plunket is pledging it will achieve equity in the delivery of its services by 2025. The charity has also said that it intended to change the way they work with Māori whānau by acknowledging the inequalities, bias and racism they experienced.
Malu said the change has to come from within. All Plunket staff are undergoing “Be a Better Treaty Partner”, a 15-hour educational programme that covers bias and privilege.
“Our kaimahi, our staff, need to come on this journey too.”
She said staff have responded in a “phenomenal” way.
Plunket clinical leader Keli Livingston said finding out about Harper and Tikini 12 years after she first started in the organisation was a “key moment”.
“[By] acknowledging how we haven’t been so great in the past, it’s enabled us to look at ourselves, look at our practice, and on the frontline be able to deliver the service in a more equitable way.”
This meant all New Zealand mothers and their children could have a better chance of good health outcomes, she said.
Plunket is New Zealand’s largest and only national provider of Well Child services.