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Taking Māori babies after birth 'cruel and inhumane': Māori midwives head

The head of Māori midwives has told the Waitangi Tribunal the taking of Māori babies just after birth is "cruel and inhumane" as it targets the mother when she is at her weakest.

Nga Maia Midwives Aotearoa CEO Jean Te Huia Source: Supplied

By Meriana Johnsen of rnz.co.nz

The second week of the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the disproportionate number of tamariki Māori in state care is under way in Hastings.

Jean Te Huia was the midwife at the centre of the attempted removal of a six-day-old baby from her mother in Hastings last year, which exposed the systemic removal of Māori babies by Oranga Tamariki.

Te Huia, who is also the head of Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa and a midwife of 29 years, told the Tribunal today that she had witnessed numerous uplifts where the parents and whānau were not informed, or if they were, the parents were not given enough information.

She said one "desperate young mother" was told just four days before she was due to give birth that she should find a lawyer as her baby was to be taken at birth, and she was offered no support from Oranga Tamariki.

"Information regarding the pending uplift of a newborn baby has also been deliberately withheld from me as a midwife.

"I have been unable to prepare the mother, nor was I able to provide professional care appropriate to the situation," Te Huia said in her brief of submission.

Another mother was alone in the hospital room, still numb from the hips down from her caesarean section, when her baby was taken away for "a check", only to be told a couple of hours later that the baby had in fact been taken by Oranga Tamariki.

"I believe this is cruel and inhumane, as this strategically targets the mother when she is at her weakest, physically, spiritually, and emotionally," Te Huia said.

She told the Tribunal that she has been involved in so many cases where Māori mothers have their babies taken that she believes there is a "systemic bias" against Māori within Oranga Tamariki.

She used the example of a 24-year-old Pākehā mother with a history of drug and alcohol use, and living in a garage, who did not have her baby removed, which Te Huia said she believed was because the mother was white.

The racial bias against Māori was not only prevalent in Oranga Tamariki but in the nursing and midwifery workforce, which Te Huia said was dominated by white, middle-aged women, many of whom are immigrants.

At one DHB meeting, Te Huia said a white South African immigrant midwife suggested that Māori women be sterilised to stop them having babies.

"Healthcare staff with racist views such as this are common, and the Crown does nothing to provide adequate cultural training for these staff.

"These people have these views and form the way in which they treat our Māori people."

When asked if uplift practices had changed in the last year, Te Huia said she had seen no change in the practices of Oranga Tamariki.