Methods used in baby uplifts by Oranga Tamariki undermine Māori. That's according to the Urban Māori Authority, which is making its submission as the Waitangi Tribunal's urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki begins today in Wellington.
The inquiry, one of five into the Government's ministry for children, followed Newsroom's investigation, with video footage, into the attempted uplift of a newborn baby from his mother in Hawke's Bay last year.
The uplift attempt sparked national outrage and become a window into further concerns about the operations and practices of Oranga Tamariki, particularly the highly disproportionate number of Māori babies removed from their mothers.
The inquiry commences today with evidence given by Lady Tureiti Moxon, who is the chair of the National Urban Māori Authority.
This morning, she told TVNZ1's Breakfast Oranga Tamariki was "broken and beyond repair".
"It affects so many people, not in a positive way, in a very negative way. And what we've been seeing more and more are people coming forward telling stories of how their experiences have basically devastated their lives."
When asked if Crown legislation policy and practice was inconsistent with the policies and principles of the Treaty and the Crown's Treaty duties to Māori as it is applied through Oranga Tamariki, Lady Moxon said it "absolutely" was.
"It undermines the very core foundations of Māori society, which is whānau, hapū and iwi. It breaks it apart. It undermines whakapapa. It undermines who we are at the core as Māori."
Part of her submission reads: "Removing tamariki from the breasts of their mothers is not only inhumane, Oranga Tamariki is doing to Māori what the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 and the Native Schools Act 1867 did, which was to exert the dominance of Pākehā culture and language in Aotearoa New Zealand in order to colonise and assimilate Māori.
"Oranga Tamariki uses threats and its position of power to make Māori whānau subservient and afraid.
Removing tamariki from the breasts of their mothers is doing to Māori what the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 and the Native Schools Act 1867 did, which was colonise and assimilate Māori.- Lady Tureiti Moxon
"The effects are devastating when our babies are taken. As the Tribunal will hear, when Māori children are removed from their parents’ care and put into the care of the state, they are at grave risk of harm. Their removal does not just harm them, though; it undermines the whānau, the hapū, the iwi, which are the very foundation of Māori society."
Lady Moxon told Breakfast many uplifted babies were not placed with Māori, and in some cases they were even taken overseas and no one knows where they are. She said privacy laws to protect the children meant they end up not knowing where they belong and who they belong to.
Her submission claims that "when Oranga Tamariki removes Māori children from Māori families and puts them in the care of foster families, those families often get twice/thrice as much money as Māori parents for looking after those children, including allowances for clothing, education and entertainment for the children".
"If a member of the extended whānau wants to take responsibility for looking after the tamariki, either before or even once Oranga Tamariki has become involved, they also find it very hard to get any support," he submission reads.
"They should be here to support our families and support our children," she told Breakfast, commenting on how some mothers were too scared to involve the organisation for fear they would have their children taken away.
"In actual fact, they've become a threat, they've become a group of people who no one trusts and our people are suffering for it.
"That needs to change and we need to look at a better way of doing things because right now Oranga Tamariki is broken and beyond repair in our view.
"It's important that the tribunal hear this. It's important that people come forth and share their stories as well and we look for our solution.
"Definitely we need to change the system. We need to put the onus and the power and the responsibility back on Māori to do it for ourselves."
Oranga Tamariki is broken and beyond repair in our view.- Lady Tureiti Moxon
Lady Moxon is calling for a stand-alone tamariki mokopuna authority where Māori can make decisions for what is right for Māori.
"Who knows better than what is right for us than our own people?"
In her submission, Lady Moxon wrote: "A by Māori, for Māori, with Māori approach would work to support the whānau, to empower and support Māori parents to be the best parents that they can be."
"It [the current system] is damaging our babies and our whānau. The solution is for us to be able to heal ourselves."