Te Kahu o Taonui, Te Tai Tokerau Iwi Collective, has played a vital role in supporting local whānau and communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Its ongoing influence will be critical as Northland enters the recovery phase.
Published: Thursday, 30 April 2020 | Rāpare, 30 Paengawhāwhā, 2020
Te Kahu o Taonui COVID19 Iwi Lead Toa Faneva, who is also the Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa, says the threat of the pandemic “has solidified our collaboration”.
“It has shown us what we can achieve when we put our differences aside, activate our resources and ensure we’re at the table where all the key decisions are made.”
Powering full steam ahead
Te Kahu o Taonui has representation from 11 iwi across Te Tai Tokerau including Ngāti Kurī, Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Takoto, Ngāti Kahu, Kahukuraariki, Whaingaroa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Te Roroa and Ngāti Whātua.
The Iwi Collective stood up its virtual network within 24 hours and it has been running at full steam ever since. Toa facilitates regular Zoom hui between the iwi representatives, senior officials, local council representatives and local MPs.
“We have more than 30 individuals on those calls. Most importantly we have people in decision-making roles that can make calls on the spot. We are coming up with workable solutions in real-time as issues arise.”
Covering the basics
The initial focus for Te Kahu o Taonui was on getting kai and care packs to vulnerable whānau and kaumātua. The iwi network coordinated four distribution hubs alongside other organisations and delivered more than 28,000 kai and care packs during Level 4.
Toa says the distribution of packs to all the “nooks and crannies” in Te Tai Tokerau and to Ngāpuhi kaumātua living in Auckland has been “hugely effective”.
“Whānau didn’t need to burst their bubble. We’ve helped them keep their bubbles intact.”
Securing an adequate water supply and finding temporary housing for those who were homeless, rough sleeping or living in overcrowded conditions were also pressing issues.
The Iwi Collective worked with marae, iwi, Te Puni Kōkiri and Civil Defence to ensure households across the region had adequate water supply and it worked with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to organise temporary accommodation.
Standing shoulder to shoulder for whānau
Te Puni Kōkiri Regional Manager for Te Tai Tokerau Tui Marsh says, “Te Kahu o Taonui put their hand up early, they mobilised their membership’s extensive networks and services to meet the wellbeing needs of whānau”.
“Their inclusive approach encouraged others to join the effort, each putting aside past differences and individual agendas to work together towards a common goal. We’re privileged to have been able to contribute and we will continue to run alongside them.”
Toa says Te Puni Kōkiri has made a huge contribution to the Te Tai Tokerau iwi collective, providing financial support, advice and influence.
“Te Puni Kōkiri were one of our early partners and they’ve stood with us shoulder to shoulder ever since.”
Building resilience in remote communities
One of the big gains for the iwi collective is their representation on the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Team in response to COVID-19. The CDEM Group provides regional leadership during a crisis and this is the first time Te Tai Tokerau iwi have had representation here.
“We weren’t part of the CDEM Group in response to the recent drought conditions in Northland and that resulted in poor outcomes for our whānau. We were determined that we would have a voice on all the key decision-making bodies that affect our whānau.”
For communities like Whangaroa which are off the main highway, has patchy internet access and no septic or water mains; building resilient whānau and communities is the top priority.
Preparing for the future
The focus is now on the economic recovery. Economic recovery plans developed by Te Kahu o Taonui concentrate on building and maintaining sustainable infrastructure for the collective benefit of Northland.
Toa says, “we’re talking about building and repairing houses, building renewable energy sources like solar, accelerating the rollout of internet connectivity and focusing on water and kai security”.
“There are a range of training and employment opportunities in these initiatives so we’re addressing the here and now but we’re also looking forward to the future. Housing is an obvious focus.”
A collective iwi database has given Te Kahu a much clearer picture of where its vulnerable whānau are living as well as the region’s energy, water and housing needs.
Toa has confidence that Te Kahu o Taonui will still be as active as it is now in two to three years’ time.
“We’ve seen what’s possible when we get back to what our whānau need, use our combined resources and networks to partner with others and make things happen. How can we keep the value of that going? That’s our big opportunity going forward.”
Photo: Sam Tāniora who lives in Whangaroa receives a visit from the Heta Sisters at his home in Whangaroa. Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa are working with their marae to ensure every kaumātua in their community (Māori and non-Māori) is supported during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Ruth Heta.