Taiohi realities in Te Tai Tokerau during COVID-19

While some taiohi Māori in Te Tai Tokerau embraced the COVID-19 lockdown as a time to just breath and take a break from the ‘rat race’, many other taiohi were in struggle mode.

Published: Thursday, 21 May 2020 | Rāpare, 21 Haratua, 2020

This unprecedented time has encouraged many of our youth in Te Tai Tokerau to block out the ‘white noise’ and to re-focus and work on the things that truly matter in their lives, including being ‘whānau’.

The voices of taiohi are important now more than ever because they will inherit the actions Aotearoa takes now in response to COVID-19.

After speaking with several taiohi across Te Tai Tokerau, some of their struggles came to light. Jobs disappeared overnight, major pay cuts were made with little warning and taiohi juggled parenting, work and other responsibilities.

Louis, aged 22, and his partner have five children. They decided to self-isolate early with their whānau.

“We made a decision to pull our children out of school early because of underlying health issues. Some of our children are on the heart transplant list so they are high risk,” says Louis.

“We are grateful to have a whānau to rely on and support us during lockdown while we also worked.”

Some taiohi found the day-to-day demands overwhelming at times. Jessie, aged 22, is a first-time teacher in an isolated rural Māori community and she also volunteered to help out with the response.

“The taiohi in our community stepped up early to respond to COVID. Two of my roles was to sort and distribute kai packs to vulnerable whānau and moderate our FB page that informs whānau about COVID-19 and its impacts, as well as teaching and interacting with my students and their whānau via our online classrooms,” she says.

“We’re used to living in isolation and we rely on the whenua and moana to sustain us. The greatest struggles we experienced was the disconnect with our wider whānau, we are not used to being away from them for this long,” says Jessie.

A 19-year old mother with two children under the age of five lost her job in retail suddenly. She was on a temporary employment contract and when lockdown came, she went from having a full income to no income overnight.

She told me: “It was so stressful. I didn’t know how we would pay our rent because I was not entitled to the wage subsidy. And again, I am having to ask whānau for extra support. I’m just grateful that my whānau helped feed me and keep the roof over my head during that time.”

During the response to COVID-19, taiohi have contributed a lot and they have also relied on their whānau and friends to get them through. They are employees, they are parents, they are renters, they are bill payers. Their responsibilities are equal to that of many adults and so we need to ensure that as we rebuild ‘together’ we are designing solutions and generating opportunities that respond to their realities.

About the writer:

Shane Witehira started working for Te Puni Kōkiri in Te Tai Tokerau as an Adviser during lockdown with a focus on rangatahi development.

Raised in the Far North, Shane draws on his life experience among his whānau, hapū and iwi and his formal education to underpin his mahi.

Photo: Shane relaxing with his nephews Coban (left) and Tate Grimwood and his niece Kyra Witehira (right).