Hadley Grace Robinson-Lewis – Māori inequities in New-Zealand and the westernised health setting


Racism and institutionalised racism in New-Zealand impacts the life of Māori people in many ways including, employment, education, housing and mainly healthcare.

Māori, as the indigenous people of New-Zealand must be granted the same privileges and opportunities as other groups in our society. Equity must be granted to all minority groups regardless of their cultural beliefs or race.

Unfortunately there are many economic and health disparities in New-Zealand due to racism. Racism includes behavior that results in unequal treatment, judgment or oppression often inflicted upon minority groups. In the healthcare setting, prejudiced treatment can result in the patient feeling inadequate and may cause resistance towards future treatment until it’s absolutely necessary, which will also result in more health disparities.

They may also be exposed to a lower quality of care, due to health professionals being uneducated on the importance of cultural safety. Māori people are also less likely to seek help for themselves or their family, from a General Practitioner due to the fear of institutionalised racism, combined with Pakeha Doctors and Nurses having a lack of understanding regarding traditional Māori medicine.

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The health inequities can also result in supporting social stereotypes against the Māori people. The social stereotypes created, can also affect their mental health and lower their self-esteem. 

The many inequities and unfair treatment directed towards Māori people often begins through workplace hazards and housing issues. Māori people are sometimes exposed to racism in the workplace, which could possibly lead to harmful behavioural coping mechanisms, such as smoking or alcohol consumption, which further aggravates or causes health issues. These health issues can include heart disease, diabetes and mental illnesses. The coping mechanisms can also harm families, youth and communities.

Due to racism, Māori may also find it challenging to buy a home and they are more likely to be exposed to an unhealthy living environments in their household. Societal expectations that are perceived as normal for Pakeha are not seen as conventional to many marginalised groups.

A single cultured view can result in many Māori people expressing feelings of exclusion and segregation. Unfortunately minority groups may also feel that they lack a sense of belonging in the heavily westernised culture we have in New-Zealand.

I believe it is imperative to be aware of Māori beliefs and cultural values in any professional setting, due to the immense ongoing damage that can be caused if working professionals are not culturally educated. It is crucial that employees are consciously aware and respect cultures other than their own. They must also respect and adapt to diverse beliefs to make the minority groups feel safe and comfortable. This will ensure marginalised groups receive equal treatment and care.

Māori by right, should have the ability to express ones cultural beliefs. This idea is very important to the Māori people and it must be upheld with utmost respect. In a professional setting it is important to create an environment that allows Maori clients to have the ability to express their culture, without needing to be fearful of facing prejudice or judgement. Often when Māori clients are exposed to a healthcare setting in New-Zealand they are “deemed to be in a state of noa”. A state of noa is a feeling of disempowerment in Maori culture.

A conscious understanding and dedication by New-Zealanders to further educate themselves on the importance of The Treaty of Waitangi is paramount. Equal health treatment in New-Zealand will lead to less health care disparities between Pakeha and Māori. By not adhering to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Pakeha people have acquired more privileges and power over the public. It is imperative that Pakeha are aware of this widespread inequity.

Health professionals have a high level power over vulnerable people and therefore they are deemed responsible for equity in health outcomes, for those that are marginalised in today’s westernised society. People that are marginalised often face unfair cultural stigmatisation and racism. It is crucial that we treat Māori people with kindness, empathy and respect.

It is also important for the Māori people to stay in touch with their cultural beliefs and Māori history. I believe all New-Zealanders should respect and encourage the expression of Māori culture and language in schools, institutions and other establishments, throughout New-Zealand.


Hadley Grace Robinson-Lewis is a mental health nurse. 


    • Colonisation is a terrible thing but letting Māori continue on the course they are traveling is even worse. I’v noticed a huge gap in the amount of papers Māori students produce compared to Ranginui Walker (rip). The median number of publications each Māori PHD student produces is 1 and the rest produce half as much as Rangiui Walker and so what we see is a huge drop in productivity since the 80’s. Māori have a handful of over achievers at the margins who do all the work but half of all Māori are fairly unproductive. Now you can list all the hoops that maintain the status quo and the establishment would dearly like that because all they do all day is figure out how to transfer wealth from the very poor, poor and middle classes and transfer that wealth to the rich and ultra rich. Now the status quo at some point will recognise or become aware of the social contract because at some point every one always realises the game is up.

      So there are 9 main Iwi from Te Arawa with a bit over 19,000 people up to Nga Puhi with over 125,000 people but all up there’s about 700,000 Māori, each in different stages of development and there for different capacity to influence development of Aotearoa-New Zealand. Apart from the big cities and other industrial centres Māori export strengths lie in exporting raw materials and that doesn’t have the capacity or influence to project Māori ideas of Tino Rangatiratanga across New Zealand. For Māori and perhaps in the old days Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia it was possible to dominate the South Pacific but now with increasing preoccupation with climate problems I think Māori interests in national affairs is no longer what it was. In the Days of Governor Gray and Sir James Prendergast Māori had to concern themselves with world affairs. Now few iwi leaders can concern themselves with Jacinda Ardern while she has 4/5th of Māori votes and Iwi Māori continues on there own way with 1/5th of the vote to grow itself into a developed state. So if Jacinda and Willie Jackson fails to develop Māori interests then they will turn to some one who can.

        • We (Maori) aren’t the only people living in the past off white how many NZers are still bending over for the Queen( UK) and the rest of her whanau. She ( the queen ) spent 90 million last year and we NZ paid 67k for Camillas hairdresser last time she was here to follow her around and make sure all her hair was in place.

        • You do not need to mention that nor do you need to mention Māori interests. I took you slight quibble and tried to elaborate on it. Just say thanks next time.

    • These things happen to all of us, not just Maori. It is the nature of an underfunded public health service which will never be as good as we would like it to be, but for anything sudden or major we are still world class.

      It is actually quite easy for anybody to feel demeaned or embarrassed in a health environment, but that’s just the way life is.

      Our specialists train to international standards and are measured by international standards; their training is lengthy and rigorous, and many, if not most, make huge personal sacrifices to get to where they are, and nor am I just talking about money.

      Evidence of institutionalised racism should be documented and sent to the Minister of Health.

      All hospitals advise patients to be accompanied by a support person if they want to, but cultural sensitivity is a two-way street – a patient returning from the loo should not find a stranger sprawled on their bed when they return, or somebody perched on the bottom eating fish and chips.

      Anatomically and physiologically we are pretty much the same, and
      it is more important to me that the medicos know this and know it well than that they cater to my particular cultural heritage.

      During my ancient mother’s last eleven hospitalised months 95% of her nurses were Filipino or Samoan, and I reject any criticism of them on racial or ethnic grounds; they nursed, and they nursed her well.

  1. “Racism includes behavior that results in unequal treatment, judgment or oppression often inflicted upon minority groups.”

    No. What you’re talking about here is a feature of the human condition: we relate better to, and prefer to associate with, people who look and sound like us, who share aspects of our culture and world view. There’s nothing wrong with this: it derives from the fact that we’re a groupish species.
    NZ isn’t a racist society. It isn’t productive to claim otherwise: it just irritates people.
    For many years, I was a healthcare worker; I began working long before this author was born, I’m guessing. And I’ve heard all this before, more than once, over those many years.
    This piece comes off as a lecture, designed to make the audience feel guilty. Although prima facie it’s aimed at health workers, it diverts off into other areas where Maori are perceived to be disadvantaged. But it proffers nothing substantive by way of strategies that the health sector could use to make the Maori experience easier.
    Christine: “It is actually quite easy for anybody to feel demeaned or embarrassed in a health environment, but that’s just the way life is.”
    Exactly. Being in hospital sure ain’t a walk in the park for any of us.
    “…but cultural sensitivity is a two-way street …”
    Indeed. Many of us could tell lurid stories about having our own sensitivities disregarded by the families and visitors of people sharing our ward. Respect for fellow patients ought to apply to all of us.

  2. The scenery is rapidly changing Hads, you’re behind the times.
    We are being forced into “globalism”. Maori are going to get swallowed up in the greater tides of change swamping us.
    NZ Govt Corporation has been importing population replacements at a fast rate. ( go walk down Queen St Auckland any time, or Wellington. )
    It’s early days, but surely you’ve heard of the “boiling frog “..
    NZ is not a nation anymore and the Press isn’t telling the truth.
    You might be better to file this one in the archives to look fondly back at one day.

  3. I have thought long and hard about the subject of racism in New Zealand over the past few months.
    I have asked myself: is New Zealand a racist country, and if so who are the racists? Is it my ancestors (British)? is it my community, or is it me?
    Am I a product of my upbringing or have I unknowingly absorbed prejudicial or racists agendas?
    I have listened carefully to what people have been saying around me without saying anything much in return.
    Quite frankly I am horrified at the racist and downright offensive things that people say about people of different languages, cultures and races but I am also ashamed that I did not realise sooner how bad it was.
    I have (white) workmates, who I would otherwise class as quite decent people, who sit around the smoko table and tell each other how the “Maoris want to own everything” or there are too many asians, etc. etc and then laugh as they mimic their mannerisms or language.
    I find it hard not to intervene sometimes but I do when they start making fun of the Chinese. I remind them that I am married to a Chinese woman and I don’t appreciate it. That usually shuts them up whilst I am in the same room although I don’t doubt it starts up again when I leave.
    The most horrible thing is that I don’t think they really know what is it they are saying. It is almost exactly like what self appointed experts like Mike Hosking, Mark Richardson and Don Brash are saying all the time – they are just parrots repeating what they hear from such people without taking the time to think about if it is actually true and correct.
    One of the most exasperating things about racism in New Zealand is that we as a people cling to the old stereotypes that New Zealand is strife free, best place in the world to bring up children, everyone is equal…etc. etc when it patently isn’t true, probably never was.
    Racism and cultural intolerance is inherent in the Anglo-Saxon culture, our ancestors treated anyone living in areas they colonised (even white people) as their inferiors and when you look at it objectively things haven’t really changed much. We still think we are better than anyone else – a person’s perceived intelligence and potential are judged on their knowledge of the English language and their adoption of “western” customs
    Sadly, New Zealand is a racist place and it won’t improve until everyone admits that fact and resolves to change it. First we have to publicly disgrace the stirrers and haters, stop listening to them and look within ourselves for the strength to say “enough”. Judge everyone on their own merits and be prepared to admit to mistakes.
    I hope I haven’t bored everyone, but this has been on mind for a while and I needed to say it.

    • Mike the Lefty: “Quite frankly I am horrified at the racist and downright offensive things that people say about people of different languages, cultures and races…”

      Yeah, people often say mean and rude things about other people who are from a different ethnic group. In this household, we know all about that: brown people do it to whites and vice versa. It isn’t racism: it’s people being groupish, and it’s spitting in the wind for anybody to try and stop it. People learned not to say things in our hearing; but it didn’t at all follow that they weren’t still thinking them. Or saying them when we couldn’t hear. Or they thought we couldn’t hear.

      At this end of my longish life, I just accept that it’s part of the human condition; no point trying to shut people up. Firstly, we can’t control what people are thinking, and even politeness doesn’t always stop them saying what they think. Secondly, freedom of speech ought to trump our delicate sensibilities. We can – and do – occasionally tell people that they’re being prats, as free speech allows us to do.

      I wouldn’t say that Anglo-Saxons are any worse in this respect than any other ethnic group.

      And no: NZ isn’t a racist society; laws a priori apply to us all equally.

      Except, I suppose, the laws governing the Maori seats.

  4. Anglo Saxons treated their women like shit and they need to look at their own dirty brutal barbaric past. I read old NZ English literature and it referred to quote ” having a good women/wife was as good as having a good plough”

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