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Māori mental health leader Moe Milne has been awarded NZNO’s biennial Akenehi Hei Award for making a significant contribution to Māori health at the recent Indigenous Nurses Aotearoa Conference 2018.

The award was presented by Kerri Nuku, the kaiwhakahaere of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, and adds to the New Zealand Order of Merit that Milne, a Māori mental health leader and consultant of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi descent, received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last year for services to Māori and health.

Moe Milne

Milne, who trained as a mental health nurse more than 40 years ago, said she believes the people currently in mental health nursing are just as passionate as her generation.

“We [mental health nurses] were always the poor cousins [of nursing] but now we’re actually the distant cousins … Because the whole ethos around mental health nursing has really, really been diminished in the last decade.”

Milne says part of what makes mental health nursing unique is that “you are the tool of the trade”. “How somebody moves through from mental illness to mental wellness is dependent on you.”

She says her generation was forced to do things without permission because there was “nowhere to go but up” because of the unsustainable pressures on health services. “I have to actually say – if we don’t watch out …we are going back to that same crisis-driven environment again.”

Nuku said Milne’s dedication was a gift to all New Zealanders. “I was very proud to present this award to such a great person who is so dedicated to Māori health needs and education.” She said Milne had provided significant leadership through her working career and generated the same aroha, manaakitanga and commitment to her people as the award’s namesake – Akenehi Hei – who was the first Māori nurse to register under her Māori name back in 1908.

Milne’s previous awards also include the College of Mental Health Nurses/Te Ao Maramatanga Māori Mental Health Nurses Award and the RANZCP Mark Sheldon Award for her contribution to indigenous psychiatry, both presented in 2016.

Milne said her recent submission to the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addictions called for a kaupapa Māori framework for services for Māori and arguing the better resourced kaupapa Māori services were the bigger difference they could make to consumers.

Milne’s mother was a registered nurse, but it was the mental illness of a teenage classmate that first drew Milne to working in mental health. She first trained at a psychopaedic hospital in Mangere, before completing her psychiatric nurse training at Nelson’s Ngāwhatu Hospital, where she and colleagues also formed a kapa haka group of patients and staff that competed in local competitions.

She returned to Auckland to nurse at Kingseat, and spent some time nursing in Scotland in the mid-1970s before returning to nurse at the former Carrington Hospital. She retrained as a teacher in 1980 but returned to her first love of mental health, including working as a kaiwhakahaere for the Health & Disability Commissioner.

After becoming a consultant in 2000, in 2001 she developed a framework called Nga Tikanga Totika or Best Practice Guidelines for Kaupapa Māori Mental Health Services. She also contributed to Te Hau Marire (the national Māori addiction strategy), developed education programmes addressing Māori health, and contributed to Maori research through her membership of the Health Research Council and chairing of the group that developed Te Ara Tika to improve research ethics with Māori.

Milne has been a member of the Māori committee of the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) for almost 20 years and is active in the International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development.

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