Our society and our sector are grappling with the issues of diversity and inclusion.

We have had the longest history of any other nation for women’s equal right to vote, and yet, 125 years since those momentous events and women still get paid less than men, are less likely to hold senior directorships and leadership positions; and large segments of our society, most notably older Pākehā men, question how a Prime Minister can go through pregnancy, have a baby and still do her job.

The truth is, that patriarchal values of male dominance are deeply embedded into millennia of European and Anglo-Western culture, for which we today are the cultural descendants. Such cultural history is difficult to unravel and meets great resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Gender equity is but one of the leading issues we’re confronting in the diversity and inclusion conversation. It also encompasses the cultural, ethnic, sexuality, age and disability diversity of our changing society.

The other key issue, arguably the most important, is that diversity and inclusion cannot be used as a proxy for not acting specifically and deliberately for our Māori population. The Māori population is distinct from all other populations in New Zealand. It is the indigenous population, it is the first nation, it is the Treaty partner and it is the population that we have legislative Treaty responsibilities and obligations. No such specific obligation exists for other ethnicities or populations.

We must also be explicit about the fact that Treaty responsibilities are matters of rights for Māori people. The Waitangi tribunal has been very clear about this in its rulings over the past four decades, that the principles of the Treaty are rights for Māori. The crown and its agents have responsibilities to ensure these are actively realised. The current WAI 2575 claim before the Waitangi Tribunal has put health services on notice for its failure to deliver these for decades.

Publications such as Decades of Disparity1 2 3 have provided volumes of evidence of the failures and biases of our health system for Māori and it is clear from the data, that the most pervasive and persistent inequities extant in New Zealand are those in our Māori population. Therefore we must be specific, explicit, deliberate and bold to improve our performance with regard to our Māori population. Once we’ve been specific, explicit and deliberate for Māori we can follow that with diversity and inclusion for others.

The issues of partnership, protection and participation are Māori rights and our responsibility to enact. We must be honest as a nation, and as a sector, in considering Māori as one of the many sub-groups requiring attention that the diversity and inclusion conversation has failed. This invariably leads to words of rhetoric and action that frequently creates the illusion of progress without making any meaningful change to inequity, diversity or inclusion.

Mēnā e kite atu ana au i te paetawhiti, nā te mea e tū ana au i runga i ōku maunga whakahī.
If I am able to see great distances, it is because I stand on the summit of my magnificent mountain.

Kia whakawaewae te kōrero, kia whakaringaringa te kupu.
Give your words legs to walk and hands to work.

Author: Hector Matthews is the General Manager Māori representative on the South Island Workforce Development Hub Steering Group and Executive Director, Māori and Pacific Health at Canterbury District Health Board.

This article was originally published as a South Island Alliance guest editorial.


1 Ajwani S, Blakely T, Robson B, Tobias M, Bonne M. 2003. Decades of Disparity: Ethnic mortality trends in New Zealand 1980-1999. Wellington: NZ, Ministry of Health and University of Otago.

2 Ministry of Health and University of Otago 2006. Decades of Disparity II: Socioeconomic mortality trends in New Zealand, 1981-1999. Wellington, NZ

3 Ministry of Health and University of Otago 2006. Decades of Disparity III Ethnic and Socioeconomic Inequalities in Mortality NZ 1981–1999. Wellington, NZ


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