Waitangi Tribunal finds Covid-19 response put Māori at risk – Expert Reaction

The Waitangi Tribunal has found that a number of Cabinet’s Covid-19 decisions breached Treaty principles.

These include the decision to reject advice from its own officials to adopt an age adjustment for Māori in the vaccine rollout, and putting Māori at disproportionate risk by rapidly shifting to the Traffic Light System despite strong opposition from Māori health providers.

The Tribunal recommends both the paediatric vaccine and the booster vaccine rollout expressly prioritise Māori, and that the Crown improve its collection of data relevant to Māori health outcomes.

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Kevin Shedlock (Ngāpuhi/ Ngati Porou/ Whakatōhea descent), PhD Researcher and Assistant Lecturer, School of Engineering and Computer Science, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“The findings released by the Waitangi Tribunal do not provide a good look for the Government. It reveals the Government is still unable to act in the interest of Māori when abiding by its Treaty of Waitangi obligations 180 years on.

“With low vaccination rates and high demands placed upon Māori service providers/volunteers to address the problem, the Government continues to show poor judgement when working with Māori.

“The concern now being the growing lack of trust by Māori towards the Government’s hastily arranged decisions that have once again come up short in meeting its Treaty obligations. This raises the question, can Māori trust the Government to solve such problems in perplexing times? Currently the response seems to show a low threshold of trust exists.

“This raises a further question, what else is the Government doing that impacts upon Māori negatively deeper within its departmental walls?”

No conflict of interest declared.

Dr Karaitiana Taiuru (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rārua), STEAM Māori Cultural Advisor at Taiuru & Associates Ltd, comments:

“The Tribunal has recommended better ethnicity data among other data areas to be improved. The Wai 2522 claim recognised that Māori data has mātauranga (Māori data is a taonga). The Ministry of Health must take Māori data sovereignty seriously and recognise that from the High Court claim by Whānau Ora regarding Māori health data, that the High Court did not state that Māori data sovereignty is iwi data sovereignty.

“All health data needs to have the ethnicity field added to recognise Māori. Then furthermore, iwi and hapū identifiers need to be added to allow hapū and iwi to access their own memberships. To get around the current privacy concerns of sharing data, I would suggest that Māori are given an opt in/out option for their data to be shared with Māori health providers, iwi, marae and hapū.”

Conflict of interest statement: “I was an expert witness in WAI 2522 regarding Māori Data is a taonga. I am a researcher at Otago University.”