Te Taonga o Taku Ngākau: Ancestral Knowledge as a Framework for Wellbeing for Tamariki Māori

Dr Leonie Pihama
University of Waikato

In 2017, Cure Kids collaborated on a joint, contestable funding round with The National Science Challenge, A Better Start. The aim of the partnership was to fund high-quality, mission-led research focused on child and youth well-being, specifically in the areas of childhood obesity, early literacy and learning, mental health problems, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In July 2017, ten projects were funded across the four specific areas.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Research demonstrates that Maori are over-represented in a number of health and social parameters. There is also an increasing body of research which highlight that these enduring issues can be traced back to the impact of colonisation culminating in issues of cultural disconnection, isolation and marginalisation.

Traditional Maori approaches of child-rearing are steeped in a collective responsibility, rather than conventionally promoted approaches whereby it is considered an individual endeavour. There are myriad reasons for this this collapse of the collective approach including the issues associated with the historical trauma, denial of language and culture and the imposition of a nuclear family model superseding whānau.

To improve outcomes for tamariki Maori, it is critical that these traditional approaches to Maori health be revived.


What does this project hope to achieve?

Associate Professor Leonie Pihama, from Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato, is leading a project concerning the place of matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) in the development of evidence-based, cultural interventions to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young Maori.

Dr Pihama, in the scoping of this project, has engaged numerous key contributors to community including Iwi organisations, Maori providers, health workers and social workers in schools. This scoping project has enlisted the help of many people and organisations who are committed to reducing unequal health outcomes for Maori.

The team will undertake 30 interviews with Maori and indigenous specialists, who have vast knowledge of culturally-based approaches to prevention and treatment of mental health issues. They will also undertake three whanau wananga (to meet and discuss) to co-create and identify policy pathways and potential solutions to mental health issues experienced by tamariki Maori. These will be held at marae and will be co-facilitated by one whanau member and one research team leader.

Ultimately, utilising traditional methods around Maori health and child-rearing, Dr Pihama hopes to create matauranga Maori-informed, evidence-based interventions to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young Maori.