Being who you are, as you are: Kāpo Māori Aotearoa

Adele Vukula

By Chrissie Cowan and Georgina Langdon-Pole

Me mahi tahi tātou (Let’s all work together)

It is coming up to two years since the Access Alliance was formed. It was a significant moment for the disability community, when twelve disabled people's organisations, service providers and advocacy organisations came together to lead a campaign for an accessibility law at the heart of a more inclusive Aotearoa. Proud alliance member Kāpo Māori Aotearoa have had the privilege of chairing the Access Alliance since early 2018.

Next week we reach an important milestone. The Access Alliance and supporters of the Access Matters campaign will gather at parliament, to present a booklet of stories of kiwis living with disabilities to Minister for Disability Issues Hon. Carmel Sepuloni. These stories are representative of a range of systemic barriers, which the one in four New Zealanders living with a disabilities face on a daily basis and they highlight the imperative for accessibility legislation.

As such, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on why the board of Kāpo Māori Aotearoa has wanted the organisation to take an active role in this campaign.

For Kāpō Māori Aotearoa and its members, this event marks a turning point for tāngata whaikaha Māori when it comes to disability, and the disability community as a whole. It comes in a context where our communities have been systematically excluded from conversations around disability - of what disability means to us and what it means for us.

Our founding members created Kāpō Māori Aotearoa in the wake of the mass institutionalisation of people with disabilities, many of whom were Māori. All over Aotearoa, people were uprooted from their whānau, hapu and iwi, and inserted into foreign institutions, often at opposite ends of the country. Many tāngata whaikaha Māori were born into institutions. Were schooled, worked and died in institutions. Away from their whānau, and cut off from their tūrangawaewae.

It was in this context that Kāpō Māori Aotearoa was founded. Its primary purpose was, and still is, whakawhanaungatanga; supporting people to come together as Māori. Joining together and just being Māori. For many of our members, identity isn't hinged on being disabled alone. It’s about being Māori, first and foremost. It’s about the right to your own culture. To be who you are, as you are.

Once you begin to exercise the right of being who you are, as you are, it becomes obvious that the barriers for people living with disabilities aren’t individual, but systemic. It is society and the barriers it puts in place, which disabled people face on a daily basis. Tāngata whaikaha Māori, like everyone else, have priorities in life, as well as dreams, aspirations, and goals. These priorities might include being a parent, going to school, getting a job or navigating their town or city.

Yet many people face daily barriers when trying to do things most of us take for granted. In response to these barriers, people have told our members: “it’s alright. You’ll get a benefit, you’ll be fine.” That’s not what people want to hear. We want an inclusive country, where everyone can participate fully in day-to-day life. Where everyone has the right to self-determination.

The era of mass institutionalisation of people with disabilities in New Zealand may have passed, but today, there are ongoing issues for tāngata whaikaha Māori. Lack of research available about experiences and issues facing tāngata whaikaha Māori is one major issue. Because of this, government policies haven’t been designed with appropriate evidence. What we can say though, with the current research, is that tāngata whaikaha Māori are disproportionately affected in respect to wellbeing, in respect to poverty, education outcomes, health and employment. We can prove that, even on the limited data there is.

It’s for this reason that Kāpō Māori Aotearoa accepted the role of chair of the Access Matters campaign for this particular period. Because we are committed to ensuring we are involved and our voices are heard. We are playing a key role in the Access Matters movement - bringing tangata whaikaha Māori perspectives to the forefront of the campaign for accessibility legislation. An accessibility law would set clear standards, expectations, and timeframes, and would guide organisations and Government toward positive change. Change which would allow people living with disabilities to participate fully in society.

The testimony of Kāpō Māori Aotearoa is that if you have a vision, you can make it happen when you have commitment. It may take time, but it will happen.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed Access Matters campaigners working up and down the country. It is incredibly positive that during this campaign, the perspectives and experiences of tāngata whaikaha Māori have been at the fore. Join us on Tuesday the 4th of September at parliament. Help us carry the kaupapa of a more inclusive and accessible Aotearoa, far and wide.