Adding life to years in the North

11 April 2018
Mackie Reti, Terāhingahinga Reti, and Mere Kepa
Caregiver Mackie Reti (left) and his mother Terāhingahinga Reti (right) add their voices to the University of Auckland’s research into future health needs of kaumātua in Te Taitokerau with university researcher Mere Kepa (centre).

Ageing Well is an aspiration shared by all cultures and backgrounds and most definitely the Māori population which is expected to more than double by 2038, and grow at an even greater rate in Te Taitokerau (Northland), writes Dr Marama Muru-Lanning in this article in two parts.

Part one

We are working closely with kaumātua (older Māori women and men), across the northern tribal region to reinforce the Ageing Well National Science Challenge message with current older people, and to ensure we can meet the health needs of ageing Māori in the future.

Our study, Ngā Kaumātua, ō Mātou Taonga: supporting kaumātua health in a changing world, is giving kaumātua the chance to define what it means to age well within their community and to contribute to understandings of ageing and broader discussions around ageing in this country.

Our approach is innovative by recognising a Māori-centric view of ageing. We are testing new methods of engagement with older Māori, and their whānau, and the effectiveness of a kaupapa Māori approach in generating information that is applicable to the delivery of health and health-care services. The project has brought together Ngātiwai and Patuharakeke participants with researchers from the university’s James Henare Research Centre which focuses on empowering Māori groups living within Te Taitokerau.  

In many ways Māori are well-placed to deal with the challenges of an ageing population through the traditional integration of older Māori within marae and hapū setting. And while many older Māori have informal support networks within their communities, a more systematic understanding of kaumātua needs will ensure on-going social integration and engagement.

Studies on Māori health stress the need for holistic, collaborative and culturally appropriate engagement with Māori. The methodology of this research ensured relationships with kaumātua and their whānau were developed within a kaupapa Māori framework.

The findings will assist kaumātua, whānau and service providers to work cohesively in the development and design of services and infrastructures that support people as they transition into and experience older age. The lived experiences, as described by older Māori, will be important in helping determine how Māori prepare for the roles and responsibilities associated with kaumātuatanga. As such, they will form a significant repository of mātauranga.

This research will contribute to a larger project addressing the mission of the Ageing Well National Science Challenge, which aims to harness science to sustain health and well-being into the later years of life. 

A deeper knowledge of how kaumātua age well in different settings and circumstances will be required if we are to ensure that health and disability support systems prioritise tino rangatiratanga and enable kaumātua to push back disability thresholds.

The Māori way of integrating kaumātua within whānau, marae and hapū ensures the knowledge and experience of kaumātua are treasured. Understanding how these models of inclusion and participation contribute effectively to the well-being of ageing Māori could ‘add life to years’ for all older New Zealanders.

Dr Muru-Lanning is leading the project with Dr Tia Dawes of the James Henare Research Centre. One of the team is Dr Mere Kepa who gives an account of how the team has incorporated Māori traditions and concepts in their work with kaumātua.

Part Two

Using traditional Māori concepts to meet future health needs, by Dr Mere Kepa.

More than ever, kaumātua, whānau, organisations based on a marae, and service providers should be involved in the development and design of services and infrastructures that will support the growing numbers of people as they transition into and experience older age.     

For the most part, Māori conceptions of ageing are positive and are a strength within many Māori communities. This study, Ngā Kaumātua, ō Mātou Taonga: Supporting kaumātua health in a changing world, is helping researchers to build on the premise by working closely with kaumātua in Te Taitokerau, and look ahead to future health needs of older Māori.  

As a researcher living and working in the kainga (village) of my late father and the generations before him, my role is to promote the study among whānau, hapü, and marae-based organisations through the custom of kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face to face) interactions, as well as digitally, to bring older Māori women and men who are kin relations to the study. This means the thoughts and words of people from the tribes of Patuharakeke o Te Parawhau and Ngātiwai will be heard and acted upon in the study.

The study began with a kanohi-ki-te-kanohi meeting between James Henare Research Centre’s staff and prospective participants, who belong to Patuharakeke and Ngātiwai. The Patuharakeke tribe sit at Takahiwai on the southern shore of Whangārei harbour; Ngatiwai sit in and around Tutukaka on the coast, north east of Takahiwai. The researchers and the researched are kin relations through shared tupuna (ancestors), ancient battles and slavery, taumau (arranged marriage), and migration.

Their work together began in March when the Noho Kaumātua (focus group) of the Patuharakeke participants was held in Tutukaka, followed by the Kahui kaumātua o Ngātiwai. The groups focused on notions of kaumātuatanga (ageing and related health topics) and of being a kaumātua and drew from individual stories of ageing in Te Taitokerau. The kaumātua shared their childhood, young adulthood, their parental and grandparental experiences, and their ideas about being a kaumātua in the 21st century. They were able to define what it is meant to age well for Māori within the context of their own community and contribute their understandings of ageing to broader discussions around ageing in New Zealand.

A koroua (older man) taking part told us he had understood the purpose of the Noho Kaumātua and, more importantly, he felt his contribution was respected by the team and his fellow contributors. As researchers in the university, and at a distance from the Te Ao Māori, we cannot ask for a better compliment than one of this kind. And we cannot make a better contribution to Kaupapa Māori, through our research with kaumātua, than understanding each other, kanohi-ki-te-kanohi.


Republished with permission from Newsroom, Adding life to years in the North published on Wednesday 11 April 2018.