Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Tohunga Dialysis Act

A century ago a group of Te Aute old boys formed themselves as the Young Maori Party, whose aims included the improvement of Maori health and welfare.

As well as doing work at the village level, members like Apirana Ngata, Peter Buck and Maui Pomare sought political office, either as independents or as members of the existing Liberal or Reform parties. Ngata entered Parliament in 1905. Buck was given the Northern Maori seat in 1909 and Pomare took the Western Maori seat in 1911 with the Maori King’s backing.

It was Pomare, even before he entered Parliament, who instigated the Tohunga Suppression Act. As a doctor, like Buck, he had seen the way charlatans invoked tradition as a way of filling their own pockets, to the detriment of fellow Maori who took their medical advice.

Now Te Aute has given up another parliamentarian, the not so young Pita Sharples (not a medical doctor, but a doctor nonetheless). His co-leader in the (not Young) Maori Party is Tariana Turia, who ran a Maori health organisation in Whanganui before entering the House on the Labour Party ticket.

Their prescription for one of the most critical health issues facing Maori, the number of people whose organs fail because of diseases like diabetes, is to oppose National MP Jackie Blue's members bill setting up a national organ donors' register. The bill will stop family members overriding someone's wishes that their organs be donated after their death.

The Maori Party says it put the issue to party supporters at consultative hui during the break. The response was Maori do not believe in organ donation after death because the body is considered tapu.

Tell that to the Maori hooked up to dialysis machines for hours ever day waiting for a secondhand organ. Tell that to Maori health worker Phil Heremaia, who is giving up his job as a case manager at Counties Manukau District Health Board to mount a national education campaign on the issue.

It is Heremaia who is the descendant of Buck and Pomare, not today’s neotraditionalist Maori Party.

Politics is about leadership, not bowing down to ignorance and superstition.

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