Healing Our Spirit Worldwide Conference & Institutional Racism

I have just returned from the Healing our Spirit Worldwide Conference (HOSW) in Kirikiriroa, where 1700 Indigenous peoples from all over the world gathered to share their healing talents and mahi. There were prestigious presenters with an awesome array of topics, services and movements. The most outstanding keynote for me was the very humble master healer, Kamaki Kanahele, a native Hawaiian who devotes his life to improving the wellbeing of his people. He spoke with the reverence of Nelson Mandela and the wisdom of Mother Teresa. He talked about Indigenous Leadership in Action and the creating of an world federation of Indigenous representatives who were actively campaigning to visit every colonial-settler jurisdiction to declare that their occupation was illegal and to return the governance of those lands back to the original owners/occupiers. The response from the audience was deafening and so (beyond words) powerful.

See hui highlights at https://www.facebook.com/Healing-Our-Spirit-Worldwide-The-Seventh-Gathering-1414309098784668/?fref=ts

The resounding message from HOSW was as Indigenous peoples, we need to return to thinking BROWN and resist colonisation. Step Up or Step Aside!

In the case of Aotearoa, it was in almost every presenters korero that for 175 years,  Pākehā have epically failed to work in the best interests of Māori. Now, more than any other time, our tāne make up 60% of incarcerated men and and 69% of wāhine. More than 60% of the total children in state care, are our own. We have the highest rate of domestic violence in the world and the second highest suicide rate of which our young men are grossly over-represented. We are not in a state of mauri ora but rather a state of imploding mauri moe. It is time for Pākehā (who do not know the coordinates for our destination) to get get into the passengers seat and allow Māori to drive. So the purpose of this blog is to resist openly with tika, pono and aroha for our own and without intending this peice to seem harsh for those who may find it so.

One of the key instruments of colonial rule, oppression and genocide of our people is institutional racism. Racism isn’t always about the overt (obvious) kinds like apartheid, slavery, and assimilation. “Institutional racism is the manifestation of racism within all social systems and institutions and the social economic, educational and political forces or policies that operate to foster discriminatory outcomes. It is a combination of policies, practices or procedures imbedded in bureaucratic structures that systematically leads to unequal outcomes for groups of people” (NASW, 2007:8).

Racism is also covert and because Pākehā don’t experience it, it can be like, if you cant see/feel it, then it’s not real. More subtle forms of racism can be described as symbolic, aversive and micro-inequalities (NASW, 2007).

Symbolic racism is where a non-Maori person doesn’t perceive themselves as racist but still negatively judges a Maori and justifies it because Māori don’t sign up to the traditional values of a Pakeha world-view. Aversive racism is where people are unaware of their own racism and behave in racist ways. They will attest to being against inequality and injustices but the ever present societal racism is still reflected in their behaviour (NASW, 2007). They also generally won’t associate/socialise with Maori/Pacifica people. Micro-inequalities are the tiny damaging things that happen in an environment such as a work place where certain comments and voice tones are made, a person is not mentioned, and you might be ignored when you raise an issue. The subtle indicators are a lack of respect for you as part of a roopu or organisation. Some other examples of subtle forms of racism might look like this:

  • A Pakeha supervisor/peer reminds you that he/she is supportive of all things Māori but at the same time clips you (puts you in your place) when you speak up about equality issues.
  • No one in your roopu speaks up against subtle racism or the person doing the clipping.
  • Having your perspective/concerns treated as unimportant but those same pespectives are applauded when a non-Maori raises them.
  • Being hushed/ignored when you raise an issue impacting Māori but the ‘non-impacting Māori’ issues seem to have a flurry of interest/attention.
  • One person being singled out for the racism within a roopu but racism is always about a collective responsibility for it’s manifestation and maintenance.
  • No annual cultural competence/decolonsing training within an organisation. It is deemed unnecessary.
  • A single person (perhaps new to a group) finds him/herself raising issues of diversity/racism without key decision makers/leaders in the group assuming greater responsibility, themselves.

Or in a gender equality setting it might look like this. Imagine your core business is encouraging people to maintain the health of their reproductive anatomy, including te whare tangata and it’s many contexts. The decision makers of the organisation are almost all male and often the emphasis is on male anatomy because that’s their norm (what they are most familiar/comfortable with). All the while attesting that they have the best interests of their female counterparts as heart, which may be heartedly demonstrated through the occasional special feature in the organisation’s magazine.

Part of cleaning one’s kitchen is about being able to look in the mirror. Two concepts or issues that come to mind are white privilege and internalised racism. White privilege is a set of benefits based upon belonging to a perceived white group, when the same set of benefits are denied to members of other groups. This is what allows Pākehā to be dominant in shaping the norms and values of our society here in Aotearoa. In contrast internalised racism is the development of ideas, beliefs actions and behaviours that collude with racism against one’s-self. As Māori we conform to the norm of the dominant Pākehā group, we participate and we see ourselves reflected back (NASW, 2007). So for example, one size-fits-all (Pākehā policies, practices, procedures) ways of doing things don’t actually work for Māori, so Māori end up at the bottom of the heap (over-represented in systems) which then confirms the internalised view we so often have of ourselves, that we are a negative statistic, costly to tax payers, violent, criminal, lazy and dumb. White privilege and internalised racism, a deadly dynamic duo.

From a Māori perspective the kitchen is the heart of the whare. Cleaning up your kitchen (organisation) requires a few actions. The first is a self-assessment which is very likely to reveal subtle forms of racism like those mentioned above. If, your organisation can begin to understand how racism is manifested and maintained then it can also create the strategies required to address it. Breaking the silence and ignoring the issue is a big first step, through to recognising how its exists and then being committed to promoting change. Racism and its various forms has to be addressed at all levels from the frontline social worker right through to the decision makers/shakers. There has to be an ongoing analysis of how racism can be reformed or reversed through all facets of the orgainsation. A great resource to do this with is Institutional racism and the social work profession: A call to action report (NASW, 2007). See at http://www.naswdc.org/diversity/InstitutionalRacism.pdf

Simply put, if you are not to true to your cause then it just comes across like a load of teko to our people. If, you are honest about wanting an equal and respectful relationship with Māori in your organisation, then cease denying/ignoring your own racism (i.e, micro-inequalities). You begin addressing this at every level (especially governance) and making it a part of your strategic planning. You cannot call yourself a leader in equality if your kitchen is paru!

Mauri ora koutou.


  • Te Wharewaiata Webster

    My thoughts are none of the above made any sense. I work in an adolescent mental health unit starship hospital. These young people are our future kaumatua sad to say they will not reach that age as they and their whanau are struggling to live under this cruel system that diminishes our Walrua.
    We are the doers the ones at the bottom of everyone’s Maunga trying to keep them on their waka.
    All of yous out there who talk at these conferences you haven’t a clue what’s happening in your back yard
    Our unit also provides guidance for mothers suffering with a mental illness
    You all don’t know what you’d ate talking about
    I work with a brilliant multidisciplinary team as culture advisor and they hold
    The answers to the well-being of our
    Maori people
    We live it breath it walk the talk
    Our young people need our help now
    Help them first then we all can grow
    In harmony
    I acknowledge their are serious racists issues that’s why our dynamic team work within the structures set up to honour the principles of our Treaty of Waitangi
    A conference like this should be set up for indigenous elders and rangatahi
    Then our Pepi will not be harmed if we return to our roots

    • Tena koe Te Wharewaiata

      It is so good that you had the couarge to respond to this blog. Indeed I wish more of our people would do so. The Healing Our Spirit Worldwide hui went for a week and had the crème de la crème healers from multiple Indigenous nations around the world. Some were academics, many were just grass-root healers, steeped in their own traditional rongoa knowledge and methods. There were many kaumatua from those nations attending, including many of Aotearoa’s most esteemed kaumatua. There were also as many rangatahi from all walks of life and abilities who spoke out and performed. They talked at length about mental health issues and much of the conference centered on whakamomori and its impact upon our people. There would also have been representatives from your place of work attending. So I think these people do “have a clue about what is going on in our own backyards.”
      I’m sorry the blog didn’t make sense to you. Not everyone ‘gets’ institutional racism and how it works under the radar within organisations, hence the point of the blog. Perhaps share it with your team and see if someone else could explain their perspective of it to you. ‘Step Up or Step Aside’ is the heart intention of the blog…encouraging our own, young and old to speak up about their experiences, their truth… be they right or wrong, without them being knocked back for having the courage to do so.
      Mauri ora, Paora Crawford Moyle.

  • Wheturangi Black

    From all of us at TKA, we too acknowledge the wero in this blog. Powerful Paora…and I hope that people can rise to it! Thank you for lighting up the pathway.

  • Kia ora -Acknowledging the power in your wero and the essential principles in balance, of tika, pono, and aroha in any effort.
    Acknowledging the evergreen invitation in what it is to be kaitiaki in a Te Tiriti o Waitangi informed society and this as tangata whenua, as tangata Te Tiriti and how these relationships inform social work.
    Acknowledging I/we stand here in the legacies of others- and they as ‘distant travellers’ remain available to us.

    Slainte (together we find abundant wellness)