The obligation of citizenship

Denis O’Reilly’s community in Waiohiki, Hawke’s Bay, is one of many still reeling from Cyclone Gabrielle and the flooding. In this update, he writes about the continuing challenges, and why the census matters even in the midst of so much displacement.

First up, thank you. I love this land Aotearoa and the people who inhabit it — tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti. Thank you all for the support.

Come the day when you’re in need, as in the past, Waiohiki will be there for you, too. We understand intergenerational reciprocity. Thank you and bless you, Aotearoa.

Wouldn’t you know it, yesterday we had another thunderclap event with an intense downpour. “Oh no.”

A lightning strike caused a phoenix palm to burst into flames. Is Ranginui having some sort of competition with Thor? It passed, but the tamariki staying in mobile homes at Waiohiki get apprehensive every time it rains.

We have a spike in cases of leptospirosis and vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s hard to say which is worse. Is it the mud that finds its way into any scratch or blister and infects the skin? Or is it the dust that billows in the wake of every passing vehicle and has us labouring to breathe?

The initial flood of volunteers has slowed to a steady flow of generous souls, mainly older Pākehā. Most whānau are now dispersed into temporary accommodation. And, without the shared meals and evening karakia at Waipatu, we have lost much of that collective sense of solidarity against all odds.

I don’t know if there’s a Māori equivalent of Sisyphus — the one in Greek mythology who offended Hades and copped the eternal punishment of forever having to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it roll down each time it neared the top.

But that’s how it feels. We don’t let on to each other, though. We joke and cajole, and sometimes hug and have a little tangi — and we keep on keeping on.

Reality sets in. Some people are not insured. That means that they’re not eligible for the EQC accommodation and relocation support. Nor do they get funding to create an eight-metre “cordon sanitaire” by removing the sludge around the built environment.

Each day, our fine young leadership team at the Waiohiki Marae hub figure out ways to help those most in need. Ngāi Te Rangi have sent down machinery and an operator. Yesterday, Ngāti Kahungunu sent a tanker with diesel to top up the trucks and earthmoving equipment. He waka eke noa.

We are thinking in the now, in the short-term, in the medium-term, and in the long-term. Housing is the pressing need. Warm, safe, dry, affordable housing with security of tenure is the fundamental driver of wellbeing.

How can we urgently rehouse the whānau and enable people to regain a semblance of their former lives — and reconnect with their schools and jobs?

In the short-term, we’re scoping out transportable cabins plugged in to marae infrastructure or to surviving papakāinga infrastructure. In the medium-term, can we then redeploy these assets for tourism or student accommodation when they’re no longer needed for this emergency?

And then there’s this frigging census thing. What’s that all about? What’s that got to do with our current needs? Everything! Many of our whānau are not only displaced but they are resistant.

Many of them have an entrenched distrust of the government anyway. That’s been exacerbated by our experience with Covid misinformation and disinformation, which is now being exploited by malign players.

Dame Naida Glavish stared down the barrel of the TV set last night and virtually ordered us all to complete our census as a requirement to ensure equity and as a fundamental duty of citizenship.

Years ago, the members of the Māori 28th battalion and their forebears paid the price of citizenship. Our obligation now is to ensure the benefits of citizenship are fairly distributed by completing a census form.

It can be complex. Not everyone is cyber literate, and the digital divide is real. So, we need to collaborate. But how do you explain the somewhat obscure connection between census questions and the delivery of equity?

You keep it simple. The census is like the marae cooks asking manuhiri: “How many are there in your rōpū?” We know they’re asking the question so they can make sure the guests are well-fed and are comfortable.

Mauri ora!

Denis O’Reilly lives at Waiohiki, Hawke’s Bay, and is the chairman of the Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust.

Waiohiki Flood Recovery

First published in e-tangata 

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