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A Tale from Bastion Point

Jim Chipp

The second in a series on ethnic minorities' mental health by Rosalynn Carter journalism fellow Jim Chipp.
This week he examines the effects of estrangement from whanau on Maori.
When two pakeha meet socially for the first time they are likely to ask the 'what do you do for a crust?' question quite early in their conversation.
But Wellink Maori development manager Cheri Ratapu-Foster says a Maori is far more likely to ask 'where do you come from, who are your whanau?' because they see themselves as part of a bigger picture.
The loss of a sense of self, which mental illness involves, is likely to be greater for Maori than pakeha, who grow up with a more independent sense of identity.
"In Maori we think about 'we', we don't necessarily think about 'I'," Mrs. Ratapu-Foster says.
Whanau is mum and dad, brother or auntie - it includes anyone that affects or lives with you.
"You have to go beyond the individual identity."
But almost all Maori sufferers of mental illness will say they are to some degree separated from their whanau, and most are completely estranged.
Harvard University Department of Social Medicine instructor Alex Cohen says a central task of any culture is to provide its members with a sense of meaning and purpose in the world.

Life-meaning is rooted in many things - but if one views place as comprised of identity, family, traditions, relationships, routines, work, history, then the destruction of place also destroys meaning.

"And with the loss of meaning comes mental and physical ill-health."

Pat's story

Pat Tanu of Cannons Creek has lived with bipolar disorder since her teenage years.

Although her earliest memories are of life at a pa by the sea, she never learned Maori as a child.

The Crown wanted the old Orakei village site, supposedly for a park, and in 1952 the last Ngati Whatua families, among them Ms. Tanu's were evicted from what is now known as Bastion Point.

The marae and some homes were destroyed by fire and the rest demolished.

Ms. Tanu and her family were moved into a Panmure State house.

"I was only nine, I was quite young, but I can still see those cops.

"Mum didn't tell us nothing about it, (but) I can still see it.

"A little girl died in that."

She went to a mainstream State school, growing up without learning Maori lore, custom or language.

Ms. Tanu is only now beginning to learn Maori and who her grandmother was.

She seldom returns to Panmure or Bastion Point or visits her family.

"I'm sort of, what do you call it, when you are apart from your family - estranged. I'm estranged from my family.

"If it wasn't for my mum I don't think I'd be going back there."

At 17, Ms Tanu's first child was taken from her at birth and adopted out, and she says that started her on her mental illness journey.

"I really had no say, they just took him.

"My mother and father and sisters wouldn't help."

Ms. Tanu was sent to Cherry Farm in Dunedin, where she got her first taste of electric shock treatment.

After a spell at Kingseat in Auckland Ms. Tanu came to Wellington after she was released, where she married, and had five more children.

But it was not a good marriage, she says.

"I was stressed too much, my doctor kept sending me back to Porirua Hospital. I was in and out, in and out and I got shock treatment again.

"I went back to my husband many times, but it never worked. I think his negative attitude to mental illness made it impossible.

"Even my family - they don't really support me.

"But through my church and my faith - that keeps me together.

"And I come over here every day to Matahauariki (patients' day centre)."

Ms. Tanu has been out of hospital for some years and has completed a mental heath support workers' course.

She works part-time for Te Roopu Taaniwhaniwha, which runs Matahauariki.

Being Maori is now a major part of who Ms. Tanu is.

She tells of what the Ngati Whatua have achieved in re-establishing themselves at Bastion Point with pride - "a big wharenui, a big wharekai, administration offices."

But she says her next visit there will probably be to her mother's tangi, and it will probably be her last.

Reprinted with permission from Capital Community Newspapers Limited.

Pat Tanu at Matahauriki

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