Earlier this month MHAIDS' acute inpatient unit Te Whare Ahuru welcomed Koro Meke (Michael) Keepa as Kaumatua/Cultural Advisor.
A pōwhiri was held on 1 May and attended by representatives from across MHAIDS including the Hutt Valley Māori Health Unit. Koro Meke was accompanied by his whānau and the event was supported by specialist Māori mental health service Te Whare Mārie and the MHAIDS Kaumatua Kaunihera (council).
Clinical Nurse Manager Dave Taylor said the team was excited to have a kaumatua in the service.
"Cultural roles such as Koro Meke provide a korowai here. I've seen the calming effect they can have on tāngata whaiora - situations can be de-escalated just with their presence."
Tāngata whaiora and whānau at Te Whare Ahuru often request cultural support, and having a dedicated kaumatua means it will be close at hand.
“Every one of us has an attribute, a reason they were put on this earth,” said Koro Meke. “I have the attribute of manaaki – caring for people. When people see a kaumatua they have that respect. They open up, whereas they may close down in front of other staff.”
Koro Meke will also be able to support and guide MHAIDS kaimahi to deliver culturally safe care. This may look like running groups for kaimahi and tāngata whaiora, helping them learn te Reo Māori or develop their pepeha - having previously worked as a te reo Māori teacher, he is passionate about expanding people’s knowledge.
He’ll also be advising on tikanga and helping staff better understand Māori customs and Te Ao Māori.
“For example, why do we perform a hongi? We're passing each other’s hā - sharing the breath of life,” explained Koro Meke. “I turn 81 soon, so it's all about sharing my cultural knowledge that has been passed down from my ancestors.”
“Koro Meke’s perspective will be instrumental in discussions as we design and develop the new service,” said Project Manager De’arna Sculley. “He’ll be a significant part of our upcoming wānanga, and make sure we have the right people on board when we start to make our plans reality.”
However, firstly Koro Meke needs to get his bearings. “There has been no kaumatua here for some time, so it could be the right time for me to come in and share our cultural values. I'll start by getting the feeling of the wairua, the spiritual essence about the people I work with and my surroundings.”
Ultimately, Koro Meke would like to see a future in which a return to Māori cultural practices plays a part in keeping people well and out of acute services. He also welcomes a greater awareness and use of Māori techniques in healthcare, saying “There's a lot of means and ways of healing (in Te Ao Māori).”