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There are many ways of being Māori. Ethnicity in New Zealand historically has been based on biology and a caste system, but has now moved to a more contemporary approach that assumes ethnicity is not static and predetermined. Instead, ethnicity and culture are viewed as intertwined aspects of a person's identity that are influenced by our social environment and therefore can change as we mature and our context shifts (Cormack, 2010; Kukutai & Didham, 2009). This means that any combination of physical features and cultural beliefs can be found in people who self-identify as Māori. In short, it is not possible to assume that someone is Māori or non-Māori based on her or his appearance or lifestyle. Asking the tangata whai i te ora (person on his or her recovery journey) is the only way to be certain about someone's ethnicity, and is a vital part of the first assessment.
For Māori, health and culture are intricately linked, so when a person identifies as Māori there are vital aspects of te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) that must be incorporated into her or his mental health experiences in order to provide safe and effective care. In this chapter we discuss how practitioners from all cultural backgrounds can develop practices that engage with tangata whai i te ora and whānau in mental health and addiction settings. The chapter will be helpful for people practising in the New Zealand context, as well as those who encounter people of Māori background and culture in Australia. It will also assist practitioners to consider how institutional racism might influence their ability to care for Māori, and will encourage the exploration of personal cultural beliefs to transcend this. The Tidal Model's Ten Commitments (Buchanan-Barker & Barker, 2006) will be presented as a framework for developing culturally safe practice.
I recall during one of my admissions being told by a Māori nurse that I had no right to talk about culture. She spoke to me in Māori and demanded that I translate it. I turned to her and said ‘You know I wasn't bought up in a Māori environment; I don't have to speak te reo to feel Māori’.