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Powerful processes

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust chair, Moera Brown, talks to The Gisborne Herald about the many caps she has worn in her professional life.

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust chair Moera Brown has worn many caps in her professional life. She has been a netball player, public servant, police cadet, police instructor and an iwi leader. She talked to Gisborne Herald reporter Akula Sharma . . .

“I never looked up at a police officer when I was five-years-old and thought that’s what I’ll be,” Moera Brown says.

“In fact, I looked up and thought, ‘that’s never going to be a job for me’.

“I suppose I was willing to go down a journey where I was unsure of what the outcome would be,” she says.

From the inland farming township of Matawai, Moera was an active part of the community. Both her parents were fluent in te reo Māori and she was an active participant at the marae.

It was a busy life for Moera growing up. She was the eldest in a family of 13, with five sisters and seven brothers.

She went to Gisborne Girls’ High School and, after graduating, was offered a cadetship at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“I worked with a girl whose father was a policeman. She invited me to a recruitment seminar for police.

“The recruiting officer there told me they were looking for young Māori women like me to join.

“At first I thought it was not my thing but I still sat the test and got accepted to New Zealand Police College.”

When she told her parents, her father wasn’t convinced policing was a job for a woman, whereas her mother told her to make the best of the great opportunity, Ms Brown said.

“Nobody in our family had considered the police as a career. I was only 20 when I went to police college.

“When I graduated they didn’t let me go back to my hometown because you know too many people. I got posted to Lower Hutt and later, in 1979, I was transferred to South Auckland.”

Ms Brown said it wasn’t until someone referred to her as a ‘Māori girl’ while policing that she experienced racial inequity. Nevertheless, she kept on in her career, excited and ready to confront new challenges.

“I found the career quite interesting, the unknown nature of it, different components of what you may confront — firearms, driving a vehicle in pursuit with sirens, and self-defence.

“I was very excited by it all.

“Some of it came from my background of Rongowhakaata because we are very good at stepping into unknown spaces.”

She said there were challenges.

“From a tikanga perspective, the most difficult thing I found while working was dealing with deceased bodies.

“In kaupapa Māori they’re very tapu but in procedure policing, it’s just a person who has died and you need to take it to the coroner.

“I had to make a couple of phone calls at home to work on how to look after myself.

“The number of Māori women in the organisation was limited — you couldn’t really go to your mate and say, ‘hey what are we supposed to do here?’ I was one of two in Lower Hutt.

“In those days policing wasn’t white dominated, but very male-dominated.

“It was very difficult being a woman in the police. You had to be quite assertive about where you stood in some places, like if you didn’t want to play as a part of the boys’ club, you had to be quite firm.”

As a policewoman, her interest was in community and youth, because a female in a detective or CIB role would mean she would have to be limited to looking after female or child victims, whereas in other roles she had a sense of equity and the ability to interact with whānau Māori.

“There was a lot of youth offending in South Auckland from young Māori and Pasifika. And it left significant trauma on them.

“No different from now really.

“Interaction with the community was really important, the ability to work collectively.”

Later Ms Brown decided to go back to police college as an instructor and update the curriculum with what happened on the ground.

“In 2000, I came back home (Gisborne), where I was the first female Senior Sergeant for the region. I spent 14 years in that role and then retired.”

After working 33 years in the police force, retirement didn’t stop Ms Brown pursuing her next adventure.

“I started working as a restorative justice facilitator. In this role I was able to create opportunities where people would use the process as an alternative to the justice system.

“Gisborne Girls’ High School started using it as part of dealing with disciplinary issues.

“I was and I still am very privileged to be a part of this kind of process through the restorative justice process and Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke.

“There has been pretty powerful healing for people through that process.”

Ms Brown has also been involved in iwi leadership through her father’s whānau connections in Rongowhakaata and Ngāi Tamanuhiri.

“Policing was very much responding to daily demands in an overall operation, whereas the iwi leadership space was really new for me and still evolving.”

Through her restorative justice role Ms Brown was asked to run the iwi police partnership, Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke (WNPH) — a collaborative approach to family harm incidents.

She has definitely come a long way in her professional life, and now she co-directs the WNPH partnership programme. She is looking forward to cutting down her hours to give time to her mokopuna and whānau.

Whanau connections: Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust chairwoman and co-director for Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke, Moera Brown. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell