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‘Tapu whilst hapu’

POWERFUL emotions and the holding back of tears were evident when a midwife spoke of the devastating impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Tairawhiti this week.

Kaniwa Kupenga-Tamarama talked candidly of her experiences with the disorder at Turanga Health's Elgin hub on Wednesday — International FASD Awareness Day.

Clinical psychologist and fellow Tairawhiti FASD working group member Sarah Goldsbury presented a letter to Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri, asking the Government for adequate funding and support to counter FASD.

“Tapu Whilst Hapu” is the mantra for the working group and the slogan features in the group's literature and at Turanga Health's Elgin hub where the letter was handed over.

Ms Kupenga-Tamarama said those working in the FASD field, including educators and whanau providing life-long disability care, needed better support and recognition FASD was a congenital brain injury.

The damage caused to a baby affected generations over the next century, she said.

Drinking while pregnant had been normalised. She had seen many occasions on East Coast marae where pregnant women had drank alcohol and whanau or the women concerned were not challenged.

Confrontation went against whakapapa.

Four parliamentary candidates attended the event in addition to Ms Whaitiri and National's East Coast MP Anne Tolley — East Coast electorate candidates Tania Tapsell (National) and Jennie Brown (Advance New Zealand) and Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidates Elizabeth Kerekere (Green Party) and Heather Te-Au Skipworth (Maori Party). Labour's East Coast candidate and locally-based list MP Kiri Allan was in Whakatane with the Prime Minister.

“What commitments can we entrust with you as high level representatives to protect our whakapapa and put in place strategies that continue to strengthen whakapapa?” said Ms Kupenga-Tamarama.

“We have the guardianship of looking after the next four or five generations whose lives will span across the next 100 years.”

Other government “attention” urgently sought by the working group's new letter applied to enacting the Law Commission's recommendations on alcohol; removing the liquor licensing appeals process used to “undermine” local alcohol policies; and ensuring front-line professionals in health, education and justice receive training on FASD.

Ms Kupenga-Tamarama finished her presentation by saying: “When women are in good health, the family and community will flourish.”

Ms Goldsbury said the group had originally written to the Ministry of Health in December. Covid-19 had broken out since then but it was still disappointing not to have received a reply.

The December letter was originally supported by 167 signatures.

That number had since increased but the original 167 was the same number who signed a 19th-century petition of Haimona Te Aoterangi, of Whanganui, who in 1874 asked the Government to put a stop “to drinking among the Maori, for that is at the root of the evils under which we suffer”.

Alcohol impoverished Maori and “our children are not born healthy because the parents drink to excess and the child suffers,” said the 1874 petition.

Ms Goldsbury said 146 years later nothing had happened. Alcohol was still causing harm to children.

It was the most dangerous recreational substance for the foetus, more so than cannabis, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin.

Ms Goldsbury said children affected by FASD used many resources in health, education and justice because of a “business-as-usual” approach that did not work with them.

Funding instead needed to be put “at the front end to diagnose, support and understand, which would significantly reduce what comes out at the other end”.

She noticed that one of the issues requiring government “attention” as identified in the working group's letter — the liquor licensing appeal process — had already had an impact in Gisborne, with Black Bull Liquor appealing successfully against a decision by Gisborne district licensing committee not to grant an off-licence

Ms Whaitiri thanked the working group for their work.

They should not apologise for again raising the issue and keeping MPs and future MPs to task.

She had not previously heard of the group's work.

“But you have my support. We should be talking and sharing and raising awareness

“We need to take this back to the Prime Minister.”

Mrs Tolley, a former Minister for Children, said few health boards assessed children for FASD.

FASD was a whole-of-government issue because it was a whole-of-community issue.

It was important to raise awareness of FASD.

Both MPs said it was important for local people to remain involved in the FASD campaign as they knew their communities.

Mrs Tolley, who is retiring from politics, said she would continue to follow the FASD campaign.

‘WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT': Tairawhiti Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder working group member Sarah Goldsbury (left) presents a letter to Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri asking the Government for adequate funding and support to counter FASD. Ms Whaitiri told the working group it had her support. Picture by Paul Rickard