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Denise Messiter - Creating a model of healing

  • Denise Messiter

Denise (Ngāti Pūkenga ki Waiau) is an ākonga with our School of Healthcare and Social and is writing her Master's of Applied Practise (Social Practice) thesis.. She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2022 Queen's Platinum Birthday Honours. 

Her topic is: Poipoia te Mauri Kia Puāwai te Mauri o te Whānau – the Poutama, is it Working in Hauraki? The Poutama is a wānanga ensconced in Matauranga Māori. Denise developed the Poutama with the guidance of her kuia and koroua from Hauraki and has been facilitating the workshops in Hauraki for over 20 years. The purpose of the wānanga is to support whānau to heal and recover from mahi tūkino, that is, their experiences of family and sexual violence.

In June, Denise was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2022 Queen's Platinum Birthday Honours. She has received this for her services to Māori and health.  She was also recently appointed to the Māori Advisory Group to work alongside the Hon. Marama Davidson, the Minister for the Elimination of Family and Sexual Violence as announced by Cabinet’s Appointments and Honours Committee.

We talked to Denise about her mahi and achieving these two impressive milestones...

Please share with us your thoughts and emotions surrounding these two milestones...

In terms of the Queen's Platinum Birthday honour, I decided to accept it for my whānau, for my hapū, for my iwi, for the ones that do the hard yards every day and who made a courageous decision to nominate me for this. I'm a Māori activist and have been since my early teens. Being an activist means at times you can end up on the wrong side of the law, not necessarily because the intention was to be on the wrong side of it, but rather to highlight the injustices, the disparities, the inequities that our whānau continue to experience through the ongoing process of colonisation, unconscious bias, and racism.

Regarding the appointment to the Māori Advisory Group to Marama Davidson, we have our work cut out for us. Family and Sexual Violence is a pandemic that has been running rife in Aotearoa and across the world for generations. The full weight of its impacts is carried in this country by wāhine Māori, their mokopuna tamariki, and their whānau. The irony is this pandemic is the only one that we cannot get vaccinated for. Therefore, it is going to take a village mentality to reverse the scourge of family and sexual violence that is out of control.

What does a 'village mentality' mean?

Simply put it is local solutions, developed, owned, and delivered by communities and governments having the courage to enter into high-trust funding agreements with whānau, hapū, iwi, and tangata whenua organisations. The purpose is to support tangata whenua to get on with what needs to take place to support their whānau heal and take their rightful space in their communities as the decision-makers, caretakers, and guardians of their social, economic, and political wellbeing. This cannot occur while we have designers of policy and services sitting in nationally-based offices making service and funding decisions about communities they do not even know exist, let alone having been to those communities, particularly isolated rural Māori communities - we have several here in Hauraki.

What are you motivated by?

My motivation and guidance in my work are guided by the values and teachings of my elders from Ngāti Pūkenga ki Waiau. In a nutshell, those values are about compassion, caring, community, and collective benefit. Through tupuna guidance, I have worked with New Zealand-based Non-Governmental and Government organisations and civil organisations in international jurisdictions. The roles I have held have been focussed on contributing to designing and implementing health and social services that respond to the voice, needs, and aspirations of Indigenous communities who live with the accumulative impact of colonial systemic and structural violence. We see the evidence of that violence in the extreme lack of housing, food, economic security, and wellbeing that tangata whenua and their Indigenous families across the globe are experiencing.

Would you do anything differently?

No. Everything I've been part of since my teens has been about finding solutions to the systemic and structural impediments that prevent us as tangata whenua from being the change-makers, entrepreneurs, and solutions to the myriad of disparities that our people live with. In a nutshell, or is it a mussel shell, this Queen’s Birthday honour and my appointment to the Māori Advisory Group to the Honourable Marama Davidson belongs to my whānau, every individual,  hapū, iwi, professional colleague, and my indigenous peers from international jurisdictions who have and continue to be part of my personal and professional life.