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Maori Voices At The National Religious Leaders Forum

This week at the annual National Religious Leaders Forum hosted virtually by the Religious Diversity Centre the voices of two Maori leaders were especially prominent as was their Covid related appeal to their colleagues.

While the government has been concerned to issue clear guidelines to worshipping communities on appropriate protocols to be followed under the new traffic light system, leaders within the Ratana, Ringatu and Pai Marire churches have instead been preoccupied with first protecting the lives of their flock.

Kereama Pene and Rangi McLean shared stories of how their respective churches were founded either in the crucible of colonial violence (Ringatu) or pandemic (the Spanish flu) (Ratana). Founded and led by prophetic leaders, both churches still today have at their heart the same Scriptural understandings and social outreach programs committed to enabling Maori overcome entrenched systemic injustice. Nowhere is this more evident right now than in the considerable lag for Maori Covid vaccination rates.

Both leaders pointed to the grave dangers ahead when the Auckland border is to be opened with minimum policing, in time for Christmas travellers. With the influx of holiday makers into traditionally favoured holiday hotspots, the risk of Covid being spread within largely unvaccinated rural Maori communities is exponential. The pressure an outbreak would place not only on multigenerational whanau Maori but more especially on already modest regional health systems would be immense.

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Kereama and Rangi made their appeal directly to the leaders of the Baha’I, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish religious communities. They urged them to implore their adherents to stay away from any communities where Maori are still so vulnerable. This act of solidarity would be seen as perhaps the greatest act of aroha religious communities could show at this time to those who are the least well protected from Covid.

They were quick to point out it is not a request made lightly and neither is it a request made for the long term. It is simply an appeal to give precious time needed for Maori vaccination rates to be brought into line with those of the general population. It was simply an appeal to the nation’s Religious Leaders from one Treaty partner to the other, to ‘help us keep our people safe’ during these ever challenging pandemic times.

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