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New study of Maori dying, death, bereavement

New study to look at dying, death and bereavement among Māori

University of Waikato researchers are embarking on a three-year study of dying, death and bereavement among contemporary Māori. The Kia Ngawari study aims to increase knowledge and understanding of Māori palliative needs, both within the healthcare system and among whānau.

Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, an experienced mental health researcher and professional counsellor has won a 2010 Health Research Council Career Development Award, worth $341,443, for the post-doctoral research.

The Erihapeti Rehu-Murchie Research Fellowship in Māori Health will allow her to identify and interview up to 30 end of life whānau living in Waikato and South Auckland, and complete up to eight full case studies.

Dr Moeke-Maxwell will be working with two noted Waikato academics. Associate Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora is the founding Director of the Māori & Psychological Research Unit, and Professor Ngahuia Awekotuku (CNZM) of the School of Māori and Pacific Development is an eminent cultural, arts and heritage researcher.

“We want to throw a lens on Māori families’ experiences of death and dying to gather valuable experiential data on Māori processes associated with end of life,” says Dr Moeke-Maxwell. “We hope people who participate in the study will feel that they are contributing to something important, and see this as a way of helping others and generations to come. At the end of this study we will know a lot more about how whānau are doing during this part of the life cycle.”

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The study will also help identify the gaps in help available from formal and informal services, such as the health care system, rest homes, funeral services and Māori support systems.

Associate Professor Nikora says the end of life phase is one that’s received little attention from researchers. “This phase has been mediated and defined by religion, and put off-limits to broader social engagement and research, so we don’t know too much about it. All our information is second-hand, and this study gives us the opportunity to talk to people first-hand.”

Dr Moeke-Maxwell plans to start fieldwork in August, and is hoping to attract as diverse a group of participants as possible. “For example, we’d be interested to talk to people who reflect a range of life-hreatening health conditions. These women and men will be of different ages, stages of dying and may live alone or with others, and their lives may be influenced by other cultural practices. Whānau are very important in this investigation as they are often the pou manawa or central support during the end of life phase.”

The study sits alongside two other University of Waikato research projects on tangihanga. Professor Te Awekotuku and Associate Professor Nikora are leading a team to explore and record tangihanga practice past and present, funded by a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund grant worth $950,000 over three years. They have also secured $250,000 from the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga National Institute of Research Excellence to look at the historical and social change aspects of tangihanga.


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