A study on the Māori social response to COVID-19 suggests that the close-knit nature of Indigenous communities could be crucial in shaping improved public health policies.
Charles Darwin University and Auckland University of Technology conducted a study concentrating on a remote hapū (sub-tribe) of Ngāti Kahungunu along the East Coast of the North Island.
The research delved into how this community sustained connectivity during and post-COVID-19, utilising a scoping review and interviews.
The study highlighted Māori strategies in addressing COVID-19 challenges, including the digital divide, cultural isolation, and mental health concerns.
Additionally, it revealed positive outcomes, such as a resurgence in traditional practices, reconnecting with younger generations, and environmental healing.
CDU Associate Professor of Social Work and Ngati Kahungunu woman, Dianne Wepa, the lead author, emphasised the review and interviews highlighted the resilience and adaptability displayed by Māori amid the pandemic, especially in addressing challenges related to digital technology access and cultural isolation.
"Barriers such as remoteness, digital literacy and financial distress were identified but were overcome by connectedness to whānau (family) support," Associate Professor Wepa said.
"We noted that as Māori communities viewed themselves from a holistic perspective, then during times of crisis, a holistic approach was required to meet their health and wellbeing needs to prevent cultural isolation.
"Māori perceptions of cultural isolation were mitigated through maintaining connections with each other rather than a physical location or a physical dwelling."
Prof. Wepa said by assessing the responses of Māori during the pandemic, it could create inform effective health messaging and policies which could result in positive outcomes.
"Historically, global pandemics have proven to have a greater effect on Indigenous peoples," she said.
"COVID-19 brings to the forefront the historical injustices which continue to affect on Indigenous health and wellbeing resulting in inequities and poorer health outcomes.
"Indigenous-led knowledge and interventions provide relevance and meaning to the importance of Māori health and wellbeing."