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Reaping the benefits of a Treaty of Waitangi workshop: a registered nurse, who emigrated from China to New Zealand eight years ago, shares the benefits of a Treaty of Waitangi workshop she attended and how she applies the treaty principles in her practice.

In 2007, as part of my continuing professional development, I undertook a two-day Treaty of Waitangi workshop in Christchurch, presented by Robert Consedine of Waitangi Associates Ltd. When I finished the first day of the workshop, I felt I'd just had a course of history--New Zealand history, British Empire history and the history of colonisation. This helped me understand the background to how the treaty came into being.

It was valuable that we started the workshop by reflecting on our own journeys. Where was I from? Who were my ancestors? What connections did I have with the place I am now living? These questions made me think about my culturalidentity in depth and where I belong. To be honest, with such a busy Life, I had not had time to sit clown and discuss or think about my identity since I migrated to New Zealand more than eight years ago. The workshop provided me with a very good chance to do that.

Commonality in the human struggle

The story of each human being is unique, yet simultaneously embraces universal emotions found in the Larger story of humanity. Writer Michelanne Forster believes that stories enable us to cross time, space and cultures. (1) Stories can give a sense of connection, fulfilling the human need to alleviate isolation and the feeling you are the only one experiencing this. (1) Understanding our own story gives us some dues on how to align ourselves with people of other cultures and the universal story. When we see the commonality in the human struggle, what to do with the new information becomes the next challenge. (2)

I was really touched when I read the following: "Culture gives us what we so desperately need in human life: a set of meanings. Once we know the meaning and significance of things, we are able to develop that comfortable sense of belonging, or the feeling of 'being at home' in one small section of the world, a sense of identity and security, If we lose this crucial set of meanings, we are in a state of chaos or the world of non-meaning. And that con be an intensely frightening experience. In fact, culture is so much part of life that we do not realize its power and its role until we are suddenly deprived of it." (3)

I agree. My husband and I moved from China to New Zealand in 2001 and we faced huge difficulties. The biggest difficulty was having no family or friends when we arrived and I did not speak very much English. I had gained my nursing degree in China and had worked as a nurse researcher there since 1994 but I had not spoken English much. When I first arrived, I worked in a rest-home for ten months and attended an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) course for four weeks before sitting IELTS and passing. That was just one step in gaining New Zealand nursing registration.

Adapting to the health system in New Zealand, which is very different, also took some time. There is no public health system in China; patients have to pay for everything from alcohol wipes to syringes, and for any treatments, eg x-rays.

Another major difficulty was that I suddenly became a member of a minority group in New Zealand after being a member of a majority in China. I had never experienced sensitivity in terms of culture before, but I felt I became a target when any negative news appeared on TV or newspaper related to China or the Chinese. Maori are also a minority group in New Zealand. Making this connection enabled me to understand and stand alongside Maori and honour their struggle, while considering what this history meant to me as a Chinese New Zealander, who had migrated here.

Value history and truth

We had discussions in groups and many questions and debates in the workshop regarding the treaty. One thing I learned from this workshop was that we have to value history and truth, no matter whether we like it or not, and we cannot change history. Given the history of the Pakeha (New Zealander of European descent) in New Zealand, the resentment of the Maori is only to be expected. Pakeha who are of Irish or Scottish descent should know, in part, how Maori feel because of how they were treated by the English in their home countries. So, as one writer states: "It is important for Pakeha to refrain from unilaterally setting the terms of reference in Maori-Pakeha interactions." (4)

By reading, I learned that in the 1980s the Labour Government's Minister of Education, Russell Marshall, instigated a formal curriculum review, (5) More than 21,000 submissions were received by the review committee and the draft report noted a high number of responses stated that a truthful version of New Zealand history be taught in school. These people felt insufficient history about New Zealand was being taught and, when it was taught, much of it was from a viewpoint that gave neither an accurate nor fuel record of what had occurred. (5) The information gathered through the review suggested many New Zealanders recognised the education system was failing to adequately teach school pupils the history of this country and that something needed to be done. It showed that New Zealanders had begun to change and wanted to learn true history. (2)

We are all familiar with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi--protection, participation and partnership--from the British version of the treaty. Taking partnership as an example, a partnership should entail respect, and respect, in turn, entails a willingness to understand the partner, a willingness to understand the partner's point of view, the partners values. So, this ideal of partnership requires that Pakeha take Maori values seriously, try to understand Maori philosophy on its own terms, to try to see the world as Maori see it.

I would Like to know and explore Maori values, partly because, as a minority in New Zealand society, I am similar to Maori. Maori values have changed in the Last 150 years, as indeed have Pakeha values, fortunately. It is unfair to judge contemporary Maori values in the Light of Long-abandoned traditional practices such as tribal warfare and slavery. However, Maori values are not Like Pakeha values. As one writer points out: "Indeed, the differences are so great that some Pakeha have, mistakenly, doubted the very existence of Maod ethics. The differences are not only differences of content; there are also differences of structures. The recent development by philosophers of the idea of a virtue ethics--as opposed to the predominantly rule-based ethics more familiar to the Pakeha--is a valuable aid to understanding. " (4)

Positive experience

Attending the treaty education workshop was a positive experience for me and I Left feeling open and encouraged to Learn more. I felt more confident in dealing with issues regarding cultural safety. I participated in the group discussions, and learned to share and understand the thoughts and experiences of others. We all have different Levels of knowledge and different backgrounds and, of course, different expectations of what we Like to know. I realise I am more than just Chinese--that is only part of my culture. I should include my education, work experiences and Life experiences as part of my culture as well After becoming a New Zealand citizen and settling in New Zealand, I have definitely had influences from Local cultures. I think the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi go beyond their original meanings, and I try to apply the principles of the treaty--protection, partnership and participation--into my work areas.

When I Look after Maori patients in hospital, I am now aware of socio-economic determinants of health that have had such an impact on the Maori population. Over recent decades, studies have investigated the relationship between socio-economic status and mortality in Maori men and non-Maori men, and findings in each study show increased Maori mortality when compared with non-Maori. (6)

Financial barriers are an important cause of Low access to health services by poor people. I always have discussions with Maori patients and whanau, respecting, supporting and encouraging their cultural values and spiritual beliefs. I use my nursing knowledge and skills to achieve expected patient outcomes and encourage my patients to participate in their own care. I Listen to any financial problems they have, and give feedback in multidisciplinary meetings. And I am conscious to liaise with Maori social workers and whanau to develop a care plan appropriate to meet Maori patients' needs.


Applying the treaty principles

When I work as a clinical lecturer and take nursing students to their clinical placements, I always address the importance of applying the principles of the treaty to nursing practice. I let my students know that honouring the treaty will benefit all New Zealanders, and I introduce and encourage informal debate very often in my group to explore how my students understand the principles of the treaty. It is important to acknowledge inequalities based on ethnicity, so these inequalities can be reduced. Current government policy and health Legislation state it is no Longer acceptable to tolerate these inequalities in New Zealand.

In addition, I have also realised that we Live in a multicultural society, and that the principles of the treaty apply to relationships between Maori and Pakeha, and also apply to relation ships between other cultures.

I have to admit there is a dark side to Life--racism and discrimination against people on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. This racism occurs in all areas of social, economic and political Life. It is not a perfect world and no one is perfect either.

I am willing to change my own attitudes and to treat everyone around me equally and uniquely, and respect the differences between cultures. I know it is easier to say than to do, and it has its ongoing challenges and battles, but the treaty workshop helped me understand all elements that contribute to a person's culture and the importance of respecting everybody's culture.


(1) Forster, M. (2006) Story-writing session, New Zealand Broadcasting School, Christchurch Polytechnic.

(2) Consedine, R. & Consedine, J. (2005) Healing Our History: The Challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi. North Shore, New Zealand: The Penguin Group.

(3) Arbuckle, G. A. (1990) Earthing the Gospel. New York: Orbis Books.

(4) Patterson, J. (1992) Exploring Maori Values. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

(5) Department of Education. (1986) The Curriculum Review: A draft report prepared by the committee to review the curriculum for schools. Wellington: The author.

(6) Reid, P., Robson, B. & Jones, C. P. (2000) Disparities in health: common myths and uncommon truths. Pacific Health Dialog; 7: 1, 38-47.

Xiaoyong Ren, RN, works as a staff nurse on a medical ward, with a specialty in gastroenterology, at Christchurch Hospital and as a clinical Lecturer for Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. This article was developed from a reflection she did to gain the proficient Level on Canterbury District Health Board's professional development recognition programme.
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Author:Ren, Xiaoyong
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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