Hurrah for Inez – she is researching whether non-Maori medics can cure Maori patients

In Britain she could treat white people.

In Britain she could treat patients of many cultural persuasions.

A breath of fresh air has wafted south from Hastings.

It was created by a lass named Inez Awatere-Walker who is working in the Hastings Community Mental Health Team providing assessment and treatment for adults with moderate to severe mental health problems. She is also the Professional Advisor of Psychology for Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

According to the CV on the health board website, she is available to help service users, whanau, health workers and the wider public with information about Psychology Services at HBDHB, and:

“I am completing a doctorate investigating therapeutic relationships and recovery in mental health.”

This involves examining the long-established view that Maori patients are best treated by Maori clinicians.

In Alf’s book this happen s to be a racist view, which becomes rather obvious the moment you argue that the Grumbles are best treated by white clinicians.

But in this country – as Alf has pointed out many times – Maori have laid claim to being indigenous people, entitled to special treatment denied the rest of us.

They therefore can state their preference to be treated by culturally appropriate doctors, nurses and what-have-you to look after them, and buckets of public money are being tossed into the Maori health trough to ensure they get what they want.

The rest of us, of course, are best not to make similar demands to be treated by culturally appropriate health providers – not without risking being dragged before Dame Wotzername, the Race Relations Commissioner who once was a dab hand at squash.

It’s bloody refreshing, therefore, to learn from this report at Stuff that Ms Awatere-Walker is four years into her study, titled Maori mental health recovery: Success stories of non-Maori clinicians.

She says the idea for her study, which she is doing through the Auckland University of Technology, came from four years spent working in mental health in England.

She treated patients from a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities and Alf imagines any Pom who said they would prefer to be treated by someone culturally attuned to their spiritualism and so on would have been laughed off the premises.

She returned to New Zealand five years ago and – she says – began to ponder the clinician-patient relationship when completely different cultures were involved.

“There is a long-established view that Maori are best served by Maori. Most Maori scholars would subscribe to that. But that’s not always the reality,” said Ms Awatere-Walker, who has been a psychologist for about 20 years.

“It’s not the view held by practitioners working in the mainstream, who tend to hold the view that you treat all people the same regardless of their culture, gender, sexuality, religion etc.

“They don’t see that it should be just Maori for Maori. But that’s not to say they’re opposed to kaupapa Maori services.

“I’ve never thought that I had to live someone else’s life, or have their experiences, to be able to work with them. In fact, it can be beneficial, even necessary, for there to be differences.”

Some people have been very supportive of her studies.

She can put the Grumbles into that category.

But – no surprises here, in a country where government policy has been increasingly tilted to foster racially separate institutions and arrangements

… others felt she was undermining “for Maori, by Maori” treatment.

Undermining it?

Or threatening to enlighten us with some good research on the subject?

But whoa.

Maybe Alf is wrong to regard demands for treatment by medics of the same ethnic persuasion as racism.

Nope. Its a philosophy.

Jean Te Huia, chief executive of Maori health provider Kahungunu Health Services, said her organisation supported the “for Maori, by Maori” philosophy, begun by Maori academic Mason Durie in the 1980s.

“If you are of the same ethnicity as the person you are caring for then, in my mind, you can overcome some of the barriers such as language.”

Ms Te Huia, who is a midwife, said she is often asked questions by young Maori women who would feel shy talking to a non-Maori.

But having said that – let’s be fair – she does think good research is needed, “like that being undertaken by this woman to see what is actually true.”

Ms Awatere-Walker last week was granted the Ngarimu VC and 28 Maori Battalion Scholarship Fund for 2013-14. It looks like a good choice.

She has been taking a day of unpaid leave each week for study purposes but will now condense the final two years of study into a shorter timeframe.

The Grumbles wish her well.

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