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Health worker claims ‘kia ora’ and ‘ngā mihi’ banned in emails

Joseph Los'e,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 7:21AM
Andrew Slater, chief people officer Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora.
Andrew Slater, chief people officer Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora.

Health worker claims ‘kia ora’ and ‘ngā mihi’ banned in emails

Joseph Los'e,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 7:21AM

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air 

A Health NZ - Te Whatu Ora - staff member claims her manager banned her from using “kia ora” and “ngā mihi” when writing emails to patients after “two non-Māori women screamed they were offended by the use of Te Reo.” 

“I use Te Reo Māori greetings and sign offs when sending appointment letters over email. Two (non-Māori) patients have called to scream and yell that they are offended due to my use of “Kia ora” and “Ngā mihi”. 

“My manager has since asked that I stop using Te Reo Māori all together,” the staffer posted on reddit online, where hundreds of people have supported her.  

“I am staunchly against this, as we try to connect with Māori in any way possible to get them to come to appointments, as their health outcomes are historically much worse than Pākeha.  

“My question is: What can I do about this? Can I put in a complaint anywhere? I don’t want to get in trouble with my boss or HR, but I also don’t want the occasional racist d***head to further marginalise Te Reo Māori,” she wrote. 

Health NZ’s chief people officer, Andrew Slater, said it appeared from the post this was an overreaction from an overzealous manager. 

“We’re very disappointed if there was any instruction to discontinue Te Reo in patient communications. That won’t be happening. Our staff can safely raise any concerns of this nature with another senior manager, and I would urge this person to do that,” Slater said. 

But former Health NZ Boss Rob Campbell said the manager’s approach to two just complaints from what he presumed were thousands of emails was disappointing, and showed a lack of cultural leadership at the top level in the organisation. 

“It’s regrettably common for me to get messages from within Te Whatu Ora about managerial indifference to staff pain or about lack of creative leadership against racism,” Campbell told the Herald. 

Rob Campbell. Photo / Michael CraigRob Campbell. Photo / Michael Craig 

“This is despite all the fine words of Te Mauri o Rongo/Health Charter. 

“One of the key reasons for the limited progress in Te Whatu Ora remains ineffective leadership in involving and energising people in cultural change.” 

He said he had some advice for the letter writer and other Health NZ staff confronted by cultural ignorance. 

Have the courage to stand up 

“The writer and others must have the courage of their own convictions against those whose only conviction is not to change. Now is a time for Māori to be more assertive about what are, after all, rights as indigenous people and rights which have even been recognised by the colonial government,” he said. 

“Equally tangata Tiriti who are, or should be, allies must now be stepping forward, not back. We cannot advance towards Pae Ora with a culturally unhealthy health system. 

Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand.Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand. 

“Those opposing this are not to be mollified or accommodated but challenged to confront their difficulties as trivial against those simply exercising their rights. 

“It is vital they [Health NZ staff] stand up to this.” 

The letter writer has received hundreds of online responses and advice. 

One person wrote: “I’m in a senior role at HNZ. This person is right, reply but cc in comms. Or even just your General Manager of your service or area. Keep it super professional, almost like you’re just a bit confused? Zero snark. Have a look on your intranet for the correct address or if you are ADHB it’s [email protected]. 100% you are allowed and encouraged to use Māori phrasing in your emails! Best of luck, Nga Mihi, i-sure-hope-so.” 

Slater said they encourage all staff to use Te Reo - an official language of Aotearoa. 

“We absolutely allow and encourage our people to use Te Reo Māori. It is an official and cherished language of the country,” Slater said. 

“The advice referred to in the post does not in any way represent the views of Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora. 

“While we don’t know the particulars of this case, we note the reference to yelling and screaming by a patient. It is possible there may have been an overreaction by one manager trying to protect a staff member from further abuse. " 

Joseph Los’e is an award winning journalist and joined NZME in 2022 as Kaupapa Māori Editor. Los’e was a chief reporter, news director at the Sunday News newspaper covering crime, justice and sport. He was also editor of the NZ Truth and prior to joining NZME worked for urban Māori organisation Whānau Waipareira. 

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