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A tribute to Putiputi O’Brien

Whaea Putiputi O’Brien, 2006

Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa, NZNO pay tribute to Putiputi O’Brien

Auē! We mourn the passing of our Aunty Putiputi.

Putiputi O’Brien, Ngāti Awa, Te Arawa and Tūhoe graduated from the Waikato Hospital School of Nursing in 1945 and worked in hospitals in Rotorua until she became a public health nurse in 1948.

In 1981 she went to work for Midlands Health as a district community health coordinator and managed the Ngāti Awa ki Rangitaiki health initiative.

Putiputi O’Brien was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for services to nursing and her community in 1987.

In 2002 Te Rūnanga o Aoteroa, NZNO were proud to present the Akenehi Hei award to Whaea O’Brien for her services to Māori and nursing.

Putiputi O’Brien said of her work in rural Te Teko, where the only mode of travel was by horseback, “In those areas you were a jack of all trades, as you were the nurse, the doctor and a midwife”.

In her long and varied career she was a wonderful and passionate role model. She described herself as “a bridge between two worlds; Māori and non-Māori.”

We pay tribute to Putiputi O’Brien and honour her outstanding Māori leadership. Whaea Putiputi has worked tirelessly to improve the health and wellbeing of our people.

As a recipient of our most prestigious award Putiputi was acknowledged and admired by her peers for maintaining the integrity and values of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and wairuatanga as she went about fulfilling her vision of building a strong and resilient Maori workforce, in what were challenging times.

There is a Māori proverb that goes “Kua hinga te totara i te wao nui a Tane. The totara has fallen in the forest of Tane”. Although we have lost a mighty totara and wahine toa, we take comfort from her vision that has inspired many – young and old, Māori and non-Māori.

There are many who follow in her footsteps and who will ensure her dream continues, they will grow into the new Māori leaders and Whaea Putiputi O’Brien will remain in our hearts.





My NZNO korowai

Debbie PaperaDebbie Papera is an NZNO staff member who works in the Wellington Regional Office. She is involved in the Māori staff group Te Whakaruruhau and is on Te Ara Reo Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Debbie is a supporter of NZNO’s bi-cultural model and walks the talk of tikanga in her work every day.

On Friday and Saturday last week I attended the NZNO and Te Rūnanaga o Aotearoa, NZNO Indigenous Nurses Conference in Tāmaki Makaurau.

It was amazing, truly amazing. How can I explain? For me it was like my korowai hugging me; with each feather symbolising my tipuna and every single person present at the hui. I feel quite emotional about the experience, still. There aren’t many times I can really connect like that with my people.

It’s the best two days I have had in a long time. I was lucky to be able to attend as an NZNO Māori staff member and to catch up with two of my colleagues at the hui too, from Rotorua and Tauranga. Kia ora sisters! Thank you for going on this journey with me.

There were over 300 Māori health workers at the conference and I noticed that many young nurses, students and new grads found the whanaungatanga really beneficial, in terms of building relationships with other nurses and their connection to NZNO and Te Rūnanga.

There were wonderful speakers. A couple of presentations that really moved me were by Dr Misty Wilkie-Condif, and Janine Mohamed and Dr Roianne West.

Dr Misty Wilkie-Condif is an American Indian of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She talked about how similar American Indian practices are to Maori tikanga, for example both Maori and American Indians place great importance on leaving this earth with our full physical bodies in place.

One way that is encouraged to happen in the American Indian communities where Dr Misty works is led by midwives.

Community midwives go out and all around the villages talking to hapū wahine and new mamas. When pēpe is born part of the midwives job is to make sure the whenua is wrapped and ready to go home with the mamas for burial.

This deep connection between our culture and the American Indian culture is special.

The other presentation that has stayed with me was by our sisters from across the ditch. Janine Mohamed is a Narrunga Kaurna woman from South Australia and Roianne West was born and raised Kalkadoon on her mother’s country in North-West Queensland.

They were representing an organisation that travels out through the outback encouraging young people to become nurses.

They say they need the new generation to be educated as nurses so they can look after the elders who are suffering from diabetes and other diseases relating to their poverty and colonisation.

It’s a kaupapa based on whanau and community.

For me the hui left me with a feeling of positive-ness. As Māori we have had a hard road culturally and because of colonisation. It was wonderful to see so much work happening to fix the structural discriminations and improve the health of my people.

My message to our rūnanga throughout NZNO is: stay true to your tikanga and never forget that your tipuna are always with you and have your back.

To end this article I would like to share something that keynote speaker Moana Jackson said. “If we don’t know who we are, we won’t know where we’ve come from or where we’re going.”

Mauri ora!