The aspirations of Pacific peoples, who journeyed from the shores of their homelands to a land that held out the promise of prosperity, are reflected in Vai Niu,87 which symbolises fresh Pacific beginnings and a vision of Pacific mental health and wellbeing.
Vai Niu is centred on the following world view:88
I am not an individual; I am an integral part of the cosmos.
I share a divinity with my ancestors, the land, the seas and the skies.
I am not an individual, because I share a tofi (an inheritance)
with my family, my village and my nation.
I belong to my family and my family belongs to me.
I belong to my village and my village belongs to me.
I belong to my nation and my nation belongs to me.
This is the essence of my sense of belonging.
Vai Niu represents a paradigm shift driven by Pacific solutions and aspirations and with a focus on promotion, prevention and early intervention, including in early childhood. It requires a reconfiguration of attitudes, behaviours and beliefs, while acknowledging the distinct values Pacific peoples place on their own definitions of wellbeing.
The shift envisioned needs to address current power imbalances – ‘cultural humility’89 to generate thriving and empowering environments of self-determination for Pacific peoples. Aiga/kopu tangata/kāinga/magafaoa/matavuvale/kāiga (family)90 is central to Pacific mental health and wellbeing, including family support and inclusion in decision-making. The paradigm shift will be an integrated approach and strengthen Pacific leadership, accountability, innovation, integrity and sustainability.
Vai Niu is based on Pacific ways of knowing and doing, recognising the diversity of Pacific realities, world views and philosophies. Rather than solely medicalised and individualised approaches, Pacific ways of knowing and doing place relationships at the fore – relationships with all entities, Atua, the environment, ancestors, cultures, languages, family and others – and nurtures the sacred va.91 This approach is strengths-based, recognises Pacific peoples’ dignity and guardianship of relationships, the land and environment, culture, languages and traditional healing, and values compassion, love, reciprocity, ethics and human rights.
Vai Niu observes the special relationship Pacific peoples have with Māori as Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, while celebrating Pacific ethnic identities, languages, spirituality, values, beliefs and cultures.
To achieve equity for Pacific peoples, barriers of stigma, discrimination, institutional racism and unconscious bias must be eliminated and access to services improved. All people, including Pacific Rainbow communities, will be embraced for who they are.
A cultural approach must come first, before a clinical approach, with the provision of culturally appropriate, relevant, safe and effective options (including traditional healing and treatment) in Pacific settings (such as churches, homes, Pacific services and ‘character’ schools92).
Greater recognition of the peoples of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau and those nations’ constitutional agreements with New Zealand is essential.93
Achieving equity requires growing Pacific leadership and governance at all levels of the mental health and addiction system and having a dedicated Pacific workstream operating under the Whānau Ora commissioning structure. Employment opportunities, entrepreneurialism, adequate housing and equitable income are essential to address inequities for Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
To attain the highest attainable standard of Vai Niu for Pacific peoples, fa’aaoloalo/ ’akangateitei/faka’apa’apa/fakalilifu/vakarokoroko/fakaaloalo94 (respect) as a core value must be acknowledged.95 A continued investment in the Pacific workforce and Pacific cultural competence is required. A Pacific culturally competent workforce will include tufuga/taunga/tufunga/kenadau96 (cultural knowledge holders), community support workers, matua (elders), youth and peer support and will be equitably remunerated. Continued investment in Pacific-centred research, monitoring and evaluation is also needed.
Dedicated Pacific wellbeing modules in schools and curriculum development in training establishments will ensure a well-prepared workforce. The workforce will enable Pacific peoples and their families, equipping them with skills, information and culturally appropriate therapies. Most of the Pacific population in New Zealand is born in this country, and there is a steadily increasing Pacific multi-ethnic population. Thus, more than ever, language familiarity, cultural identity and belonging, connectedness, communalism and resilience will be important to adequately serve these populations.
New Zealand’s Pacific population is vibrant, young and fast-growing. It is reported that 60% of Pacific peoples are New Zealand–born, and Pacific children and young people are increasingly identifying with more than one ethnicity. By 2038, 20% of all children in New Zealand will be of Pacific heritage. The Pacific mental health and wellbeing sector needs to be ready to serve these Pacific futures, including use of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and digital mental health and social media platforms. Further, the sector must be well positioned to effectively care for Pacific climate migrants whose mental health and wellbeing may be significantly and adversely affected by the challenges of displacement from homelands because of rising sea levels.
Vaka Tautua is a national ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ health and social service provider with offices in Auckland (West and South), Wellington and Christchurch, providing different levels of service. It is a Pacific-led and -driven integrated service to improve the health and wellbeing of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. It offers Pacific solutions through an elder abuse response service, disability advice and support, and mental health peer support as well as financial literacy coaching. Services are also delivered in Pacific languages.
K’aute Pasifika is a Pacific health provider based in Hamilton, with reach across the Waikato region. It uses a one-stop shop integrated service model so Pacific families can easily connect with other supports all under the one roof. For example, the hub offers a general practice, early childhood education, a family violence education programme, and a Whānau Ora provider, delivers the Ministry of Education’s Pasifika PowerUP programme, and administers some New Zealand Qualifications Authority standards.
87 Most Pacific peoples commonly recognise the use of the word niu to denote a coconut, and vai means water, so vai niu is translated as ‘coconut water’. Here, this expression encapsulates fresh Pacific beginnings: fluidity, indigeneity, nourishment, sustenance, resilience and innovation. In addition, the husk of the coconut, when woven tightly, binds all things; where there is strength in unity – so’o le fau i le fau.
88 Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, Head of State of Samoa. 2009. O le e lave i tiga, ole ivi, le toto, ma le aano: He who rallies in my hour of need is my kin. Paper presented at the New Zealand Families Commission Pasifika Families’ Fono, Auckland, New Zealand, November 2009, p 80. www.head-of-state-samoa.ws/speeches_pdf/Tupua%20Family%20Commission%20FINAL4%20(2).pdf.(external link)
89 An overt connection between people, institutions and systemic power imbalances that is confronted rather than merely acknowledged: M Fisher-Borne, JM Cain and SL Martin. 2015. From mastery to accountability: Cultural humility as an alternative to cultural competence. Social Work Education 34(2): 165–181. https://doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2014.977244(external link).
90 Aiga (Samoan), kopu tangata (Cook Islands), kāinga (Tongan), magafaoa (Niuean), matavuvale (Fijian) and kāiga (Tokelau, Tuvalu).
91 Va is the sacred space that connects separate entities together in unity.
92 “Under the Education Act , a designated character school has a particular character which sets it apart from ordinary state schools and kura kaupapa Māori”: I Stewart. 2018. Pasifika students excel at ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ school in NZ. Radio New Zealand (2 August) www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/363173/pasifika-students-excel-at-aunty-and-uncle-school-in-nz(external link)
93 “Pacific peoples with ancestral ties to Pacific Islands that have constitutional agreements with [New Zealand] (Cook Islands Māori, Niueans and Tokelauans) hold the same rights as NZ citizens. This means they can move more freely between the Pacific Islands and NZ and, in effect, are more likely to be exposed to the NZ environment”: J Ataera-Minster and H Trowland. 2018. Te Kaveinga: Pacific peoples: Results from the New Zealand Mental Health Monitor & Health and Lifestyles Survey. Wellington: Health Promotion Agency, p 45. www.hpa.org.nz/research-library/research-publications/te-kaveinga-mental-health-and-wellbeing-of-pacific-peoples-report.(external link)
94 Respectively, Samoan, Cook Islands, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, and Tokelauan and Tuvaluan.
96 Respectively, Samoan, Niuean, Tokelauan, and Tuvaluan; Cook Islands; Tongan; and Fijian.