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Emma Espiner, Māori Doctor & Author 16.12.22

Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) is a final year medical student at the School of Medicine, University of Auckland. She works part-time as the Communications Lead for Hāpai Te Hauora, a Māori Public Health NGO; writes a monthly column for Newsroom.co.nz; and is the host of the RNZ podcast on Māori health equity, Getting Better. Emma is the Voyager Opinion Writer of the Year 2020.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”

On the wall of the Lower Hutt Women’s Centre there is a quote written in black vivid on an improbably large sheet of lumpy purple recycled paper.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”

It is attributed to the Aboriginal elder Lilla Watson, a Gangulu woman. My mum’s partner at the time, Mandy Coulston, made the poster in our backyard, energetically sieving blobs of paper pulp through chicken wire and raving about workers rights while seven-year-old me sat on the warm concrete under an ancient metal clothesline.

We could solve our most intractable social problems by adopting Lilla Watson’s words. Our cultural misunderstandings, our paternalistic approaches to health and social services, our talking past each other would all vanish because we would gain the ability to see one another as equals, with equal rights to live well - the essential starting point for solidarity.

With this approach I believe anything is possible. You could write those two sentences into legislation and policy documents and it would set a more meaningful intention than any “values” statement. The knowledge that people in our society suffer, and that their suffering is determined by a social gradient, by gender, by ethnicity, should be sufficient on its own to stimulate change.

Written by Emma Espiner

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