Early efforts to break down barriers included pre-nursing programmes that offered a Māori health perspective to encourage young Māori into nursing. A long-held vision was to develop a kaupapa Māori training programme for nurses, which culminated in the three-year degree Te Ōhanga Mataora Paetahi, Bachelor of Health Sciences Māori (Nursing) being offered in 2009 by Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
Current Kaunihera president, Nelson nurse consultant Hemaima Hughes, joined Te Kaunihera over a decade ago when efforts stepped up to develop a kaupapa Māori nursing degree curriculum.
"I was one of the original writers of the curriculum with Denise Wilson and my engagement with the council was really to do with the development and progression of the programme and building the Māori nursing workforce.
The initial intention was for the degree to be offered at the wānanga's home base of Whakatane. but the Tertiary Education Commission directed the wānanga to offer the degree from Auckland. This ended up being problematic for the degree and the wānanga, with the first cohort being the only cohort. After the six remaining students successfully sat state finals in November 2011, the degree was shelved.
But three years on, the degree is being relaunched and a slightly modified programme has won full Nursing Council and New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) approval and is ready to get underway in February 2015 on the wānanga's Whakatane campus, with former Waiariki Nursing School head Ngaira Harker as its leader.
Harker says interest is strong in enrolling in the first Whakatane intake, with 27 students also soon to complete an 18-week bridging to nursing programme. The wānanga was interviewing applicants for the degree's February intake with the aim of having 30 students successfully complete the first year.
Hughes said membership of the council was growing, with five branches established or re-established since she became president last year, including an Otautahi (Christchurch) branch. With currently 200–300 members – many of them senior Māori nursing leaders – the council continues to grow with the support of Ministry grants – "it is really re-building itself".
While it is a niche group, Hughes says it is a mandated group as the original founders moved around the country sharing its kaupapa. While the New Zealand Nursing Organisation's Te Rūnanga (representing Māori nurses, nursing students, midwives, healthcare assistants, and allied health staff members of NZNO) may now be larger, Hughes says the longer established Te Kaunihera is still recognised as the indigenous Māori nursing group and sits at the table at the National Nursing Organisations' group as the mandated Māori nursing group.
Hughes adds while members of Te Kaunihera, including herself, are also members of NZNO, the objectives of the groups are quite different.
She is optimistic about the future of the council and is actively working to recruit more younger nurses. She was heartened by the number of young Māori nurses who attended the council's very well-attended AGM in Te Teko – which is also the homeground of Te Kaunihera's 92-year-old Patron Aunty putiputi O'Brien. With the Te Kaunihera-backed degree about to get underway again in Whakatane, she is looking forward to even more young nurses joining them in the future.