When New Zealand went into COVID-19 shutdown the people living on Mōtītī Island, 10km’s off the Tauranga coast, were cut off from food and generator fuel supply.

Ngāti Awa, the iwi of the 40 plus permanent Mōtītī residents, kicked into action to get supplies to their hapū on the island which is only reached by boat or small plane.

Enid Ratahi-Pryor, Chief Executive Te Tohu o Te Ora o Ngati Awa, said the island whānau could usually order online groceries but the lockdown was put in place so quickly and flights couldn’t operate.

“They were cut off and without food for a period of time. Our iwi was focused on helping whānau that were most vulnerable like kaumatua who couldn’t make it to the supermarket, single parents with children and those with chronic conditions.”

“It was important that our hapū were not forgotten or ignored and that we were aware of these hardships associated with living on the island,” she says.

Enid says the Mōtītī scenario came up because there were kaumatua on the island and Te Tohu o Te Ora o Ngati Awa worked alongside Te Runanga o Ngati Awa to get supplies together.

Motiti Island

The response was supported by Te Puni Kōkiri funding to support Māori communities during COVID-19 which was distributed through the regions. This approach recognised Māori entities could help whānau that needed it most using established local connections.

Ngāti Awa had to navigate a number of issues to get the food together in the national state of emergency climate. They also needed to supply diesel to run the two off-the-grid marae on the island as all houses are without electricity and run by generators.

“We needed to bulk order but there was some confusion around what was possible and there was a multitude of issues to make sure our staff were safe during the process. We had to negotiate directly with supermarkets to get around the restrictions of only 2 loaves of bread per customer as we needed 400 individual items,” Enid says

She says they put together 14 kaumatua packs and another bulk food package for the wider whānau, all distributed through the Mōtītī marae.

“We had fresh meat from Ngāti Awa farm along with veges, fruit, flour, sugar and other goods to meet the needs of our island whānau.”

The iwi had to charter two planes to the island and there was about a five day period to get the food packages and diesel together and to Tauranga airport from Whakatane.

Whānau from Motītī island poured in their gratitude on a Facebook post about the food supplies arriving.

“Enid and her team, have been working long and hard hours alongside Te Runanga o Ngati Awa on a response that is meaningful and valued for and by our iwi,” Puti Koopu wrote.

“Tu meke Ngati Awa, thank you for making sure ngā pakeke o Mōtītī are not forgotten or stranded,” Ngaro Wikeepa said.