Recently the Health Promotion Agency released a report into hazardous drinking in New Zealand. The report shows that Māori who drink alcohol and live in deprived circumstances are less likely to have a harmful relationship with alcohol if they speak te reo Māori.

Hāpai Te Hauora GM Māori Public Health, Janell Dymus-Kurei, says that the report adds to the evidence that te reo Māori me ōna tikanga (Māori language, knowledge and traditions) are vehicles for wellbeing for Māori. "We are not surprised to see that speaking our Indigenous language is protective against alcohol-related harm" she says. "Hopefully these findings will precipitate a new approach to health promotion which positions matauranga Māori at the centre. This is how we work in Māori public health and it’s time that the rest of the system caught up."

Key findings from the report are:

  • Māori with higher levels of education are less likely to be hazardous drinkers
  • Māori hazardous drinking rates increase with deprivation but only for those who do not speak Te Reo Māori
  • Inequities among Māori and non-Māori persist across all age groups

Jessikha Leatham-Vlasic works in the Māori Public Health team at Hāpai, she believes this report confirms what we already know as Māori, that learning and speaking our language supports and reinforces our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. "Most importantly we see the correlation between te reo Māori and its ability to strengthen whānau connections and social support systems, which we see as imperative to reducing alcohol harm".

Sarah Herbert a Lecturer in Te Kupenga Hauora Māori at The University of Auckland states that "it comes as no surprise that having the ability to speak Te Reo Māori works as a protective factor against alcohol harm among Māori. However, as our 2013 census data shows, only 21.3% of all Māori reported being able to converse in Te Reo Māori about everyday things. What about the 80% of our whānau who do not speak Te Reo Māori? How may they be protected against alcohol harm? We must critically work to combat the drivers of harmful alcohol use among Māori which we know fundamentally stem from the ongoing legacy of colonisation."

Director of Alcohol Healthwatch, Nicki Jackson, agrees that the findings are positive, but there is still significant work to be done to allow whānau Māori to have equal access to health and wellbeing. "Wellbeing begins with healthy communities. Inequities in alcohol harm are preventable if we are committed to addressing many of the underlying social factors related to drinking, such as socio-economic deprivation, discrimination, and the saturation of alcohol outlets in communities."

Hāpai Te Hauora advocates for reduced alcohol-related harm through the following actions:

  • Raising alcohol prices
  • Reducing the availability of alcohol
  • Restricting alcohol marketing, especially through sponsorship

Link to report here:āori-and-non-māori