Histories of abuse to be aired

Tupua Urlich tells the Maori hearings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care about...
Tupua Urlich tells the Maori hearings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care about the trauma he suffered as a child of the State from 2000. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The "Gates of Hell" opened on Tupua Urlich’s childhood when, at 5, he was separated from his mother, sister and whanau, and placed in another town with a man who beat him regularly.

The 26-year-old has told the Maori hearings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care in Auckland he can still recall being punched in the head by the man for the first time.

"I was a child at the mercy of a monster that nobody cared to check on to make sure they’d made the right decision ... that I was safe."

Mr Urlich said the man used weapons on him, planks of wood or "whatever was lying around", leaving him with bruises and black eyes, and frequently unable to attend school.

After a particularly brutal beating, lying on the floor bleeding and crying,Mr Urlich said the man delivered a cruel blow.

"The door opened and he said, ‘Oh yeah, your Dad’s dead’, and he closed the door. I was 6 years old."

When Mr Urlich left the man’s care and built up the courage to report the abuse, he was let down by the justice system.

The then 6-year-old had to give evidence on screen played at court and says his testimony was twisted by a defence lawyer who called him a liar because he was crying.

He says his abuser was convicted of only one charge, kicking him, and received 30 hours of community service.

"Thirty hours for months and months of abuse, for the fear, the worry, the hopelessness. Even at that young age it became clear to me that this is a system protecting a system."

Mr Urlich described being shoved from pillar to post by Child Youth and Family and Oranga Tamariki, not knowing from one to the next where he might be living when school finished that day.

One caregiver even changed his name to Michael because she believed the translation of his first name meant "evil and demonic" and was the root of his poor behaviour, rather than the abuse and trauma he had suffered.

His appalling care led to incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts and stints in police cells, which he said were frightening and scarring.

Mr Urlich said when he was given up by his Croatian mother and Maori father he lost his connection to his whakapapa, tikanga and reo.

He only began to learn about his culture and identity with the help of a Maori teacher, who gave him a sense of pride and belonging.

Mr Urlich did not get out of state care until he became an adult and says the racism and ""intergenerational slaughter" was systemic.

In one instance he recalled talking to a care and protection worker at CYFS who asked if he was a "youth justice" child. He answered, "No care and protection."

"He said, ‘Oh, so future youth justice then’." That was as recently as 2010.

"That is the attitude of the people we have employed."

Mr Urlich still suffers from anxiety and said the predominantly Pakeha system was "oppressive, isolating — our culture is none of these things".

He recommended closing all residential homes for tamariki and rangatahi because they were more like prisons and not therapeutic — his own room had barred windows and a door alarm.

He also wants to see Maori-centred decision-making about tamariki and whanau care instead of institutional care.

Mr Urlich, who says his redress at the age of 17 significantly undervalued his worth, something he had grown used to as a Maori child of the state, and came at a time when he was still vulnerable, had not begun to process his trauma and had few options.

His is the first of many voices of Maori survivors of abuse in state and faith-based care to be heard by the commission over the next two weeks.

Counsel assisting the commission, Julia Spelman, said the reason for over-representation of Maori in negative social and economic spheres is unavoidably linked to the history of colonisation and successive governments ignoring the Treaty of Waitangi.

Ngati Whatua Orakei, who are hosting the hearing at their Auckland marae, has gifted the hearing the name "To muri te po roa, tera a Pokopoko Whiti-te-ra" to the hearing, which refers to hope and healing for survivors of abuse in care after years of darkness.

-- NATALIE AKOORIE

 

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter