1918 Influenza pandemic's devastating impact on Māori

By Regan Paranihi

A memorial plaque has been placed at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park to commemorate those who lost their lives during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic here in New Zealand.

It is believed that no other event has killed so many New Zealanders in such a short time. 

Today's ceremony was also an unveiling of the past to help the nation remember the fallen.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled the plaque at this morning's ceremony, "In 1918 we lost roughly 9000 people and it did have a particular impact on Māori."

The influenza epidemic at the end of 1918 was a terrible experience for thousands of NZ homes. 

It was also a time when renowned Māori leader, Dame Whina Cooper, felt helpless.

"Dame Whina Cooper lost her father and we can hear accounts of that history here," says Ardern.

She also read aloud a quote from Dame Whina Cooper herself which said, "Everyone was sick no one to help they were dying one after the other my father was very, very sick then he was the first to die I couldn't do anything for him." 

This pandemic caused 9000 deaths and Māori deaths accounted for a quarter to a third of the deaths. Back then there were no cures for the disease, however, now the times have changed.

"The fatality rate for Māori was at least seven times that of Pākehā," says Ardern.

"This is a reminder that of course when we don't have control and the use of modern medicine, how devastating pandemics can be."

The Māori Women's Welfare League President, Prue Kapua, says, "Whether it's immunisation, whether it's the population screening we still come off worse than any other group and we haven't ever addressed that. We haven't addressed the inequities that stem back from then to today."

She also says that with the continuous spread of disease here in Aotearoa, protecting our children should be paramount.

"I think that if we can protect our babies in terms of some of these diseases that we have then we should be doing that."

Kapua says the issues they faced in 1918 still need to be addressed in this day and age.

"We still have that issue and we haven't addressed it and we won't address it until there's more funding put into that."

The plaque recognises how this tragedy has helped shape modern-day practices today.