France works as a public health nurse for Northland District Health Board, and graduated from Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō in June 2012. France’s formal school years were spent on her father’s home built trimaran, destined for the French coast. However, at the age of 14 France jumped ships and sailed back to New Zealand on another boat. At 18 she went back to school as an adult student.
France started her career as a community nurse in the late 70s. Over time she completed a nursing diploma and a Bachelor of Health Science in nursing – while also raising four children. She spent 15 years working in emergency departments, in New Zealand and overseas. Wanting to work in a more preventative role, she changed to the area of public health in 2010.
[In A&E] I saw a lot of things that were preventable… having to big a heart I wanted to get out and make a difference from the other side
Before the Training
Although France has undertaken leadership roles over the years, she has never considered herself a leader. Being Board of Trustee Chairperson for the school for example, was something… you just do when you want to support your children.
Prior to the training, France says she lacked self-confidence and self-esteem – likely linked to her difficulties in identifying with her mixed and troubled cultural background. While France’s father was French, her mother was born on Orakei Marae in Auckland. However, a ballot in the 1930s to move Māori out of this area saw her grandparents and mother, who was six, shift from the Marae to Panmure. As a result they were ostracized by the rest of the whanau, and later, France herself was brought up without any knowledge or connection to her Māori heritage.
I’ve lived with shame and embarrassment about being brown… only on the outside but feeling it on the inside. I was judged on both sides and just not fitting in.
France was identified as a suitable candidate for Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō by Northland DHB’s Director of Nursing. The programme challenged France on a number of levels.
I was ignorant. Didn’t have a clue what Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō was about. Saw it was for leadership… that’s not me… [And] I felt fearful… it was another one of those things that could expose my ignorance and tokenism [about being Māori].
During the training
France describes her experience of Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō as magic. She felt aroha and awhi, she felt embraced, nurtured, taught and challenged.
Tania and Grant [the facilitators] surely must have got their wings hidden underneath their skin. They are angels.
After some time, France recognised that the magic extended beyond the facilitators, to the other participants.
Once I had dropped that cloak of shame [I could feel it] from the whole group, it developed into this living breathing beast that was full of energy… that’s why it put it in me that I could do this… otherwise I’d be still stuck, I wouldn’t have stood up trying to be tall.
The most important learning for France was that the past does not have to define your future. She felt that other participants could understand her feelings and her pain. She felt inspired by guest speakers’ powerful stories of where they had come from and where they are now.
I would have picked my jaw up from the ground so many times…Even though it’s gone a while now, I can feel them [guest speakers] still rumbling underneath all that’s gone on since then. […] Being in that environment… where people had come from… and what they had achieved. [It] gave me that wee glimmer of what I could achieve.
As part of the training, France and three other Public Health Nurses from Northland undertook project work around gaining access to free dental health care for 18-21 year old rheumatic fever clients who are receiving monthly bicillin injections – most of whom are Māori or Pacific. Good oral health is imperative to avoid bacteria to travel into the blood stream, however most clients are unable to afford on-going check-ups which cease to be free at the age of 18. Free care has been secured in the far north with support from Lance O’Sullivan, Māori of the year 2012, while France is currently working on setting it up in Whangarei.
After the training
For France the most significant change, as a result of participating in Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō, is having accepted who she is – and where she is from. She has finally embraced her Māori side, no longer feels ashamed – but rather a sense of belonging and pride. She has learnt her whakapapa and is going to the marae.
Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō also improved her understanding of culture and tikanga. While previously she would have viewed her experiences as a nurse through eurocentric eyes, she now has more empathy and understanding about the why’s – and is no longer seeking out the blames. In addition, France feels more assertive at work.
Instead of sitting down listening as if I’m not brown, I’ll challenge, add another perspective, make people stop and think about how they are saying it… make people think about how they are talking.
Although France had vowed not to ever do any more academic study, she is currently completing a post graduate certificate in nursing. Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō gave her the confidence and inspiration to do this. It also opened her eyes to the disproportionate number of Māori nurses versus Māori patients. She now wants to be part of change. She wants to be a role model. She wants to walk the talk.
France is immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō. She would like to acknowledge Northland DHB clinical nurse manager and the overall team manager for making it possible for her to attend.