Leaders in Māori Public Health – Selah Hart

Wednesday 10 February, 2021 | Blog

As we made our way around the motu in 2020, connecting with some providers, and reconnecting with others, we at Tātaihono received one of two reactions. It was either “I know [Insert name of ex-kaimahi who is now kaumātua]” or “I’ve never heard of Hāpai before. So what better reason than this to dedicate this edition to a sit-down korero with our very own Hāpai te Hauora CEO – Selah Hart.

Selah Hart… You’re the CEO of Aotearoa’s largest Māori Public health Organization. That’s an important role, but maybe not your only important role… so the question for you is “who are you to you”?

Firstly I am Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Apa ki te Ra To, Rangitane o Wairau, Ngāti Toa, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa. These are the connections to my tūpuna that, by their legacy, I am here today. I am a mother of 5 – Sione, Siuta, Sekope, Jericho and Jordan. They mostly motivate me to ensure that the environment which they inherit is one which doesn’t make them immediately vulnerable to poor health outcomes. They’re my legacy, as am I to my tūpuna. I’ve had many roles in life, and each has played its role in shaping who I am, and so I guess my most important role, is being myself, unreservedly, every day.

Tell us about your journey to public health? 

I have a background in working in Māori Health over the past decade, originally starting my journey in Blenheim working as the receptionist for a Māori Health provider. Following my move to Tamaki Makaurau in 2008, I was honoured to have worked under a number of the powerful leaders such as Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish, and Marty Rogers at Auckland and Waitemata DHB’s in a number of roles in the Maori Health directorate, of which guided my journey to Hāpai Te Hauora since 2009. Walking into the doors of Hāpai, a modest Māori Public Health unit at that time-based in Epsom, I didn’t realise that this place would support the creation of the best version of me, in becoming a māmā, my most important role, in becoming a Public Health advocate – immersed in so much knowledge and insight from the ‘Hāpai Nation’ over these past 11 years, to where I am today, the proudest place to be for me, as the Mana Amorangi. 

So WHO is Hāpai te Hauora? 

This one is easy. Hāpai is Māori Public Health. That is the health of the public. Our X-factor is that we're Māori. By Māori, for Māori, benefitting all. Our vision is also simple: "Oranga Tangata, Oranga Whenua" (Healthy Lives, Healthy Environments)

Hāpai aims to increase opportunities for the communities we serve to enjoy good health and to be sustained by healthy environments. We do this by providing a strategic focus that is underpinned by evidence-based research for the advancement of health and well-being for all. We work both regionally and nationally to address health inequities and provide strategic solutions for long term outcomes.

At Hāpai, we're more than just a place of work, we're leaders and pioneers in Māori Public Health, Whānau Ora in action, and community-driven, evidence-informed Public health. Our role is to be 'Hāpaiō', to support and sustain systems that promote health. Simple really. Yah!

What's the vision for Hapai? 

The vision for Hāpai is everchanging, but consistent, in that we want to achieve environments for our mokopuna, in which our tīpuna thrived. I want to know that the hard work we are doing now, will not be in vain, and we will see generational outcomes that tell the stories of evolution, of disruption, and of a successful outcome! Healthy Environments achieved to sustain Healthy People. Changing narratives now to create better stories in the future. That’s the vision for Hāpai.

What gets you out of bed (or in bed and on to zoom, in these COVID times) every day?

Being woken up every morning by my tamariki, seeing their smiles as they get ready for the day, and being given the opportunity to work in a role such as Hāpai te Hauora. Every day has variety and it keeps me excited and on my toes! The work of Hāpai te Hauora is definitely not a 9-5 job, and Public Health is definitely a long-game. That doesn't make it any less exciting!

If anyone is looking for those ‘quick wins’, Public Health is probably not for you! People dedicate their entire life to topics and areas of passion across the vast spectrum of disease prevention and health promotion, and for some, they leave this earth with much more to do. If that doesn’t get you out of bed, the passion and commitment to serving others, then I don’t know what will.

What does it mean to be an indigenous, young woman, leading at the forefront of Public health here in Aotearoa?

In these short 33 years on earth, I must always acknowledge the shoulders I stood on to get to where I am, and for all those special people who have supported my journey, I could not be here without them. For my tīpuna, for my whānau, for my colleagues, for my children, and for my future mokopuna I promise to do all that I can, while given this mana, so as to make their future better than what I could have ever dreamed of. 

Reflecting on the mere fact that I was born in the year Te Reo Māori was made an “official language” of Aotearoa makes me even more passionate to not only learn the language I was not immersed in due to colonisation of my grandparents but to make it a right never ever to be taken away from my mokopuna. What this also means is that the foundation that I can lay now to ensure they thrive in a world far better than I have, is why I do what I do, and if not for anything else, I continue to work tirelessly to achieve that for them!