Ngāi Tahu babies get sleeping packs

10:24 am on 23 November 2015

The South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu is taking it upon itself to keep Maori babies alive.

From January, all Ngāi Tahu newborns will receive a safe sleeping pack that includes a sleeping device which is reducing Māori rates of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) in other parts of the country.

The initiative was launched at the biennial tribal festival Hui ā Iwi in Dunedin at the weekend.

It will provide new babies with a flax woven sleeping pod, information about Ngāi Tahu heritage, a pounamu, some clothing items, bibs and blankets.

Rūnanga deputy chair Lisa Tumahai launched the new pack.

"From day one, our pepi will know that they are Ngāi Tahu. From day one, our pepi will have their Ngāi Tahu whakapapa by their side. And from day one, our pepi can hear the old traditions of their tupuna passed down."

Māori account for over 60 percent of the SUDI rates in New Zealand.

Ngai Tahu's safe sleeping pack

Ngai Tahu's safe sleeping pack Photo: RNZ/ Leigh Marama McLachlan

A rollout of wahakura in other parts of the country in recent years has been credited with a 30 percent reduction in Maori infant mortality rates.

The pack was about educating whanau on safe sleeping practices, Ms Tumahai said.

"Our whānau still sleep baby in bed with them. Our grandparents still sleep their mokopuna in bed with them.

"We want to educate them that they can do it differently, by putting baby in the wahakura. You can also lay the wahakura on the bed with you."

New mum Takiwai Russell was the first to receive the pack for her baby boy Tamaraukura.

"It'll definitely help pepi because he does sleep with us in the bed. So hopefully it'll mean that we get some of our space back and that he won't wake up as much as well.

"I've always thought that an initiative like this needs to be put in place and I'm really quite thankful that we've been awarded this wahakura with all the stuff in it."

Te Rānanga o Ngāi Tahu chairman Sir Mark Solomon said it was protecting the future of the tribe.

"It's a way of welcoming them into the tribe. They get a bit of history of their people as part of the package, clothing etc. I think it's a lovely gesture.

"It's about my grandchildren now, not my children."

About 100 Ngāi Tahu babies are born and registered each year but the iwi said it was too early to say how much the initiative would cost.

Ms Russell said you can't put a price on the safety of your baby.

"I think I just want him to be proud of who he is and be happy. Just be a happy, happy kid. And just strive to be whatever he wants to be."

Local weavers will make the wahakura. The packs will be available to all newborn Ngāi Tahu who are registered with the iwi, no matter where in the world they live.