Dr Gregory - a medical man with a passion

By Tom Allan Hauora o Te Hiku o Te Ika Trust

TWO WORLDS: Dr Bruce Gregory (1937-2015), who strove to achieve a balance between Western medicine and rongoa. PICTURE/SUPPLIED
TWO WORLDS: Dr Bruce Gregory (1937-2015), who strove to achieve a balance between Western medicine and rongoa. PICTURE/SUPPLIED

Bruce Craig Gregory was born at Kaingaroa, east of Kaitaia, in 1937.

The son of Vivian Lauder Gregory, of Ngai Tahu and Scottish descent, and Tai Te Maru (Te Rarawa, Ngati Te Ao, Te Uri o Hina, Tahwai), he was educated at Pukepoto Native School at a time when a number of the local people were working at the Kaingaroa flax and timber mills owned by Alfred Hibbs Long, and Kaitaia College. He obtained his MBChB at Otago University, then went to work at Thames Hospital.

He would later gain distinction as the first Maori GP to practice in Kaitaia, a role he held for more than 20 years, balancing Western medicine alongside rongoa, before exchanging the small-town streets and dusty back roads of his rural practice in 1981 for a seat in Parliament as the MP for Northern Maori, following the resignation of the late Matiu Rata.

There he championed causes, including the Treaty of Waitangi, which he believed had not been honoured.

Dr Gregory believed that efforts to win back some of his people's natural treasures - land, fisheries and forests - were helping to restore their self-esteem as well.

"The morale of the Maori people was so low, knocked left, right and centre, because the Treaty had not been respected. They were losing heart in themselves as a people and as individuals, failing to grasp opportunities. One result of this was poor health," he said.

He once told the House: "I stand here tonight as a person of both European and Maori origins. I say to the House tonight that I feel ashamed of my European origin, because I believe that the Bill is an attempt to deprive a people of the rights that were theirs from the beginning of time; since their arrival. Some may even argue that Maori were always here. If we start examining some of the information before us, I wonder whether that is not true.

"The Bill is supposed to be about human rights, aboriginal rights and human decency. The Bill is supposed to be about justice, trust, universality and the common sense of all New Zealanders. The Bill is about the rights of individuals and also the rights of the collective. In the collective sense I am talking about iwi, certainly in the sense of the Maori people."

Although his time in Parliament was low-key, he subsequently played a role in gatherings of Tai Tokerau elders, where he was known for taking often controversial positions.

To quote former Labour MP Shane Jones: "To give the guy his due he firmly believed in te ao Maori challenging the orthodoxy of the day, challenging themselves, challenging the Crown, and on a regular basis he spoke at Waitangi. He spoke at all our big hui about the importance of not only Maori heritage but learning about your rights, defending your rights and using your rights."

Quitting politics in 1993, Dr Gregory returned to Kaitaia, where he became actively involved in iwi health and politics. He was a member of the NZ Council of Social Services, the NZ Maori Council, the Northern Advisory Health Committee, the Kaitaia College Board of Governors, the Far North Regional Museum, chairman of the Tai Tokerau District Maori Council, founder of the Far North Credit Union, a member of the Maori health funding and support agency MAPO and chairman of Te Taumata Kaumatua o Ngapuhi Nui Tonu.

He was very much involved in the foreshore and sea bed debate, and was involved in a number of trusts that encouraged young Maori through te reo, history, rongoa, arts and crafts. He was also involved with Maori language research with the Sir James Henare Research Centre at Auckland University.

With an interest in music, he studied the playing and manufacture of traditional Maori musical instruments at the Dunedin Museum. He also met with Richard Nunns, an accomplished player and manufacturer of koauau.

Dr Gregory was an enthusiastic writer of non-fiction articles and poetry, and was well known for vociferous letters to the editor that left the reader wondering what he meant. His favourite target was another letter writer, LR Martin, who he would regularly challenge.

He was not a man to blow his own trumpet and often used the whakatauaki 'Ko te kawau anake e whakahua ana i tana ingoa .. ko au ko au ko au' (It is only the shag (kawau) that cries his own name, it is I, it is I, it is I.)

In 1977 he carved and presented the tokotoko Te Kotahitanga o Ng Hap o Te Tai Tokerau i runga o Mataatua to the Dean of the Medical School, Professor David Cole, for use by the dean and his successors.

A new waka, 'Tinana,' was built for the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi 1990. The only outrigger canoe built at that time, it was made from two kauri logs set aside about 20 years previously by Dr Gregory.

In 1984, in line with his interest in Maori art, he attended the Te Maori Exhibition in New York, while he presented the Dr Bruce Gregory Trophy for Kaittaki Tane (Male Leader) as a gift from the heart for Maori who devote enormous time to kapa haka, his contribution to the traditional Maori performing arts and the pursuit of excellence.

Meanwhile some travelled from as far as Te Hapua and Te Kao when additions at Kaitaia Hospital were opened, leaving at 3am to attend the dawn ceremony. The hospital is the only one in the country with a whare nui, Dr Gregory organising and helping with the carvings for the whare, some of which were created by Duncan Kapa and others.

Dr Gregory was one of the committee that had decided that tupapaku were not to lie in the whare overnight, but, due to the mana and respect he had earned, he was allowed to lie there until the following day, when he was taken to his home marae.

In 2000 he became a trustee of Te Hauora o Te Hiku o Te Ika, where he again expressed his passion regarding Maori health and the employment of Maori to look after Maori. He advocated for the employment of Maori medical and non-medical staff to care for the needs of Maori, on the basis that Maori were best suited to take care of the needs and well-being of their own people.

His vision was for Maori to become financially autonomous rather than rely on government funding to improve their health and wellbeing.

In 2001, after establishing the nurse-led Maranga Mai Clinic in Kaitaia, the natural progression was to establish the trust's own GP clinic, and, with an eye ever on the future, to expand by purchasing local GP and dental practices.

- Northland Age

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