Hon Dr Pita Sharples
Minister of Māori Affairs
A VIOLENCE-FREE FUTURE
Te Hauora o Ngāti Haua National Māori whānau Conference
at Te Iti o Haua Marae, Hamilton
2 December 2009
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Recently, we lost one of our most promising leaders; Hawea Vercoe, in what appears to be a mindless, random act of violence. He was struck down, in the prime of his life, having already accomplished much towards his commitment to achieving the aspirations of Māori people.
Hawea was a fantastic educator who ensured the tamariki of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Rotoiti—a school he was proud to be Principal of—experienced education in its widest sense.
His stand to have the word “Kura” on his school buses a few years ago, motivated as much by his love of the reo as his pride in his kura, led to a policy change at Land Transport New Zealand.
He fulfilled much in his 36 years but there was still so much promise in what he was yet to do.
Hawea’s march towards even greater achievements for Māori has been halted by the blight on our existence—violence.
A young man has been charged with Hawea’s murder and the judicial process must complete its course.
But this very sad event painfully reminds us yet again of the senselessness of violent acts which rob us of our potential.
The violence we seek to address at this gathering is the violence within families.
But wherever and whenever it occurs, violence in all its ugly forms needs to be acknowledged and addressed—whether it is a random street act or calculated and sustained abuse over many years.
At times, the level of violence in our communities seems unrelenting and unstoppable.
Every time we learn of yet another promising life taken in a violent act, the grief we all experience, whether or not we are closely related or associated to the victim of violence can wear our spirits down.
It is probably understandable if we feel so disheartened that we wonder, what more can we do?
But it is precisely during these moments that we have to dig deeper to embrace the vision that motivates us all in our efforts to bring about a violence-free society.
That is, the beautiful smiling and healthy faces of our tamariki and mokopuna growing into beautiful healthy adults. Competent and comfortable in te ao Māori, fluent in the reo, and successful in the wider community and indeed as citizens of the world.
It is only in a world free from violence that this vision will be realised.
Coming together; as we have today and over the next two days, as Māori family violence practitioners, community workers and whānau, hapū and iwi members, is vital because it helps us to celebrate a violence-free future.
But it’s also important to come together to rejuvenate our spirits to keep on with the good work.
It is critical to encourage these forums at all levels – there can never be too much of this type of gathering with its all kaupapa of life-or-death importance.
Perhaps some of our most motivating lessons come too from the actions of those who want to turn around a life-time of violent behaviour either as perpetrators or victims.
Just over a year ago, one of the most powerful stories of a man who fought to change his violent ways was published.
As Celia Lashlie wrote about J J Joseph’s Fighting for my Life: the confession of a violent offender
It will only be when men’s voices are clearly and consistently heard speaking out against domestic violence that real progress will be made.
Its vivid and raw descriptions exposed a terrible lifetime of violence at the hands of his own father, and then through his assault on his wife.
But it also revealed his deep remorse at the violence he perpetuated and the courage it takes to not only write his story down in its raw honesty, but also to allow others to read about such disturbing truths.
Another inspirational man who changed his abusive ways was sadly lost to us earlier this year when he died of cancer.
Dr Paratene Ngata passed away earlier this year aged 62 years.
Known to many affectionately as “Dr Pat”, he was an inspirational figure for many reasons.
As a medical practitioner he was passionate about hauora Māori, and specifically about public health issues that affected Māori.
Throughout his lifetime, Dr Pat worked tirelessly towards a vision of whānau ora; to achieve the maximum health and wellbeing of Māori families.
He was equally passionate in his commitment to safe whānau.
At a time several years ago, when the country reeled in shock and mourned the death of the Kahui twins, Dr Pat made an emotional stand against domestic violence that was widely reported in the media.
When he buried his father in 2006 he told the crowd at the tangi that:
the family was burying their heritage of violence.
It was, he said then:
a simple way of saying we were exposed to violence as children and in our family, but we have been able to break the cycle
Dr Pat became a staunch campaigner against family violence more than 20 years before he buried his father.
He broke the cycle of violence after nearly killing one of his sons. At the time of his father’s funeral he said he knew he had to change when his wife said he was just like his father.
He left instructions that at his tangihanga, people wear the white ribbon as a symbol of their enduring commitment to peace and whānau ora.
In J J Joseph’s and Dr Pat’s stories we can feel hopeful that a violence-free society is indeed within our grasp.
We gain even more hope when our whānau, hapū and iwi leaders stand up to accept the awful actions of their own who perpetuate violence and vow publically to work even harder to stop the abuse.
And we must end this silence.
The silence in which injustice continues unabated; in which dreams are shattered; potential destroyed.
Nga Kaupapa Muna – the Unspoken Issues.
Some of you may remember the lyrics of a Simon and Garfunkel classic: “people talking without speaking; people hearing without listening; people writing songs that voices never share and no one dared; disturb the sound of silence”.
Today is the time to disturb the sound of silence, to speak of the unspeakable.
It is time to rally against the insidious violence that robs us of our greatest treasures; our children.
It is time to shatter the illusions that what goes on behind closed doors stays there; that the sanctuary of the family home escapes scrutiny.
We must not under-estimate the impact of abuse upon our lives, upon our economy, upon all aspects of our community.
Abuse whether it be physical, psychological, sexual, emotional is an attack against the person, and in doing so, an attack against their whakapapa, their whanau, their identity.
And we must see all violence within that definition – including abusive and offensive remarks; derogatory language; intimidating behaviour. Whether it is in a gang war; a newspaper column; or across the airwaves, abuse of any sort brings shame to us all.
If we look at the issue that is perhaps least spoken about, that of sexual abuse, we have an indication of the devastation we seek to address.
A Massey University study conducted by Dr Shirley Jülich found that by the time they reach 16, a quarter of girls and 9% of boys will have experienced sexual abuse. The study concluded that sexual abuse costs New Zealand $2.4 billion a year. Sexual abuse costs adult survivors $900m in lost earnings, extra health bills and a lifetime of unmet potential.
Harmful effects include depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; self-destructive behaviours such as self-harm; substance abuse; eating disorders; aggression and inappropriate sexual behaviour. And of course like all forms of abuse, it can be a driver of future criminal offending.
This Symposium then, is an opportunity for us all to confront the silence that stifles debate; the unspoken issues that destroy the spirit and soul of our communities.
Some have suggested the silence of fear is best understood in the context of whakama.
Ngā Kaitiaki Mauri have suggested that Māori women are often reluctant to report sexual assault as they feel they won’t be believed or that they deserved it because they are Māori.
Mereana Pitman has also argued that the internalising of racist discourses, as part of the impact of colonization, creates feelings of shame that can be so overwhelming that it’s easier to ignore and keep silent than name and confront. And so the abuse continues.
Understanding the concept of whakamā can help us to understand how shame and self-blame can silence survivors, but how this silence also leaves survivors vulnerable to ongoing abuse.
I think what Mereana is reminding us, is that the impacts of our past are inextricably linked to how we respond to the horror of the violence within our communities now.
The artist, Diane Prince, wrote with regard to the loss of Māori land and the attempted elimination of the Māori language that
‘One of the most effective ways to silence a people is to silence its heart, its memories, its intellectual base, to cut out its tongue.’
There is always a context that is never far from the surface when we talk of issues of loss, of pain, of anger and grief.
But within that context, we will also find the promise of strategies of resistance and challenge that we can turn to now, as we muster all of our efforts in this unholy war against violence and abuse in all of our communities.
We must each of us own the leadership that is legendary amongst our whanau, hapu and iwi.
All of us must dig deep into our traditions and challenge the social construct of silence that often surrounds offending within families.
The cone of silence that surrounds family and sexual violence can reinforce offending behaviour by the keeping of ‘secrets’. We can all think of situations where whānau have ‘closed ranks’ to both the community and the authorities.
Addressing attitudes to violence and abuse in our society must however move beyond the polarization of victims and offenders; to the recognition that often offenders carry a history of having been offended against as well.
Rather than spend our time in condemning others, I would suggest our time is better invested in taking steps to support those who are taking the actions to restore our whanau to sites of safety.
One of the key reasons for us in coming together today, is to show that collective courage to stand up, to take ownership, and to take control of our destiny.
I am so heartened by the collective resolve of some of our marae to make a stand against violence, by the strategies they have developed, to ensure their future is one that they create for themselves.
I am inspired by the stories of marae who are prohibiting abusers from taking a place on the paepae; from speakers who in their whaikorero are taking the moment to challenge each other about the abuse in their midst.
And I think of the way in which Te Arawa leader, Toby Curtis, fronted the media head on and stood up to take responsibility for the failure of his whanau to properly care for one of their mokopuna. It was an important action in so many respects – it revealed the collective shame and horror being felt by that whanau; while at the same time making a commitment that this abuse would stop.
Toby Curtis gives credence to the whakatauaki ‘Kia mau koe ki te kupu a tōu matua’ –reminding us of the importance of role-modeling the example we want the next generations to follow.
As a Government, we believe a greater focus on the wellbeing of the whānau will help to lead us forward, to restore our homes to a place of safety and love; to change that which is ours to change.
I have recently launched a number of initiatives in this area, with the announcement of the implementation of the Kaitoko Whānau and the Oranga Whānau resources into communities.
These initial resources will be part of a wider approach by government to provide more opportunities to do for themselves.
My colleague Tariana Turia is also leading a significant policy programme of work around the drive for Whanau ora.
Ultimately, this is where our greatest hope lies – when our whanau are responsible and accountable for our actions; when we deal honestly and openly with conflict; and when we value, support, respect, care and love each other to experience our full potential.
I wish us all great courage in the journey to take us to that point – a point when our communities are violence free, are self-determining and the promise of all our people is realized.