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Students ask: “what makes someone a ‘kiwi’”?

Students ask: “what makes someone a ‘kiwi’”?

Auckland, New Zealand (Friday 12 May 2017)

Students from around the country have asked kiwis to stand up against racism and reconsider what it means to be a New Zealander.

On Saturday night, Tauawhi Bonilla of Te Aute College won the National Final of the 2017 Race Unity Speech Awards. Mr Bonilla challenged our idea of what makes someone a ‘kiwi’:

“I believe there are only three ingredients that you need to become a kiwi; kindness, loyalty and humility and after that, like any good chef, we can add whatever we as individuals have, like for me personally, a cup of Māoritanga, a tablespoon of Latino, a pinch of well-crafted muscles and a dash of good looks to make my own version of the same pavlova cake. We are all the same, but all unique at the same time, our unity empowers us, but our diversity strengthens us.

“…It’s unity through kindness, loyalty and humility, that is what spin the wheels of our humble little country.”

Mr Bonilla also urged us to address the “taniwha in the room” and start meaningful conversations about the realities of racism:

“Firstly, we need to confront our own racial biases…. If we are using racial slurs like “curry muncher” where is the unity in that? Where is the unity that we so proudly hold in our kiwi values? And if we corrupt these values, then what do we stand for?”

The 2017 Race Unity Speech Awards were contested by over 150 high school students from 14 different regions of New Zealand. The six national finalists spoke with eloquence, conviction and humour on the kaupapa of standing up to racism and promoting harmony and unity.

Runner up George Sabonadiere of Logan Park High School in Dunedin, characterised racism as a “beast” and asked us to fight racism with empathy and understanding:

“the scariest thing is that we believe we have tamed it. It cannot be tamed. … When the economy was collapsing, Hitler blamed the Jews. When industry wasn’t productive enough, Stalin went after the Poles. But the people who buy these ideas are not inherently evil. They are poisoned by fear, plagued with ignorance and blinded by hatred. So we cannot simply shun them…. Don’t feed the beast with the crumbs of intolerance. Simply understand.”

A group of students and teachers from New Plymouth Boy’s High School sang a waiata to support Mr Sabonadiere’s speech, and to recognise the connection between Parihaka and Dunedin. In 1869, 74 men from Parihaka were sent to Dunedin to complete their sentence of hard labour. 18 of these men died during their sentence, which lasted until 1872.

The Race Unity Speech Awards were initiated by the New Zealand Baha’i Community in 2001, following the death of race relations activist Hedi Moani. The abolition of racial prejudice is a core aim of the Baha’i Faith, and the oneness of humanity is one of the Faith’s principal teachings. Several of the finalists spoke about how focusing on our common identity as human beings can be a source of unity. Mortaza Sahar of Pakuranga College made this point eloquently:

“for our society to become more racially united we must not perceive each other as different races or religions, but we must first and foremost acknowledge each other as human beings. ‘If someone is not your brother in faith, he is your brother in humanity.’ This Islamic proverb reminds us that we must respect everyone's race and beliefs because we are all the roots connected to this one giant tree, called humanity. Isaac Asimov said it best ‘There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity.’ “

Immediately before the National Finals, an all-day Conference was attended by the finalists and semi-finalists, their supporters, and other interested youth and adults. The Conference was opened with a keynote speech from former New Plymouth Mayor and race relations advocate Andrew Judd on his efforts to confront his own prejudices as a “recovering racist” and his experience trying to recognise and address racial inequality in Taranaki.

The participants in the Conference discussed the state of race relations in Aotearoa and what actions we can all take to stand up to racism, and prevent racism by promoting harmony and understanding. In the afternoon, some of the participants worked on a submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, while others expressed their ideas about race relations through the arts, including slam poetry and drama.

The sponsors of the 2017 Race Unity Speech Awards were the New Zealand Police (principal sponsor), the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Ethnic Communities, and the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust. Entertainment was provided by singer-songwriter Tommy Nee, who released his debut EP ‘Colourblind’ in October 2016. Mr. Nee performed free of charge because of his passion for the kaupapa of race unity.


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