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Launch of Project MANA

30 June 00 Speech Notes

Launch of Project MANA

It is appropriate that as we meet here in this place for the launch of Project M.A.N.A. (Make a noise Aotearoa), we think about the many young lives that we have lost to suicide. And as we think about them and honour them, we must also think about our responses to this issue and our collective responsibilities to the development of a society where young Maori people are treasured for who they are.

A society where the contribution that the young can make to our collective wellbeing is valued and elevated.

A society where we do not allow the dismantling of the cultural identity of our Maori youth but understand it as the central part of their survival in this world.

A society where we understand that whakapapa makes Maori youth different and unique. Understand that whakapapa and the restoration of whanau, hapu and iwi identity and all that this means, is critical to the survival of Maori youth.

I want to congratulate Crown Public Health for taking a lead with Project MANA.
I am sure that everyone here is aware of how serious the problem of youth suicide is in New Zealand.

It is exciting to see initiatives like Project MANA, which are able to bring life and energy to strategies such as Kia Piki te Ora and In Our Hands. Without communities developing local initiatives that recognise and serve the needs of their populations, the strategies will not be able to make the long term gains we expect for our youth.
Underpinning all these, is the need to expand our information and research-base to guide the development of effective prevention interventions.

While Project MANA is a mainstream strategy, it is equally relevant to Mäori. Project MANA strongly recognises the importance of identity and connectedness to whänau, hapü and iwi and is based more upon a community development approach to prevention. Again reflecting the notion of suicide prevention being everyone’s business in Mäori communities.

Our rangatahi are particularly vulnerable, and I welcome any strategy for ensuring that they get appropriately targeted and delivered services from mainstream providers.

It is also important that we individually and collectively stop judging young people who participate in suicide as a response to the misery of their lives. That is intrinsic to the restoration of our youth as active participants and architects of the kind of society we want for the future of Aotearoa.

Let us not cast judgement here today but let us celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us and recognise our responsibilities to the building of a society that young Maori want to be a part of.

We must begin to build a society where it is no longer acceptable to tolerate oppression and powerlessness, alienation and the estrangement of our youth, particularly our Maori youth, from our collective existence.

We must begin to build a society free of apathy, free of complacency and one that is based on constructive development that engages our youth. Their input into our collective survival as Maori is critical.

I want now to turn briefly to He Pütahitanga Hou, which sets out, amongst other things, the Government’s vision for Mäori health. As you may know, the Government has prioritised improving services to young people. In our policy, we recognise suicide as a key issue for rangatahi Mäori, along with such related concerns as alcohol and substance abuse, mental illness, and the experience of abuse and violence.

We are clear that initiatives need to be focused on positive aspects of life, be culturally affirming and encourage positive behaviours. Programmes need to address the causes of youth suicide. They should use avenues like music, the arts, sports, and recreation to put their messages across. And they must be related to developing employment and skills development opportunities for young people.

I want to discuss the issue of responsibility for suicide prevention. Who should have it and how should it be exercised. I emphasise the prevention of Maori youth suicide today because Maori youth have suicide rates nearly half as high again as those of non-Maori. This trend is evident even given what may be significant under reporting of Maori ethnicity in official death statistics and ongoing difficulties over the interpretation and labelling of behaviour resulting in death.

What I find most disturbing in the trends for Maori youth suicide is that this trend is mirrored in indigenous populations the world over.

The question that I pose is what does this tell us about the relative experiences of indigenous youth?. What are the particular characteristics of indigenous youth suicide that render indigenous youth more pre disposed to suicide. Where do we turn to for explanation of this difference and how do we make sense of it?.

I suggest to you that the difference resides in the trauma of colonisation and its aftermath for indigenous peoples.

The difference resides in the alienation of indigenous including Maori youth from their identity whatever their particular whakapapa is. The difference resides in the removal of indigenous and Maori rights to be self determining.

The difference resides in the abnormalising of the indigenous condition.
The difference resides in the breakdown of cultural traditions that moderated individual behaviour in context of the collective cultural interest over generations.

I want to reflect on the journey of Kia Piki Te Ora o Te Taitamariki, the Maori component of the national youth suicide prevention strategy. Although Project MANA responds to Maori youth suicide in context of youth suicide generally, it is important that we continue to be concerned about the rising Maori youth suicide rates.

Kia Piki Te Ora o Te Taitamariki had a twelve year gestation period. It took twelve years of lobbying for recognition that Aotearoa has a Maori youth suicide problem. It took twelve years of ardent campaigning on the part of Maori to validate the cultural and historical dynamics of the rising Maori youth suicide rate. It took twelve years of being told that suicide and culture are not related. That suicide and colonisation are not related. That Maori suicide should be subsumed within an analysis of the ‘ New Zealand’ youth suicide problem and not have an identity or analysis of its own.

We have come a very long way in our understanding and recognition of the characteristics of Maori and indigenous youth suicide. I applaud those Maori who overcame significant challenges to their ideas about the reasons for Maori youth suicide and the linking of those ideas to the global position of indigenous youth.

The ideology that informs Kia Piki Te Ora o Te Taitamariki is one of whanau, hapu, iwi and Maori community development. It is a strategy that validates the uniqueness of Maori youth. It is a strategy that validates the centrality of whakapapa and locates that within context of whanau, hapu and iwi rights to determine how we address Maori youth suicide prevention. It is also a strategy that seeks commitment from mainstream services to better respond to the needs of Maori youth without victimising them further. Project MANA responds to goal number four of Kia Piki Te Ora O Te Taitamariki - "To encourage and assist mainstream services to respond appropriately and effectively to the needs of rangatahi Mäori through the establishment of partnerships with Mäori."

So again, I welcome the Project MANA initiative, which draws on the strengths of the communities in which our youth live and uses them to identify and address the needs of those youth.

ENDS

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