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Whanau Aid and Rehabilitation

Hon Tariana Turia
Monday 26 August 2002 Speech Notes

Prepared for delivery to AGM, Christchurch Branch,

Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society.

Whanau Aid and Rehabilitation

E te mana whenua, Ngai Tahu, kei te mihi au ki a koutou.
E nga iwi, e nga reo e huihui nei, tena koutou katoa.

Madam president, committee and members of PARS, thank you for your invitation to speak here this evening.

I hope I am not here on false pretences. When you invited me, I was Associate Minister of Corrections – but not any longer. I gave up that role, so no-one can accuse me of conflicts of interest with my advocacy for prisoners. Advocacy is something I will continue to do.

I could wear several other Ministerial hats tonight:

- as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, to honour an organisation with almost 125 years of community and voluntary work to your credit
- as Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment – those being key planks of your support for prisoners and their families.

The hat that feels most comfortable is that of Associate Minister of Maori Affairs. I wear this hat to talk about the government’s whanau development approach to my portfolio, and its relevance to aid and rehabilitation of prisoners.

We must acknowledge that a high proportion of inmates are tangata whenua. Past government policies have failed to deliver equity to tangata whenua. How can this government break out of the cycle of failure?

The most important thing is to listen to tangata whenua for solutions. Accepting that idea is the first step towards change.

Tangata whenua tell us we cannot improve the situation of individuals without addressing how it came about. That applies in health, housing, education, or support for prisoners.

A successful approach must look for underlying causes, and incorporate prevention as part of the solution.

Over 200 years of history, tangata whenua have seen the steady breakdown of their traditional structures of social organisation, and their corresponding loss of political power and control of resources.

Imprisonment could be seen as the ultimate step in this process – the complete disempowerment and isolation of Maori individuals from their community, to the detriment of both.

When we consider how to improve the position of individual Maori people, we must look at the family and community context.

PARS does this. It is obvious from your record that PARS sees maintaining family networks as a key to rehabilitation – for prisoners and the family.

But, for tangata whenua, this begs the question: what is family?

Around the election, there was a lot of talk about ‘family values’. Again I ask the question: what are family values? Are values culturally bound?

For tangata whenua, our primary family organisations are whanau and hapu. A nuclear family is simply not a big enough unit to maintain our distinctive language and our customs – or the underlying values.

At the simplest level, how do grandparents maintain contact with their mokopuna in a nuclear family? Or how do you feed a visiting group of relations, and where do they sleep, if you live in a small flat, and you barely manage from week to week on a tight budget?

Now, I’m sure we all know families of parents and children who are barely coping with economic and personal pressure - especially with the added stigma of a member in prison.

For tangata whenua, there is another whole layer of stresses. Nuclear families who cannot meet their cultural obligations may find themselves increasingly isolated from the wider whanau. Children have less chance to learn the values of their ancestors. This weakens the fabric of the family, and adds to the stress. It’s a vicious circle. And it may affect apparently successful nuclear families.

As tangata whenua, we try to overcome this problem by networking, pooling resources, and sharing. Restoring those wider family networks is part of our rehabilitation.

My question tonight is: ‘How can PARS best help tangata whenua?’

I want to say at the outset, that Maori prisoners and their families clearly accept your current approach. I suspect the majority come to PARS first, rather than to their iwi, for help with problems. In fact, the very existence of PARS is a challenge to iwi organisations, because your service helps to meet an obvious need.

I wonder, thought, whether PARS recognises the wider problem of the cultural stresses affecting tangata whenua. Perhaps the families you see as a source of strength are themselves suffering cultural stresses which may not be recognised.

PARS can help by engaging with, and supporting, the organisations that tangata whenua put in place, so they are better able help themselves.

I understand that formal relationships between PARS and tangata whenua may vary place to place.

For example, I believe that in Gisborne, PARS has formal protocols in place for dealing with whanau of Maori prisoners.

PARS members meet whanau face to face, in line with general preferences of tangata whenua. I’m told this policy developed from their experience of social work that was not done well over the phone – because not all of a family’s circumstances could be seen.

I also understand that your nationwide network is a strength of PARS. So, for example, a prisoner in Christchurch can ask you to contact family in Gisborne through the Gisborne branch. Can all branches reciprocate properly, in appropriate ways?

I’m also told that some branches of PARS have formal relationships with the tangata whenua of their areas, through iwi organisations or runanga. This is excellent.

By working together, PARS and the iwi can challenge and support each other. Most of all, prisoners stand to benefit from better services.

So far, I have talked mainly about whanau outside prison as a source of strength for prisoners.

On the inside, programmes to connect prisoners with tikanga Maori and cultural heritage can have dramatic effects, as individuals draw strength, knowledge, and a sense of purpose directly from contact with their taonga tuku iho – the heritage of their ancestors.

Such programmes take for granted that cultural resources are out there for people to tap into. But the breakdown of whanau and tribal communities has got to a point where public support is required for revitalisation of te reo Maori, for example.

I believe this places a general obligation on all citizens who want to support Maori individuals, to get involved and support the Maori cultural and political renaissance, by working through hapu and iwi organisations.

Perhaps you, as members of PARS, and PARS as an organisation, may have role here too.

These are simply ideas and suggestions that you might want to consider. I know PARS has Maori members, and a kaumatua on your national body, so you are well placed to respond as you see fit.

Kia ora tatou katoa.


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