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Tariana Turia: Beehive Chat 21 October 2002

Tariana Turia: Beehive Chat 21 October 2002

Beehive Chat 21 October 2002

Last week I read a research report on the living standards of older Maori.

The report is intended to promote informed debate, and lead to evidence-based policy, "on the situation of Maori (as tangata whenua of New Zealand) as well as non-Maori". I think this is unlikely, because the research does not reflect tangata whenua paradigms, or world views.

The study measures the material well-being of individual kaumatua. But tangata whenua live in communities. It is our whakapapa, our membership of whanau, and our distinct reo, tikanga, and taonga tuku iho that make us tangata whenua.

Our well-being as tangata whenua depends on the well-being of our communities, our culture and heritage, as well as our personal living standards.

The study highlights that one in five Maori over 65 face severe financial difficulties, and nearly as many again face some difficulty - over a third of our old people in total.

The report says: "The results showed a trend for a more secure [Maori] identity to be associated with reduced material well-being."

In other words, being Maori has a cost, because Maori lifestyles expose you to risks of poverty. Around 1 in 12 of our old people experienced five or more known risk factors.

That's because many of our people have chosen to sacrifice their personal, material well-being in order to support their whanau, and the reo and tikanga that can only survive in a whanau context.

Some chose to stay in their traditional communities to farm the family land and keep the marae warm, instead of leaving to find work in the cities.

Others went with their children to the city, and made themselves available day and night, every day, to provide leadership, and cultural and moral authority to the emerging urban Maori communities.

Still others raised many children of extended whanau, or eked out a living as weavers and carvers long before it was fashionable - the list goes on.

Our kaumatua knew instinctively what criminology and mental health research are now telling the "experts" - that tangata whenua who are alienated from their culture and identity are more at risk of psychological stress, drug abuse, criminal offending, and other anti-social behaviour.

Without the sacrifices of this generation of kaumatua, we might not have a language to protect and promote, much of our matauranga might have been lost, and our people scattered to the four winds. Our kaumatua worked tirelessly to prevent social and cultural breakdown, and they have paid a price.

The material poverty of our kaumatua today is a measure of our nation's debt to them.

This report does not show that. The research focuses on the failure of Maori individuals to reach standards defined by others. It paints a very negative picture. It highlights the personal costs of living in a whanau - but does not record how successful whanau have been in maintaining the distinct identity, tikanga and taonga tuku iho of tangata whenua.

I believe mainstream social survey methods and statistical data analysis are part of a colonial research paradigm that does not recognise the whanau dimension of Maori lifestyles. New research and evaluation methodologies are required, to fully capture the experience of tangata whenua.

This report mentions an earlier study, which found that active policies for whanau development are needed if kaumatua in the future are to remain involved and continue to play essentially positive roles.

We need balance in these studies. The focus must not always be on deficits. The richness of our kaumatua contribution must set an example to future generations, and not be lost in our search for material gain.


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