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Cultural rights are human rights

Cultural rights are human rights

The cultural rights of tangata whenua are human rights, and people of all cultures should support them, says Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia.

Mrs Turia was responding to statements by public law specialist Colin Keating, and today's Dominion Post editorial, that human rights legislation prevails over the cultural rights of tangata whenua.

"Our culture is vital to our identity and survival as tribal peoples. If our cultural rights are less than human rights, are we less than human?" she asked.

"When our ancestors signed the Treaty of Waitangi, they intended to continue being tangata whenua, and they sought protection for all those aspects of our culture which make us who we are.

"Te Tiriti o Waitangi is quite explicit: 'Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata Maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.' In other words, the Queen of England (the Crown) will protect all the Maori people of New Zealand and allow them all their customs, just the same as English people are [allowed] theirs.

"Our people fully respect the human rights of others, including equality of the sexes. Our tribal cultures recognise that men and women are equal, and each has their own special status in formal ceremonies and ritual. The purpose of our rituals is to keep people safe, not to discriminate or put anyone down.

"It is the right and the duty of tangata whenua to practice our culture as we see fit. Cultures change and adapt, but if changes are made, they will be made by tangata whenua and nobody else. That is inherent in our rangatiratanga.

"We live in a nation that claims to value cultural diversity. People can be encouraged to respect our differences, even if they do not fully understand or agree with our customs," said Mrs Turia. "Every day in Parliament, MPs respect the Speaker's prayer, whether they are Christian or not."

"Tangata whenua are tired of our culture being compromised for the sake of others. We bless public projects with karakia, for example, in good faith ? do official bodies see our culture as window-dressing which has no real meaning?

"To dismiss our cultural practices as 'outrageous' or 'idiotic' or 'daft delusions' is no way to build a society based on inclusion and mutual respect. The media and public figures have special responsibilities not to aggravate intolerance by using inflammatory and insulting language.

"I support the recent call by Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres, to 'embrace the notion that particular actions are required to ensure that Maori as well as Pakeha heritage and culture is protected, fostered, respected and celebrated'," said Mrs Turia.

"I am confident solutions can be found. For example, our reo was suppressed and stifled for decades in a hostile climate of public opinion. Nowadays our language is respected and valued, even by those who do not speak it themselves. Our people welcome this support, as we rapidly restore te reo to its rightful place as an icon of our nation, for the benefit of everybody.

"A similar open-hearted approach could help to resolve other cultural differences," said Mrs Turia.

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