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Cohesion & Tangata Whenua Constitutional Status

Hon. Tariana Turia
27 September 2003 Speech Notes


Social Cohesion and the Constitutional Status of Tangata Whenua


Tena koutou e hui nei i raro i te mana o te maunga Taranaki, na reira tena koe Taranaki, a tena hoki koutou o Te Ati Awa.

Thank you for the invitation to join with you today.

I am particularly pleased to have been given the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the nature of social cohesion and the constitutional status of tangatawhenua.

Before doing so however I want to pay a special tribute to all the people who give of their time in serving others.

I know people have a variety of reasons for becoming volunteers and I have come to appreciate that more, as I meet the increasing number of people who give of their time and energy to others. Yours is one such group.

Our country has a proud tradition of an active voluntary sector. Last year some 59% of New Zealanders over the age of 12 spent some time in voluntary work.

Even as I speak there are thousands of people helping to ensure that today’s sports events are run smoothly.

There are others I know who will be attending tangihanga, where whakapapa ties and obligations are being played out, in the oratory, the dirges and the eulogies.

Tribute will be paid to the deceased and to the bereaved family while other relatives are digging the grave and yet others are preparing the celebratory meal or hakari following burial.

Songs will be sung and learnt. Stories and whanau histories will be told. The reciprocal nature of the institution of the koha will have been demonstrated.

All these people are contributing towards and participating in the creation of a socially cohesive society that is the focus of my talk with you today.

While much has been written and said about social cohesion in recent years, its role in creating strong communities and its contribution to economic development is possibly not as well understood, and widely recognised.

Social cohesion is best defined by describing its features, or results.

Cohesive societies have high levels of participation, respect and trust among their members.

In cohesive societies, people can participate – and they know their participation makes a difference. Trust builds up through the functioning of open and effective networks. The mutual trust created by networks and co-operation helps to create a more secure society.

Linkages must be built within groups of people who are similar or who have similar aims.

But they must also be built between groups of people who are different, for each to respect the other and positively contribute to the community in which they live.

When the networks that hold communities together are nurtured, communities are empowered; even to the point that social cohesion can redress the effects of socio-economic disadvantage.

The benefits of social cohesion are sometimes called social capital.

I have mentioned some of these already: higher levels of trust and social participation, and better access for everyone to opportunities and resources.

These, in turn, generate economic activity.

Conversely, when social institutions fail, or cease to be relevant, people are excluded and prevented from realising their potential. And it is not just the individuals who miss out - society is the poorer for it—quite literally.

When trust and co-operation are missing, society loses its capacity to be self-regulating. Informal, reciprocal arrangements based on goodwill and mutual benefit are replaced by costly, inflexible rules and regulations.

Lack of social cohesion can also create difficulty for people in finding employment and other opportunities.

We all know that most jobs are found through networks, rather than through formal channels.

The fewer networks a community has, the fewer chances people have to learn what opportunities are out there.

Just as social cohesion creates more social cohesion, the reverse is also true.

It concerns me therefore when I hear the cry for more punitive gaol sentences, and more prisons for more of our citizens.

It concerns me that while there were many areas of social life in Aotearoa/New Zealand which are improving, a number of people, on the other hand, were and are still experiencing poor outcomes.

The Social Report identified them as likely to be young, poorly educated, living in sole parent families and be tangatawhenua or people from the Pacific nations … almost exactly the profile of the future inmate.

We must I believe set about ridding ourselves of the contradictions which abound in our society. On the one hand, we state a commitment and a compassion for those we identify as being excluded, and on the other we clamour for their inclusion in our penal institutions.

Any community that is divided and unequal is not only an unjust community but it is also a community that cannot guarantee stability in the long term.

In recent years we have come to realise that if we are to enjoy security at local, national and international levels than social cohesion is a necessary and essential ingredient for that security.

Social cohesion is an important feature of the government’s efforts to strengthen human dignity and social rights in a spirit of partnership solidarity and strong leadership.

The intent of those activities supported by government is to assist the reintegration of excluded persons in the five following areas: housing, employment, health, education and living standards and safety.

For tangatawhenua we know that results are best where indigenous people are able to determine their own way forward and set their own priorities. The government encourages local solutions at local levels.

We all have a responsibility to build more cohesive communities in which the blight of social exclusion and alienation will be minimised.

In addition to focussing on the needs of the poor and marginalised members of our communities we also need to affirm, celebrate and seek to support and strengthen those initiatives that help to create social solidarity and a sense of belonging.

There are important challenges ahead for us.

They include:

- Preventing the emergence of communities identified by a clear delineation of the “haves” and the “have nots” and ensuring these divisions do not become so great that they threaten social harmony;

- Devising effective actions to eradicate poverty, racism, and to combat social exclusion;

- Learning how to reduce and counter unacceptably high levels of unemployment in a global economic system where decisions in an overseas Office can affect a farming community in Taranaki;

- Working on how to improve the public service’s standards to ensure all members of a community and society have effective access to them;

- Ensuring we maintain a high level of social protection at a time when many pressures make it necessary to look afresh at our traditional social safety nets and ways of supporting people through the bad times.

- Encouraging a new sense of social solidarity and mutual responsibility in a society the ethos of which is the pursuit of individual fulfilment

- Appropriately responding to the pressures of changing patterns of whanau and family life and their effects on children.

How to address these issues is our challenge. Yours, and mine.

All of us need to demonstrate leadership that is liberating and respectful – not just the Government.

Government cannot by itself achieve social cohesion. We can, do and will play our part but we need partners and partnerships with whanau, hapu and iwi and NGOs and the Voluntary sector.

To be effective therefore, social cohesion policies must be of and from the people and should:

- Assist in revitalising local and national economies and capitalising on the contribution made by the two sides of industry (labour and capital) and other interested bodies, particularly by creating employment, stimulating enterprise and ensuring employment opportunities for all;

- Ensure people’s basic needs in employment, education, health, social protection and housing are met;

- Create opportunities to enable the less privileged and visible and whose rights are insufficiently upheld to make themselves heard and craft solutions for themselves;

- Develop an all of government integrated “come to our table” approach, which brings together all the relevant actors to address the issues of concern.

The Aotearoa/New Zealand strategy for social cohesion will evolve over time as we learn both from our local and national experiences and from what is also occurring internationally.

How then do tangata whenua really fit in to the notion of social cohesion which the government of which I am a part is promoting and which of course I am happy to support and promote?

It is at times like this that life becomes blurred for me, as I am unable to speak of the people into whom I was born without acknowledging that I am of them and they are of me.

At times like this I have to assert my Ngati Apa/Nga Wairiki, Whanganui, Nga Rauru and Tuwharetoa descent. In standing here before you I am merely the physical manifestation of my past. I am a collection of genes, which go back aeons of time. At the end of my life, I will simply be who I was born to.

I also recognise that I am a member of the Crown. In identifying my multiple selves I need to tell you that my life is one of contradictions.

What, you may ask, has this to do with the subject of my address to you today? It may have meaning for some and no relevance at all to others.

What it does do in my view is demonstrate one of a multiplicity of realities, which in a cohesive society can be expressed as I have just done.

It is but one reality for tangata whenua, which must be considered in addressing the topic of the status of tangatawhenua within a constitution.

The Labour Party of which I am a member accepts the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding document and as the basis of constitutional government in New Zealand.

What I find intriguing about the Treaty is that here in Aotearoa the Crown has an agreement with its own citizens ie Maori who are also its partners.

In debate on the Constitution, mention of the Treaty of Waitangi poses a particular challenge, as the Hon Jim Bolger observed.

He stated further that while it excited interest from tangata whenua and some non-Maori, other New Zealanders expressed views close to fear.

Could that be the fear that tangata whenua may become the lawmakers or law enforcers in the land of the long white cloud?

Could it be that we continue to believe that the Treaty of Waitangi is seen as a document, which benefits only tangata whenua.

How deep does this misunderstanding go?

How is it that we parade our acceptance of a multi cultural society and yet come suffer severe blockages when the Treaty of Waitangi is mentioned?

The Treaty I have always viewed as a document, which recognised diverse realities and different cultures.

You could say it was the first immigration policy of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

In my view it promoted unity in diversity.

Did anyone see a little article in the Herald last Monday, a reprint of a news item from 100 years ago?

It was about a proposed change to the Maori Councils Act. That article certainly made me think.

100 years ago, Parliament considered changing the law, to empower Maori councils to fine Europeans as well as Maori, for breaches of Maori council bylaws on drinking, smoking by children, gambling, customary fisheries and dog taxes.

To me, it was a sharp reminder that, 100 years ago, over 60 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, after the land wars and the ravages of epidemic disease, our people still functioned as clearly recognised communities.

We were at least partly autonomous, with at least some recognition and support from Crown agencies in our efforts to grapple with the impacts of European settlement.

100 years ago, there was general agreement that drinking; smoking and gambling were serious social problems.

Victorian lawmakers recognised that our own leadership had to be involved in protecting our communities, and they were prepared to back up the measures we imposed on ourselves.

They also recognised that, to protect the integrity of our communities, we had to be able to control the behaviour of Europeans who entered any kainga, village or pa.

Maori Council bylaws applied to Maori communities on the gum fields, which were not necessarily Maori land.

The article the other day was a snapshot of a limited kind of partnership.

It accepted that diverse cultures can respond in their own ways, and support each other, to deal with shared concerns.

I don’t want to pursue this model too far, because there were serious issues with the Maori Councils.

They were in fact imposed on tangata whenua, against vigorous protests, as an alternative structure designed to undermine our traditional tribal leadership structures.

But we can leave that aside for now.

The notion of tangata whenua community organisations making decisions for our own communities, and being recognised as partners with local and central government in achieving agreed development goals for the nation, is a vision our people have never lost.

It is also a vision we have not yet achieved!

This is the vision that is recorded in the Treaty of Waitangi.

Our rangatira did not have to sign the Treaty. They were in a position of strength in 1840.

They signed because they wanted a joint venture partner in the enterprise of building a modern nation.

The Crown’s guarantee to protect the tino rangatiratanga of hapu, assured our ancestors that the integrity and autonomy of our kin-based social organisations would be maintained, and the authority of our tribal leaders would be recognised and respected.

This is the basis of our peoples’ claims to special constitutional status.

The Treaty gave valuable assurances to the Crown and the settlers.

After the signing, our people provided land for settlement as a sign of good faith and commitment.

Since then, our tikanga, and our traditional social, cultural and economic organisations have been undermined, and other tikanga and structures have been superimposed on them.

But tangata whenua have never lost our vision, and our communities have not been destroyed, so the potential for partnership remains – for unity in diversity, for diverse cultures and cohesive communities, for social cohesion to enrich our nation.

We must never give up on that hope.

Ours is still a young nation, let us learn from both the mistakes of the past and the experiences of other Nations so we can go forward together.

Na reira, huri noa, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatau katoa.


ENDS

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