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Tamihere Speech to Mana Day Out, Aotea Square

John Tamihere Speech to Mana Day Out, Aotea Square, Auckland, Sunday March 28, 1pm

We've taken a kick in the guts lately, but today marks a shift. Today we are not talking about what's wrong with Maori communities. We are no longer going to hang our heads and be embarrassed to be Maori New Zealanders.

I've got a message for Brashville and it is this: it is time for us to be up and at 'em. We're not going to let them make us feel bad about ourselves; we're not going to let them take the wind out of our sails, and we sure as hell are not going to let them stop us progressing as the strong, proud and positive people we need to be.

We have a lot to be proud of. Wherever you look in any field of endeavour there is a Maori excelling, and leading not only New Zealand but the world in fields as diverse as the performing arts, business, science, medicine and of course sport. Let's celebrate these successes, and also the more ordinary successes that we all achieve every day all around this country in just doing our best to support our whanau and communities and to raise our children to achieve their full potential. Having to sit there and listen to the lies being told about Maori has been pretty tough to take for a lot of people lately. But my advice to you is don't just get mad – get even. And the way to get even is not through aggression or violence, or hating those who attack you, because that is exactly what they want you to do. I know that people are hurt and angry, and I can understand the frustration and resentment in the face of unrelenting attacks on us as Maori, but if this boils over, the losers are going to be us – and I think we have had more than enough of being losers.

The best PR man Don Brash ever had was the guy who threw mud at him at Waitangi – the guy who was previously known as a kind of geeky economist with a comb-over hairdo is suddenly guaranteed nationwide publicity and his poll rating goes through the roof.

There is a lot of ignorance out there in what passes for public debate and a lot of misinformation has been spread about Maori getting special treatment. Much of it is simply untrue – for example, you and I know that Maori don't get unlimited tangi leave, but in the new level of debate that is being conducted, it has become OK to distribute that sort of lie.

We can only deal effectively with those tactics and dispel those myths by proving, by our example, that our attackers are wrong. We can't let the extremists at either end of this debate control it – middle Maori New Zealand has to stand up and say and demonstrate that Maori are proud, positive citizens of this country.

We hear that Maori are ripping off the Government and rorting the taxpayer left, right and centre. Sure, there are a few bad apples, and we know that does not mean we are all fraudsters, bludgers and crims.

To stop others from tarring us all with the same brush on the basis of the actions of a few, we need to make sure that we adhere to the highest standards. We must lift our own standards, conduct and ethics to ensure that we are beyond reproach. We must be role models for our young people to look to. And if we see others who fall short of those standards, we must do something about it. We cannot afford to let the bad few destroy the reputation of the many.

The musicians here today, for example, are great role models to us all, and they have generously given their time and talent – and I should add that not one cent of Government money has been spent here today. Their music is the music that young New Zealanders of all colours are listening to and not only is it is as good as anything coming out of the United States, it is home-grown and distinctly New Zealand and distinctly ours. They are our voices and reflect where we are going as a country.

We have to look to ourselves for the solutions to our problems, and we have to understand that the solutions aren't all going to come from the Government – they have to come from us.

While we have problems, and perform behind non-Maori in a range of important areas like health, education, income and employment, we will address them in a positive way. We hear so often about everything that is bad about Maori and I am getting pretty sick of hearing about our underachievement and our failure and never hearing any solutions. Others talk about yesterday's solutions – not that they ever worked even yesterday – but we are looking for solutions for today and tomorrow.

National has already sacked its only Maori MP from her role as Maori Affairs spokeswoman because she wouldn't acquiesce to what Don Brash decreed was best for Maori. It has already launched the most blatantly anti-Maori attack this country has ever seen from a mainstream political party. I want to tell them that we're still here and we aren't going away – whether they like it or not.

The people who attack Maori for their failure do not propose any solutions to end that failure – in fact they have everything to gain from our failure, while we, and this country, have everything to lose.

We are young, we are vibrant and proud and the world is our oyster. We are an overwhelmingly young population, and we have great aspirations for the huge numbers of our young people who will be the future generation of Maori. Maori are participating in tertiary education in unprecedented numbers; we are achieving in secondary education as never before, we are providing education and health services up and down the country, and Maori unemployment is the lowest it has been in 20 years. We have come a long way and we have achieved too much to let it be lost now.

We must stand up to protect those gains, and to make sure that gains continue into the future, and that our progress is not held back by people who stand to gain politically from our failure.

I hope that at least one good thing may come out of what has so far been a largely negative debate, and that is that it may persuade us to forget our differences as Maori and develop a greater sense of unity to fight this battle. Who cares whether you are Ngapuhi or Ngati Porou or whatever else - when we are being targeted because we are brown we are all in this together. If we are going to stand up for ourselves, we're going to have to stand up together.

I'd like to end by borrowing a few words from one of our most talented artists here today, Che Fu, who said it a lot better than I have: Ka tu he kotahi, tu tata mai, kia mihi a tu ki te Ao Katumaia I te paerangi, Tu tata mai, kia mihi a tu ki te Ao, Katumaia I te paerangi
(Unified together, we will greet the risen sun, shoulder to shoulder, heads up on the front line. We will greet the risen sun, shoulder to shoulder, heads up on the front line.)

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