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Horomia Speech: Opening of 'Te Ao Whanui'

Hon Parekura Horomia Minister of Mâori Affairs

Speech notes prepared for Opening of 'Te Ao Whanui'

Gisborne Museum

Tuesday, 22 March 2005, 5.30pm


It is always fantastic to be home, particularly when I am invited to be part of an event as powerful and as humbling as this photographic exhibition, aptly titled ‘Te Ao Whânui – The Wider Picture’.

Over the past seven years or so, I have watched tangata whai ora in our rohe; go from strength to strength in their quest to challenge our long held notions and assumptions of people with experience of mental illness.

Year after year, tangata whai ora have given us much to think about. You have been at the forefront of the Mental Health Awareness Week Hikoi held annually through the streets of Gisborne.

And your leadership has been instrumental to the many workshops and hui run for the community to debunk myths.

Each year you have organised the Like Minds Awards for Respect ceremonies - nominating community role models who champion mental illness.

And of course the work you have invested in building relationships with local media, has made you the envy of many groups around the country. I have been told that crucial to all this activity has been the support and backing of organisations like Turanga Health, Te Kupenga Trust, Gisborne Camera Club, management group members, and the courage of the participants in this exhibition.

Te Ao Whânui breaks new ground in the push to dispel the myths and stigma surrounding mental illness. It is the first exhibition of its kind in the country that has been led and driven by tangata whai ora.

I would like to personally thank Bruce Green the photographer who initiated this idea with the then Like Minds Like Mine Co-ordinator, Margaret Price, back in 2002. The idea then become a reality and was launched in 2003.

As a result this exhibition has travelled the country, it went to the Like Minds Like Mine national hui in Hamilton, on through the Waikato and then on to Taranaki. It is a tribute to you all, that this exhibition has been mobilised as a national resource.

Te Ao Whânui shows the power of photography and personal stories as tools to demystify and destigmatise mental illness.

Te Ao Whânui is about the lives rather than the illnesses of five people Genesis Potini; Joe Biddle; Shane Retter; Judith Rickard; and Charmaine Turei. Each photograph portrays an aspect of their lives that they feel shows their uniqueness - with whânau, at work, relaxing or having quality time with friends. I hope you will not mind if I quote from Te Ao Whânui, as I was struck by some of the things said. Most of you will know Genesis Potini. He has taught English in China, lived most of his life here and is renowned as a speed chest maestro whose skills were captured in a documentary ‘The Dark Horse’.

He says he agreed to participate in this exhibition because he “…wanted to dispel the myth that people who live with mental illness can’t contribute to society in a meaningful way. To not buy into the idea that we are less in value than anyone else. I’ve never been ashamed of my mental illness and I will never buy into the idea that I am less than anyone.”

And something said by Charmaine Turei, wife, partner, proud Mum, mentor and coordinator for Te Kupenga support and advocacy services. She pays tribute to the love and courage of her whânau, “to not only support me through the good times and bad, but to show by exposing themselves and our normal whânau activities and special moments to the public - that acceptance and understanding by whânau, community and workplaces brings wonderful benefits to all involved.”

Te Ao Whânui shows us that having a mental illness does not prevent people achieving and contributing to society. And that is why I wanted to be here today.

I wanted to celebrate tangata whai ora success and commitment to building a community that values and includes all people with experience of mental illness.

A community where everyone has opportunities regardless of their circumstances. A community that embraces diversity where no one is a burden and where everyone has an inherent and absolute worth as a human being.

I wanted to be here to salute tangata whai ora who are experts by their experience. Tangata whai ora are leading and driving conversations aroused by exhibitions like Te Ao Whânau and increasingly playing more of a role in the development of policies and practices intended to meet the needs of people with experience of mental illness.

I believe that tangata whai ora must be the architects of their own future encouraged and able to succeed on your own terms. That is the clear message I get from this stunning exhibition which I am sure will move people further along in their understanding of mental illness.

I want to close by ending with two more poignant excerpts from the exhibition by Charmaine who says it was not an easy decision to open herself to the public “but I hope its shows the level of passion and commitment I believe is necessary to improve the life of myself and other like me.”

And Judith Rickard who admits that though it is difficult to salvage some of the good parts of the experience of mental illness “it's great to be part of this exhibition which I hope will convey to you, there’s more to me than just the illness – it’s the wider picture…”

I thank you for the opportunity to be here tonight and to join with you to celebrate this very magical exhibition Te Ao Whânui – The Wider Picture.

Kia kaha!

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