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Tariana Turia Speech to Muslim Women’s Hui

Tariana Turia Speech to Muslim Women’s Hui: He Manu korerorero, Noho tahi mahi tahi; Building Bridges in Our Community Freemans Bay Community Hall; Saturday 14 May

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

‘Respecting and Protecting our Right to Be’ Ngati Whatua, tena koutou. E nga iwi e huihui nei, tena hoki koutou. Tena koutou kua tae mai nei ki manaaki i te karanga o te ra.

I greet the talented presenters of today’s hui who will share their experiences and expertise as Muslim women on issues of educational, social, and cultural significance. The agenda is an impressive one – and I only regret that I will be unable to stay long to listen to your ideas.

I commend the Framework Trust, and the Chief Executive, Helma van der Lans, for your initiative in providing an opportunity for the Muslim community to come together to discuss the strategies of importance to your women.

I acknowledge also our hosts, Tayyaba Khan from the Auckland Muslim Girls Association and Catherine Ross, the Project Co-ordinator of the Like Minds Like Mine project.

It is good to be here.

At the beginning of this year, in a quiet weekend in mid-January, two events occurred which grabbed the headlines.

The first event was a ruling that Muslim women giving evidence in an Auckland fraud case, must take off their veils, while giving evidence, but not be exposed to public view. The Court ruled that the women must remove their burqas to give evidence before the judge, counsel and female court staff, with screens and measures used to protect them from further public view.

The Islamic Women’s Council applauded the ruling, showing that the decision showed the judge was appreciative of the women and their culture .

The husband of Fouzya Salim, one of the women, explained that the wearing of veils was a part of Muslim culture. "It's our tradition, our religion, our culture. We have to respect and try to protect it”.

The second lot of headlines was devoted to a Maori Party hui held in another part of the country, at Otaki, with over one hundred representatives attending. The hui was called to discuss policy and campaign strategy, to prepare for election year. It was also called to discuss how our strategy would respect and protect our culture, and the cultures of all peoples who call Aotearoa home.

In Te Ao Maori, timing of events is seldom a matter of serendipity.

We appreciate the connections, the flow of life, and we endeavour to understand the meaning of events placed together, rather than to fight it or dismiss it as a matter of chance.

Respecting and protecting our culture, celebrating our uniqueness, valuing our traditions is very much part of the Maori Party strategy. Indeed, we are of like minds.

Except as all of you here today will appreciate, the ‘strategy’ is not just about politics, or parliament or even political parties. The strategy is about us, you and me.

The strategy is the vision towards well-being. It is a vision for our future which truly recognises people are our collective asset base.

The wealth of our nation rests in releasing the potential of all our communities, and restoring confidence to ourselves in our collective strength. It is not about what we can do for you; it is about what we can do for ourselves.

There is no way that I would dare to tell you what is good for you as Muslim women – that would be the ultimate act of arrogance and ethnic superiority. We must all learn from each other, if we are to build the bridges necessary to create a unified nation.

The strategy for our future is about acknowledging the passion, intelligence, commitment and drive of the women represented in this room, and your leadership within your various communities.

The Maori Party believes that it is only in understanding the rich diversity within our communities, that we can grow together as a nation. It is not so much a matter of managing diversity, but more about opening our eyes to many different readings of the world.

Last week, I was visiting Te Kura o te Whakarewarewa in Rotorua. As I greeted the year one students, some of the children burst into giggles, “she can’t say Whakarewarewa”.

From where I’m from, our dialect as people of Whanganui awa, means that we drop our h’s, pronouncing ‘Whaka’ as ‘Whaka’. I thought it was a delightful demonstration of their rangatiratanga, their own authority as children of Te Arawa, to assert their way of naming themselves.

Some people fear the concept of ‘rangatiratanga’, persuaded by others that it means ‘Maori are taking over the world’.

Well of course we are ….but it is our world as whanau, hapu and iwi. Rangatiratanga means we assert and confirm our role as mana whenua, believing that we are the best ones to determine our own destiny.

Likewise, when I look to you, I acknowledge the many different homelands of Muslim communities throughout the world – including nations as vastly different as India, Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

Attempting to pigeon-hole Muslim societies into one monolithic structure, assuming you all have only one set of eyes to view the world, is worthy of as much mirth as those tamariki giggling at my speech. We are women from many worlds, many ways of being.

Rangatiratanga for Muslim women will be about recognising and acknowledging your rights and responsibilities in the way that only you can determine.

To this end, I was humbled by the honour of addressing your gathering today. I was grateful for the opportunity to share our experience with you, knowing that we have more that unites us, that binds us together, than sets us apart.

Our vision as the Maori Party is that we can enhance the relationship between tino rangatiratanga and käwanatanga (the Government) as provided for in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In this way, we can determine our solutions –working alongside the Crown, to assist in building a pathway forward.

Preparing a pathway for the future means we must come together in unity. But sometimes, all the will in the world will not be enough, when faced with the onslaught of discrimination.

A couple of days ago, a report was released in Washington by the Council on American-Islamic Relations which revealed that the number of hate crimes against members of the Muslim community jumped 52% last year. And the number of violent acts, disciminatory incidents and cases of harassment against Muslims rose 49% between 2003 and 2004 to 1,522 .

These are not isolated incidents, across the other side of the world. In our own nation, earlier on this year, reaction to the Court outcome regarding the burqa was also greeted with hostility.

Act Party Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks claimed it showed “bizarre solicitude to Muslim sensitivities ”. Website chatter, letters to the editor, talkback radio was even more disturbing, along the lines of ‘they should do things our way or go back home’.

As we know too well such attitudes lead to tensions which can explode, as we have seen in many areas: the debate over the Orewa speech or NZ First’s Bill removing the references to Te Tiriti o Waitangi; the desecration of Jewish graves in Wellington, the hate mail against Muslims following the events of 9/11, and the rise of fascist-type groups.

Although I got into strife over the ‘H’ word a couple of years ago, there is another word which provokes even more fear into the hearts of some; the ‘R’ word: Racism.

We know the reality for us as women of colour, is that we face multiple forms of discrimination. Our ideas, our customs, our beliefs are stigmatised. We know that our cultural pride confronts the very face of prejudice and misunderstanding. Yet all we desire is tolerance of our way to be.

Why is it that covering the face and head became so threatening to some members of the public?

If that was the case, why has there not been a similar reaction to people wearing dark sunglasses, beards, bridal veils, surgical masks, protective eyewear, swimming goggles or welders masks?

What was different about this case was that the veils were an affirmation of cultural and religious identity, the distinctive difference contrasting with Western culture.

Our population is becoming more ethnically diverse with particularly significant increases over the last decade from Korean, Arab, Croat, Iraqi, South African and Russian communities .

Almost 1 in 5 New Zealand residents, and in Auckland 1 in 3, were born overseas . One in six New Zealanders are multilingual.

This is more than a question of numbers. It is a question of difference.

And as we prepare for our nation of the future, we must, as your hui today acknowledges, be pro-active in building bridges in the community across divisions of creed and culture.

If we are to welcome migrants and refugees into this country, we need to also invest in them so that they can make the transition as smoothly and positively as possible.

This is a good time for us all to promote understanding and cultural acceptance. As we approach the Matariki, the Maori New Year, it is time to prepare for the new dawn with all our peoples united.

Let us show that we can stand together on the common grounds of social justice and our belief in our own communities. It's time to start building bridges between our communities - we have a lot to offer each other, and a lot of racism to resist.

The Maori Party will stand up for the absolute right to maintain our cultural being. We embrace the diversity of religious, spiritual, social, philosophical and cultural belief.

We know that the prosperity of Aotearoa is wrapped up in the ability to nurture a sense of belonging, indeed to build a bridge and walk over it – to reach out to each other.

The greatest gift that we can give each other is to honour each other. We can be of like minds, and like hearts.

And we can do so together, you and me.

Na reira, huri noa i te whare, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatau katoa.

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