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Turia: Address to the National Maori Asthma Conf.

Te Renga Paraoa Marae, Whangarei

10am; 10 October 2005

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

“Treasuring the ‘ha’ in Hauora’

Tena koutou, o Ngapuhi, o te Tai Tokerau, o nga mata waka kua tai mai i tenei ra.

Ti hei mauri ora.
Patai mai he aha te mea nui o te ao
Ka whakahoki au
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
Ti hei mauri ora.

It is a great honour to be here today at the National Maori Asthma Conference. And I must commend the conference organisers - seldom have I received a request to speak at a conference a whole year in advance!

The breath of life is a concept which has everlasting meaning in our world.

From the first twitch in Te Kore which gave life;

flowing through the sacred waters of creation;

to the life force instilled within the human element;

we are always aware of the need to preserve and protect the source of breath.

This is never so apparent as within the area that draws us here today. The issue of respiratory health and well-being.

The programme is enough to take one’s breath away.

The quality of speakers spanning from specialist areas of COPD, bronchiectasis, tikanga Maori, and spirometry is most impressive and will provide a rich foundation for nurturing Maori health and asthma management.

So what should I talk about?

Believe me - this is a question I’ve never encountered as much as I have in the last 23 days.

I’ve never been kissed and hongied and hugged as much as I have these last few weeks.

Everywhere I go the microphones been offered, the phone’s perpetually ringing, the media on high alert.

Will you talk on the Don and Gerry show?

How are your talks going with Helen and Heather?

Are you talking with the Greens?

Could you ever talk to Winston?

Are you done with Dunne? Will you act with ACT? And so it goes on.

Well I thought I’d disclose all today - and share the secret of my success.

My success in managing to stay calm, to breathe deep, and to take stock. My success in managing my asthma.

When I was 46 years old, working in the Head Office of Mäori Affairs, in a job that was intensely stressful, I suddenly became ill.

Within the space of a weekend my life and my future changed dramatically as I was diagnosed an asthmatic.

I read up on my life prognosis. It didn’t look good.

I found that Maori experience great asthma morbidity, and that hospitalisation and mortality rates for Maori exceeded those of non-Maori. Although we have similar rates of asthma prevalence, once we get it, like most health conditions, our attacks are more severe, our outcomes more adverse.

Over the next twelve years I never went anywhere without my blue, orange, brown inhalers in my bag - and if they weren’t - panic would set in.

Every now and then I’d be under the nebuliser, waiting for the vapours to do their magic, and trying to be a good patient.

I was pathologically focused on removing the triggers and would always blame the cat hair on the couch, heavily perfumed guests, the air-conditioning in the office, for aggravating my asthma.

Occasionally I’d be on a course of prednisone as the attacks became more severe.

One day it all changed.

I picked up the paper and saw an ad for the Buteyko method. Just a little ad in the classifieds. $480 for a four day course. Couldn’t hurt I thought.

Over the duration of the course I learnt how to breathe slowly but shallowly.

I learnt about different exercises I could do if I was having an attack - or the routines I could follow to take preventive care of my health.

More than anything I developed confidence in myself. Confidence in my ability to manage asthma without drugs.

It completely changed my attitude to asthma. I was no longer fixated on my peak flow - my focus shifted to managing my breathing, to following my exercises, to taking care of my health.

Then eighteen months later I left Labour.

I tell you - I can thoroughly recommend it!

The rest is history. Indeed as we all know we have made history in the arrival of a strong and independent Maori voice in Parliament.

That voice - in my case anyway - has been asthma free and proud.

One day I woke up and realised that without even knowing I hadn’t had asthma for three months. In fact since I left Labour, I have only ever had to take medication when I have had a cold - but in the main I am asthma free, and it feels great.

My story is not sponsored by Buteyko - or indeed designed to influence your vote - although neither would be such a bad thing!

Why I wanted to share the secret of my success is really just to remind us, that we can all have rangatiratanga over our health - and the health of our whanau.

I hope that the discipline of watching out for, and taking care of my health can provide my mokopuna with other models for managing their asthma. I have encouraged my children to work with the breathing exercises, to have the confidence to face the future without reliance on medication.

I believe we can all recognise and demonstrate our own authority, our own special knowledge of how best to preserve our sacred breath.

Twenty-three days ago we all held our breath, and took the risk of voting for ourselves, of looking to our own models for confidence.

And although I know you’re all sick of election talk there are just two things I want to really congratulate ourselves on:

 Firstly that 30,000 more Maori turned up to vote in these elections than in 2002;

 And secondly, that the actual turnout of Maori who went to the polls has increased from 56% in 2002, to 67% this year. Of course there’s still huge room for improvement - and you’ve heard it first - that’s the focus for the next campaign….

We can all take the steps towards self-determination.

You’ll be aware of the Chinese proverb, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I believe that in ridding myself of reliance on ventolin and all its friends, I have taken the critical first step in my pathway to future health and well-being.

Over the next few days here at Terenga Paraoa, I hope there are also many other first steps made in our journey to restoring ourselves to our fullest potential.

The workshops, the key speakers, the opportunity for you all to walk the talk together is a wonderful opportunity to look anew at the challenges that face us not just in asthma management but in Maori health and wellbeing in general.

The time has never been better than now. The world is ours - we must establish horizons in sight which ensure our credibility is enhanced; our integrity is beyond doubt, and our own mana motuhake is affirmed.

It is up to us all to plot out our future direction, to ensure we can all advance a strong and independent Maori voice.

Kia kaha koutou ki te whai o koutou moemoea, mau ki to tino rangatiratanga. Kia kaha koutou, ki te tu, kia kaha, kia kaha.


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