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"Nice try ...but" - Sharples on Corrections Policy

18th January 2006

Dr Sharples Speaks out about renewed attack on Maori Culture by Department of Corrections Dr Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party, Corrections spokesperson; and spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage

"I commend the intention of the Department to protect tikanga Mäori. I am also impressed with their stated commitment to respect local kawa, and also to consult tangata whenua to ensure their agreement about the holding of powhiri" stated Dr Sharples in response to the Department of Correction's release on Maori cultural practice.

"In the event that an instituion wants to do a full powhiri, and it has the consent of tangata whenua and all the prison authorities and staff, it should go ahead in full bloom, and we fully support that".

"However, in attempting to define Maori cultural practices, such as whakatau, the Department has absolutely over-stepped their role" .

"I most strongly object to the commodification of whakatau, and the formalising of new roles within it. The Department has described this procedure in completely different ways than is known with the traditional ceremony of whakatau. In setting up a new form of Maori ceremony, which shares the same name as, but little of the key features, once again we have conflict".

"Whakatau vary from iwi to iwi, group to group, just as they do with powhiri".

"If they want to use a Maori concept like whakatau, they need to be cognisant of all that goes with it - not just define a Maori term to suit their own purpose".

"I was surprised to learn from that Department that the key features of a whakatau are that men and women have the same roles and that seating arrangements will reflect the same roles for men and women".

"And contrary to their guidelines, a whakatau can include karanga or whaikorero".

"Whakatau is a key word which embodies a number of procedures - which vary in number, depending on the status of the event and the status of the participants".

"Is it the Crown's job to tell Maori how to be Maori?"

"The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples includes the right to practice and revitalise cultural traditions and customs. We would not expect that Government departments will step into the role of becoming Cultural Interpreters - and indeed this threatens the very cultural survival they suggest they are protecting. I wonder if this is another case of cultural theft?".

Commodification of Maori concepts has caused problems in other areas of Government - such as the use of terminology like koha, or kaumatua.

"I am interested also that "Departmental Events are now going to insist that women and men have the same roles. Surely - one must be governed by what is appropriate and agreed to by the respective groups involved, rather than a paternalistic dictate from up high, ordering everyone to be the same?"

"How far will this gender purging go? How silly is it going to get?"

"Where is the place for our cultural diversity, our tribal uniqueness, our gendered identities, our life experiences, to be respected?

"I would have thought the safest and most appropriate function for a Government Department to take up is to work out its own welcoming protocols, without culturally appropriating those of another culture".

"They should have their own prison welcoming ceremonies, and they can seat people where they like".

"If they want to incorporate something Maori, in regard to the particular manuhiri that are coming on, it should be determined by tangata whenua and the prison authorities on a case by case basis, giving particular regard to the status of the occasion and of course the manuhiri".

"They should work closely with the kuia and kaumatua from within their rohe, to establish their own process - which will be performed with an etiquette which is specific to that local prison".

"It is so bad it is almost laughable - the 'problem' with departmental powhiri has been Government's failure to respect the tikanga and kawa associated with that process - which is exactly the same criticism that will now apply to their definition of whakatau".

"Given the high recidivism rate, and the culturally insensitive nature of this current system, perhaps the time has come for Maori to run their own prisons, independent of the system. Maori that have spoken to me have had enough of others manipulating their culture to suit the needs of a culturally insensitive system".

The Maori Party was also disappointed to learn the Department of Corrections has only targeted Maori in its policy release on cultural practice. As of June 2005, 35% of prison inmates are classified as European, 11% are Pacific and 4% are Asian.

"These peoples also have the right to have their arts, heritage and cultural practices respected; and benefit from the cultural expertise that maintains their cultural integrity. I will be interested to read the policy for Pakeha Cultural Practices when it is released, as with Pasifika policy and Asian policy".

"I recognise the attempts of that Department to understand Maori cultural values - but I would think they would make the same attempts to understand the cultural values of all of their prison population - or are they saying that Maori are the only ones who have a culture?".


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