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Shedding Grievance To Embrace A Bright New Future

Shedding Grievance To Embrace A Bright New Future

Pita Paraone Speech to: Iwi Chairman's Forum,
Pipitea Marae Wellington

Thursday 2 March 2006

Mr Chairman, fellow MPs and conference attendees,

It is an unexpected honour to be invited to open this event and quite humbling to find myself in the company of so many luminaries of the Maori world.

As a group the Iwi Chairman's Forum has a significant role to play not just in the future of Maoridom, but in the future of this great country.

Being Maori today is an interesting phenomena.

It is a label, which is thrust upon us by virtue of our heritage, and yet often those who use the term do not appreciate that far from being a homogenous group, Maori are in fact as disparate in their opinions, beliefs, values and political persuasions, as any other ethnic group in New Zealand.

To put it another way – there is no one single "Maori" point of view and issue.

And yet we constantly hear ourselves referred to as Maori this and Maori that with absolutely no sense of context.

Let me give you an example.

This month is Census month.

Among the questions, which will be asked in the census, is one related to ethnicity.

From this we will learn that there are so many Maori in New Zealand and they will be earning a certain level of income and living in particular types of relationships and so on and so forth.

All types of generalisations will flow from this type of data and unfortunately if the past is an indicator of the future, much of it will be based on the bad news.

But we must ask ourselves is this our true reality.

Because here what these figures do not tell us.

Most Maori are actually from a mixed heritage or ethnicity – Maori and European, Maori and Pacific Islander, Maori and Asian and the list goes on.

Yet when it comes to reporting the negative statistics they are all just labelled 'Maori'.

It is convenient – but not always accurate.

I raise this because sooner or later we must wake up to the reality that these difficulties, which for too long have been labelled 'Maori' problems, are in fact New Zealand problems.

And the solutions must be New Zealand solutions.

If we are ever to break the mindset, which sees being Maori being synonymous with failure and underachievement in some circles, then we must work at being part of the solutions rather than simply harping on about our grievances.

There is no genetic deficit in being Maori.

Maori have achieved in every field of academic, sporting and cultural excellence – the last twelve months has been testament to this.

But those who have succeeded have done so because they have shed the shackles of grievance and have embraced the world of opportunities that lay before them.

Michael Campbell [who is now related to all of us] did not win the US Golf Open by crying into his Weetbix over what he did not have.

He succeeded the same way all successful people do – through hard work, dedication, application and persistence.

What is great about his achievement is that he took a sport invented in Scotland, mastered it in Titahi Bay and then took his acquired skills onto the world stage and succeeded.

Historically, Maori have always embraced new technology and set about improving their lot by adopting what the world has to offer – and making it work to our advantage.

This formulae is working for many Maori today – embracing the best of what the world has to offer, adding a Maori dimension to it and taking it back out to the world.

Often Maori are the innovators and creators – setting the benchmark for others around the world.

This all points to the need to reconcile the disjuncture between what the statistics tell us and what we know to be the potential of Maori achievement.

I fear that for too long now we have wallowed in a quagmire of grievance and disposition waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us.

We look backwards and say 'we are the victims of colonisation' and someone needs to right all the wrongs of the past.

This is a trap – and a dangerous one at that.

Yes, many Maori have legitimate grievances based on historical injustices.

The Crown knows this, Maori know this, the public at large generally know and accept this – but the big question remains, how long are we going to use this as an excuse for ongoing failure?

When are we going to be able to let the past remain in the past and to embrace the bright future which awaits us?

There is a dangerous trend which has emerged among many Maori – to blame others for their plight, to engage in a romantic notion of what Maoridom was like pre-colonisation and to ignore the fact that most of us are now of mixed ethnicity and our children are even more so.

This romanticism is seductive and reactionary – but it is not a productive way forward and it sells our children short.

I can imagine that some of you will be thinking that words are cheap and that only action will deliver what is required.

I couldn't agree more.

But action must occur on so many different fronts.

Not least of all this must include Maori to have more people in higher decision-making positions, emerging leaders need better preparation and there has to be a substantial move in the emphasis from access and participation in education to excellence, achievement and performance.

For Maori the pathway to lasting success is paved with educational achievement.

Another aspect is that of Treaty claims. There is no question that historical Treaty settlements must be resolved with some urgency.

Legitimate grievances require legitimate settlements.

If we are to shed the grievance mentality – then the legitimate grievances must be resolved.

As I have often mentioned when Treaty settlements have been reached and concluded – the leadership should never forget to regularly look behind to ensure that the people they are charged to lead are still there.

But so many of our difficulties are based in the here and now – and the solutions must be based in dealing with the realities of the here and now.

Maori must learn to work with their wider communities to resolve many of the worst of our problems.

Drugs, gangs, violence, health and housing are community problems not just Maori problems.

While we are the ones who often get the negative labels – if we want to shed these, we must work with the communities in which we live to solve the problems we confront.

This will take strong leadership.

We must acknowledge that many of our people have mixed heritage. Being Maori must include the capacity to embrace other cultures.

Now don't get me wrong – I am not advocating here that we abandon Maori culture and our heritage.

Quite the reverse – I am saying that when we embrace our culture and heritage, we must ensure that there is a place for those other cultures and heritages which are intertwined with ours.

And most importantly we must get over our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy and be positive about our future.

If we do this, the Michael Campbells of this world will not be the exceptions that succeeded despite the odds – such success will become the norm.

And it won’t just be in the sporting field – but in business, academia and the entire spectrum.

Looking at your agenda for this conference it is clear that you have some weighty issues to consider.

This conference, the second of what I understand to be a planned series for this forum is, I believe, a significant recognition that in order to advance the cause of Maori its leadership must continue to dialogue and work with one another.

I wish you well in your work. As I noted at the beginning of my remarks – not only do you have much to offer Maoridom, you have much to offer this country, indeed the world.

Hopefully we can all look forward to the day when marking Maori on the census form is not a precursor to a raft of negative generalisations, but is rather simply an acknowledgement of our heritage.


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