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Harawira - NZ's relationship with Latin America

Inquiry into New Zealand's relationship with Latin America Hone Harawira; Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau Wednesday 15th March 2006

Three months ago, the Maori Party joined with our indigenous brothers and sisters right around the world to celebrate the resounding victory of Bolivia's new, indigenous president, Evo Morales.

Morale's victory was a real buzz - and not just in Bolivia. His victory was 'a sign of hope' in a world strangling itself to death with pollution and war. His victory gives all tangata whenua hope for the future, and we join with his people in celebrating a return to humanity.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is pleased to stand tonight to talk to the Inquiry into New Zealand's relationship with Latin America, and we ask the House to note the Select Committee recommendation, that we:

"formulate proposals for promoting interaction between indigenous peoples of Latin America and New Zealand".

If our record of interaction with indigenous peoples from overseas is anything like it is with the indigenous people of Aotearoa, then folks we are in deep trouble, because our government's record here at home is nothing to boast of.

In fact earlier today we heard from other indigenous delegations that:

"New Zealand is doing all they can to stall any consideration of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at the current session of the Commission on Human Rights".

The feedback about our government's performance is a matter of shame to all caring people in Aotearoa, and to make it worse, we hear that New Zealand officials are actively trying to block the call by other States for another meeting on the text.

And so I am forced to ask Mr Speaker, where are the voices of Labour's Maori MPs when their own people's rights are being trampled? What is the value of their much vaunted Maori Potential Framework, when that very potential is being throttled by their own Party?

Mr Speaker, if we were a mature society, we would accept that there is no harm in admitting that we don't have all the answers, and that we can learn from others.

Fostering of Cultural Ties

Mr Speaker, the original terms of reference for this Inquiry, sought "the fostering of cultural ties including links between indigenous people".

There are many areas for nurturing cultural ties with indigenous peoples in Latin America, and I touch on just a few tonight.

Literacy

Te Wananga o Aotearoa created links with Cuba to introduce a program which has earned Cuba international awards, including one from the United Nations, for eradicating illiteracy. And in fact, Te Wananga o Aotearoa even brought some of Cuba's literacy experts to Aotearoa to help launch the programme.

Television

Another fertile area for developing links is the media. The Director of Venezuela's own Television network Telesur, [Aram Aharonian], recently made a statement which resonates clearly with our own Maori Radio Network, and Maori Television, when he said:

"Telesur's reason for being is the need to see Latin America through Latin American eyes. It's our right to have our own vision of what happens in Latin America and not what Europeans or Americans, or whoever, tell us about how we are, or who we are".

Political Influence

Indeed, how we are, and who we are, is determined very much by the way we are represented, and how we represent ourselves.

In Latin America, many countries have large indigenous populations, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

In these nations there are hundreds of different indigenous groups; and in fact in Mexico alone, there are 56 indigenous groups and 62 living languages.

Even the World Bank has identified that the political influence of the indigenous people in Latin America - as in Aotearoa - has "grown remarkably" over the last two decades.

The Maori Party is keen to learn more about the revival and renaissance of indigenous people, and the political growth, constitutional development, and health and education policies of other members of the world's indigenous community.

Education

Mexico is developing programmes to place indigenous people into significant roles in school management.

And in Guatemala, indigenous students enrolled in bilingual schools have higher attendance and graduation levels and reduced drop-out rates, in exactly the same way as those in our own fabulous kohanga reo and kura kaupapa movement.

Health

And we can learn from Ecuador's use of a mix of modern and indigenous medicines, to help grow our own knowledge in health practice.

Poverty

Unfortunately though, chances are if you're born indigenous in Latin America, you're going to be poor, and there are almost 35 million indigenous people there living in poverty.

A World Bank report last year, titled 'Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America 1994-2004' noted that 74% of indigenous people in Bolivia live in poverty. It also noted that during economic crises, those who take longest to recover are the indigenous populations.

Theirs is a reality of social and political division, a reality where racism, discrimination, and social exclusion is a daily occurrence - indeed, these are some of the greatest political challenges of the 21st century.

The future

No wonder then that we see the rise of organised indigenous movements such as the Zaptatista National Liberation Army in Mexico, and the activist movements in Bolivia and Ecuador.

Peru elected its first indigenous president in 2000, the Guatemala Peace Accords included recognition of indigenous peoples rights, and now we have the success in Bolivia.

Mr Speaker, the heart of these movements in Latin America as in Aotearoa, is rooted in long-standing traditional values - when one whanau is in strife everyone turns up to help them out.

In Ecuador, they call this 'minga' - a term that refers to collective work. In Aotearoa we might call it kotahitanga.

Mr Speaker, we need to treasure these unique cultural values, and to establish links that will strengthen those values, for the benefit of us all.

It is timely that Aotearoa now has a party that gives voice to its own indigenous people on matters of national interest, and we challenge the government to be bold enough to let that voice be heard in the forums considering the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people.

It is time to review the free trade agreements which are tearing apart the fabric of Latin American countries, and to ask the hard questions about how such arrangements maintain a level of poverty that kills the potential of the indigenous world.

Mr Speaker, I want to finish with the words of Bolivia's new President, Evo Morales, who said:

I believe only in the power of the people. I have seen the importance of the power of a whole people, of a whole nation. For those of us who believe it important to defend humanity, the best contribution we can make is to help create that popular power. We need to be led by the people, not use or manipulate them.

(Evo Morale's speech at the "In Defense of Humanity" forum in Mexico City, October 25, 2003)

ENDS

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