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Turia: To be Maori - a truly revolutionary action

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Keynote Speaker; Health Research Council Annual Hui,

Hui Whakapiripiri 2006; Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington


Friday 11th August 2006

The Maori Party, as you will all know, is a great follower of fashion. And so as the news came to hand, on World Indigenous People’s Day, of the latest designer gene for Maori, I looked hard in the mirror to see was I, Tariana Turia, the person the scientists and reporters were talking about, the Genuine Indigenous Warrior?

But quite frankly, it doesn’t come in the female form.

Well, that’s what Dr Rod Lea and his media posse would tell us.

So that’s another thing I’ve got working against me. I haven’t got the ‘great with a guitar’ gene; the ‘rugby legend’ gene; or even the ‘good at telling jokes’ gene. In fact I’m starting to wonder if I need to look on Trade Me, to get the “Maori Multi-booster Gene” to supplement my unique genetic mix.

But seriously, the timing of this Hui Whakapiripiri couldn’t be better.

For your focus of ‘Whanau Tu, Whanau Ora’ - the ways in which Maori knowledge and development can help us to achieve whanau ora - comes at the end point of six months of research findings designed to shake our world.

In March the United Nations Special Rapporteur reported he had observed “plenty of evidence concerning the historical and institutional discrimination that Maori have long suffered” manifest in the fact that Maori, at all educational, occupational and income levels, have poorer health status than non-Maori.

In April, the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, revealed that
Maori and Pasifika children with asthma appear to be further disadvantaged when it comes to acceptable asthma care.

The report stated that bias and discrimination are commonly cited barriers for Maori in accessing health care. Bias and discrimination - not genetic predisposition.

A month later in May, the Decades of Disparity III report told us that the impact of racism on ethnic inequalities in health is likely to be mediated through socio-economic (institutionalised racism) as well as inter-personal and internalized racism.

In plain English, differences in access to, and quality of, health care, create different outcomes for Maori compared to non-Maori. Differences born of racism.

In June, the Lancet blasted it out. Maori are getting poorer care in hospitals than non-Maori it said. “Avoidable mistakes” were cited, which were described as ‘preventable adverse events’; resulting in ‘Powerful evidence of sub-optimum care”.

That’s the Prime Minister’s husband saying that - Professor Peter Davis. He is a carrier of the ‘super-brain’ gene I think.

They studied close to 7000 patients, across thirteen public hospitals and found that Maori were suffering from infections, allergic reactions to drugs, post-surgery complications, or medication mistakes in far higher numbers than non-Maori.

The co-author, Professor Tony Blakely, explained it as: “There is something going on here, and it’s widespread….it’s insidious and it accumulates….”. Indeed, he concluded, institutional racism was “without doubt, part of the mix”.

So here we have the medical establishment confirming racism…and yet wait, there’s still more evidence.

Another study published in the Lancet, reported a high level of self-reported experience of racial discrimination by Maori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders, including verbal and physical abuse and unfair treatment in healthcare, work and housing.

The study showed that Maori were almost ten times more likely to experience discrimination in three or more settings than their non-Maori counterparts; and that further, they were more likely also to report poor or fair health, low mental health and cardio-vascular disease than European.

Then last month, in July, the Public Health Advisory Committee released their report, called Health is Everyone’s Business.

The Committee reported the widening social and economic inequalities, resulting in whole population groups being left behind. They concluded that ‘being Māori or Pacific’ further increases the risk of death or ill-health across all socio-economic categories. Not so good having a wonder warrior gene now is it?

That report was quickly followed with the Living Standards report which revealed that 40% of Maori and 58% of Pacific people experienced hardship compared to 19% of European.

And then just this week, we had the Social Report 2006, which told us of the marked ethnic differences in life-expectancy - a difference of more than eight years; the huge imbalance in suicide rates for Maori males; and smoking rates for Maori females; the disproportionately high rates of Maori dying in motor accidents; the shattering workplace injury rates, te mea, te mea, te mea.

This is seriously depressing stuff.

So where to from here?

Well - as I said at the start, this hui caps off a traumatic six months of focus on the social pathology of Maori. Today it all changes.

I’ve been interested in the storm over a beaker that’s erupted in the warrior gene research. One comment grabbed my attention. It was in The Herald column feedback from a reader called Bill Blunt,

“Nonsense! Having been born in South-East England, my own gene pool is derived from club-toting Briton, blood-thirsty Celtic, military all-conquering Roman, axe wielding Saxon, invading Norman, bear-skinned Viking….need I go on”.

You see, it’s all about having a bit of balance. Turning the tide.

Research like that we have seen in the last six months, could perhaps be seen as a ‘tool of the oppressor’, discovering more about the oppressed, in order to further oppress. Discovering the problem but never discovering the solution.

Tangata whenua believe that at best we have never benefitted from research and at worst the research and the findings have been further used to oppress and control the savage, stroppy natives.

Research on Maori has for the most part focused on our deficits, social pathology and deviance, on sickness and not on health, on failure and not on success. The mad, bad and sad syndrome.

Koro Dewes in the book, Te Ao Hurihuri, has reminded us - Mauria ko oku painga; Waiho ko oku wheru” - “Highlight my strengths, ignore my weaknesses”.

That’s what I believe Bill Blunt was getting at - the opportunity for violence is found in every culture, if you look for it.

Indeed, even this new warrior gene is also evident in Asian, in African, in Polynesian populations - but I didn’t notice Mai Chen or Beatrice Faumuina being put through the grilling that the Maori Party was treated to.

You see, nobody was looking for that. Just like that old U2 lyric, the researchers were all singing “I still haven't found what I'm looking for” - that is, until along came the mono-amine oxidase gene.

I remember our dear friend, Irihapeti Ramsden, who at the time of the launch of, 'Once were Warriors' put it all into perspective: "Once were gardeners, once were astronomers, once were philosophers, once were lovers'.

It’s about balance; it’s about accountability; speaking our truths.

From what I know of the Maori research community, one of the hottest topics is the question of who benefits from the research?

Is the research being done simply to answer questions for the benefit of the researchers, to complete their thesis, to publish a paper, to provide fodder for the international conference and academic cocktail party speaking circuit?

Is it being done for the benefit of those who possess the ‘coloniser ‘gene? Another credential to land them more research funding?

These debates have been going on mai ra ano. Te Rangihiroa back in 1934 wrote to Sir Apirana Ngata saying,

“I have come to the conclusion that the Pakeha attitude towards native races is on the whole saturated with the deepest hypocrisy.... Even in ethnology, I doubt whether a native people is really regarded as other than a project to give the white writer a job and a chance for fame”.

I am, despite what Mr Jones say, eternally optimistic, and I have belief that we can turn the tide, if we ensure that the researched are actively involved in the research at a whanau and hapu level.

That is why I have been so excited about what has been happening with hapu and marae studies, or the other research projects coming out of Te Wanana o Raukawa; Te Wananga o Aotearoa; or Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.

These institutions are helping us to tell our stories. They are making the commitment to action research, to ensure that we have an opportunity to be involved right alongside any research going on in our rohe.

We need to acknowledge that it has only been since 1993, that tangata whenua have been running our own health and social services, and so it is crucial to have the means to carry out our own assessments of what works, and what doesn’t.

We need to explore the relationship between participatory action research and kaupapa Māori research, and the extent to which participatory action research encompasses a Māori worldview.

We need the evidence to provide the foundation for transformation. The skills and the training, to ensure our whanau and hapu are active participants in the revolutions occuring wtihin their rohe.

So, given that I am endowed with ample qualities of the risk-taker gene, I thought I would just end with a few ideas about how, from this point on, we can ensure that Maori health research is purely and simply for the benefit of the researched. We can ask…..

- How will it extend whanau, hapu and iwi knowledge?

- How does the research affirm whanau, hapu and iwi rangatiratanga?

- Does the research build on our pre-colonial methods of enquiry in examining new theories, methods and research tools that serve Maori interests?

- How do tangata whenua data bases and resources -such as waiata and oral and written histories - enhance the research?

- Is the research consistent with the tikanga and ritenga of iwi or hapu Maori?

- Does the research identify the cultural bias, the unique signature of the researcher - as a facet of the research?

- How does research work to liberate, to empower, to set free?

If we are really committed to the concept of Whanau Tu, Whanau Ora, our research priorities must be absolutely linked to benefits for whanau.

These three days will have raised far more questions than answers.

You will have experienced visions, and strategies and tikanga based motivations which will stay with you long after you arrive home.

You will have been inspired by the stories of Kanaka Maoli health; and become enthused by the leadership of more than a few Professors, and Doctors; and Indigenous Warriors.

You have been asked, ‘are you in the know?’; you have learnt more about the colonisation of Maori research than you ever wanted to know; and along the way, I hope you have had your well-ness restored, your mental well-being revived; your sense of whanau ora re-invigorated.

Ultimately - until the peace gene or the well-being potion arrives on the scene - that is where our greatest hope lies. In each other. In our whanau. In Maori.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Nga Tamatoa, who have laid the challenge to move from the talkfest to action: Whanau Tu, Whanau Ora - Whanau Noho, Whanau Mate - Whanau Toa.

We have ourselves. We have our past, our present, our future.

All we need now, is the desire and the will to be ourselves. To be Maori. A truly revolutionary action.


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