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Dame Te Ata’s legacy – looking beyond ethnicity

A Newsletter from National MP Pansy Wong

Dame Te Ata’s legacy – looking beyond ethnicity

Great sadness was felt throughout Asian communities at the passing of the Maori Queen, the late Dame Te Atairangikaahu. This sad loss was reported by the Asian media and she was remembered at the Auckland Indian Association’s Independence Day celebrations.

It would be fair to say that in the past few days many Asian New Zealanders have learnt of Dame Te Ata for possibly the first time. How could they, and the public, have learnt about her and her achievements when there was so little coverage of her activities, and her words, in the media?

Many people have learnt more since her passing than they would have during her 40 years as Maori Queen. I hope her successor, Tuheitia Paki, will receive the media attention befitting a person of his position.

I was fortunate to meet Dame Te Ata on several occasions and when we met she never asked where I came from. Our conversation would naturally centre on the people and the events taking place. This acceptance of people in their own right – beyond ethnicity – was refreshing.

She was a chosen queen who had earned her respect by hard work and by having a positive and inclusive personality. I hope that one of her many legacies is that the media and others treat individual New Zealanders as people in their own right, without giving labels of ethnicity for the convenience of their reporting.

The media can and does play an important role in enhancing understanding among our communities.

I recently learnt of a case in Auckland involving an elderly Sikh gentleman whose turban was forcibly removed by a young woman in the middle of the street while a group looked on and laughed.

The turban, or dastaar, becomes one with the Sikh's head and is a symbol of spiritual commitment, dedication, self-respect and courage. By wearing their turbans, Sikhs serve as ambassadors of their faith. This is much the same as symbols for other religions, like a cross worn around someone’s neck.

The elderly gentleman was deeply traumitised by the event and when he approached the Papakura Police, they dismissed the case. I was surprised by this reaction because in their Practical Reference to Religious Diversity there is a section on the Sikh faith, which says:

‘A male Sikh must start wearing a turban as soon as he is able to tie it. A baptised Sikh (known as Amritdhari Sikh) always wears the five Ks: Kirpan - a small sword in a shoulder belt; Kara - an iron bangle; Kachera - special underwear; Kanga - a small wooden hair comb; Keshas - a Sikh must not cut Keshas (hair) from his or her body.

Each of the five Ks has a special religious significance for Sikhs.’

There is also a clause in the public service handbook about respecting the rights of the public.

This isn’t the first time the ethnic minorities and religions have been targeted – a recent high-profile case involved Craig Dalton Lindsay, who was sent to prison for sending 30 letters containing ham or pork to Muslim families, and threatening their safety.

After Lindsay was sentenced, Wellington Detective Inspector Harry Quinn said ‘We hope the outcome of this investigation is that people will see that intolerant behaviour is unacceptable; that they will become more tolerant and respectful of the diversity of ethnic and faith based groups and welcome their contribution to our communities’.

These are fine words from an outstanding police officer and should be heeded by his fellow officers, and by the wider community.

Those nasty rates bills – part two

Since my last edition of Pansy Speak there have been some developments on the rates front.

National’s Local Government spokesman, John Carter, has asked the Local Government Select Committee to hold an inquiry into the rates system and Labour have announced they are going to have an ‘independent’ inquiry.

Labour made their announcement after John Carter made his intentions known. The Green Party has abstained on voting on the Select Committee inquiry until they see the terms of reference for Labour’s.

It’s easy to be sceptical about what another of Labour’s independent inquiries will produce – the Ingram report into Taito Phillip Field left many questions unanswered.

There are also concerns as to whether homeowners will be able to contribute to the independent inquiry as they would be able to with a Select Committee one. It would be very disappointing if the very people facing massive rates bills weren’t able to have their concerns heard in an official arena.

Labour is now on notice – ratepayers deserve a fair hearing.

Pansy Wong


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