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'New Eyes to See the Infinite Possibilities'

Alternative Education National Conference Centra Airport Hotel, Mangere

Friday 22 September 2006; 11.30am

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

'New Eyes to See the Infinite Possibilities'

It is an honour to be preceding Gilli (Sinclair) in speaking to you this morning. I have watched with interest the mahi Gilli is doing with Counties Manukau Counties DHB and the New Zealand Association for Adolescent Health and Development.

She has facilitated opportunities for the various health and youth focused Ministries, DHB planners and funders, and service providers; and other key players in youth health service provision to get together, and share ideas and enthusiasm about how to ensure the wellbeing of our rangatahi is a priority for us all.

I place emphasis on enthusiasm and priority - because down in Wellington, sometimes those two factors seem harder to come across than it is to witness a polite conversation in the House.

Just over a month ago, our education spokesperson, Te Ururoa Flavell, issued a release which spoke of our frustration with the way in which this Government is addressing alternative education.

In his release, Te Ururoa gave the facts, the stark reality described in The Social Report 2006, of the disparity between Maori, European and Asian school leavers. He reported that:

"47% of Maori school leavers left with qualifications higher than NCEA Level 1 in 2004 compared to 74% of European and 87% of Asian students".

That one fact, is in itself, a pretty good reason why I would want to come here today, to meet with those in the know, providers and managers, tutors; those at the cutting edge of making a difference for our rangatahi in the sphere of alternative education.

For a system which creates such a gap, leaving up to thirty percentage points between Maori students and others is a very real cause for concern, one that the Maori Party must take up, in our commitment to defend Maori rights, to advance Maori interests, for the benefit of all whom call this land home.

But I also come here today, uplifted by the belief that the educational advancement of all peoples, is a means of living a powerful and fulfilling life.

And I say this, because I have seen it happen.

In 1983 we designed and established an alternative education programme for youth and adults; for men, women and children, based around Maori weaponry; health and fitness; te reo Maori; Maori history and customs.

This programme was called Te Whare Tu Taua o Aotearoa, (National School of Maori Weaponry) and has two thousand students with branches in London, Hawai'i, Australia; from Colac Bay at the bottom of the South Island to Kaitaia in the North.

In 1985, over twenty years ago, we founded the first kura kaupapa Maori in the world, at Hoani Waititi marae as a total immersion Maori language primary school programme for kohanga reo graduates. Following the kura kaupapa Maori we established a whare kura, the first kaupapa Maori high school for kura graduates to attend their subjects in total immersion Maori language.

We developed this further into Te Toi Huarewa o Hoani Waititi marae; which was first registered in 1993. The concept is that the marae hosts a kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare kura and a private training establishment; based on the premise that Maori may flourish as Maori.

This is a tertiary programme with open entry for adult students and youth to participate in marae culture, te reo Maori and the whole range of tikanga programmes.

The whole programme is in essence a birth-to-death education programme beginning in early childhood through to adulthood; open-ended and based firmly in tikanga Maori and the premise that Maori may flourish as Maori.

This may sound a simple statement - to Be Maori.

Some of you may have attended, like me, the Hui Taumata Matauranga convened in Turangi and Taupo in February 2001 at the invitation of Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu Te Heuheu. At that hui, Professor Mason Durie shared with us a basic starting point, that education should be consistent with the goal of enabling Mäori to live as Mäori.

That meant being able to have access to te ao Mäori, the Mäori world - access to language, culture, marae, resources such as land, tikanga, whänau, kaimoana.

If after twelve or so years of formal education Mäori youth were totally unprepared to interact within te ao Mäori, then no matter what else had been learned, education would have been incomplete.

The key principle behind Durie's thinking, was that students must be prepared for active lives within Mäori society, not simply to learn about Mäori but to live as Mäori.

My experience with Te Toi Huarewa confirms for me not only that to 'Be Maori': seeing is believing, but also that believing is seeing.

We desperately wanted to support our whanau, in supporting our tamariki whom the system labelled 'at risk'. We saw the need, and we believed that if we restored faith and confidence in our whanau and community, to create our own solutions, we could achieve the impossible - that was turning around the fortunes for our young.

We believed that our rangatahi who were leaving school in their droves, who had become alienated from school, who had dropped out - who had experienced little success in their schooling to date - could and should have a new start.

And because we believed so passionately in that goal; we achieved wonders. With every success, we believed even more in what we were doing.

Marcel Proust, French intellectual and writer, has said that

"The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes".

Our landscape, our heritage, that which we had already known to stand the test of time was Hoani Waititi marae. But the way in which we saw it as meeting the needs for these so-called marginalised students, was entirely new.

We drew on a wealth of resources - the workskills programmes, Tu Tangata, confidence building programmes, educational, cultural, health and welfare and vocational training programmes.

But we were also firmly located in the context of our cultural heritage.

Our students learnt about the ritual of encounter through the powhiri carried out on the sacred space in front of the meeting house, Te Marae-Atea-o-Tumatauenga.

They would learn the significance of whakapapa, the connections that are evident through the tukutuku, the poupou, the tekoteko, the maihi; the significant symbols of our tupuna embracing them within the sanctity of the whare nui.

It was about Being Maori; being proud of the value of our indigenous culture; retaining and developing our culture with a vibrancy that would lead us to the future.

So when I hear statistics such as the fact that Maori accounted for 41% of all stand-downs, and 47% of all suspensions in 2004, it makes me weep.

In real numbers that's 8383 Maori kids stood down from school; and 2244 suspended.

Nationally, the number of applications for exemptions increased by a third between 2000 and 2005. That means, last year, nearly 4200 exemptions were granted, making up 7.5 per cent of the total 15-year-old student population.

I believe that we have everything we need in our culture and our whakapapa to provide us with the solutions to move forward; to stop our young people leaving school, their future compromised.

I was interested in the theme for the keynote address tomorrow, 'imperishable seeds: a metaphor for youth development'. It resonated with me the promise of the expression, E kore au e ngaro, he käkano i ruia mai i Rangiätea. I shall never be lost. The seed that was sown at Rangiatea, will grow and bear fruit.

We all have no more important task than to maximise our contribution to the survival of those who come after us. For the Maori Party, we are absolutely committed to live according to kaupapa handed down by our ancestors.

Our President, Professor Whatarangi Winiata, sums it up best:

This notion of survival is about there being a substantial number of te käkano i ruia mai i Rangiätea living according to kaupapa and tikanga tuku iho that are distinctive in the global cultural mosaic.

It is right here that we observe the importance of Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi. Its expression is central to the survival and prosperity of Mäori as a people. Every time the fulfilment of the guarantees given by the Crown in Article Two is diminished; so is the prospect of survival of Mäori as a people.

Throughout these two days, there will be workshops bringing the best of Rarotongan, Irish, Niuean, Samoan, Tongan, German, Scottish, American, Palangi, knowledge and experience to bear in the alternative education setting.

Tangata Pasifika and Tangata whenua experiences will sit alongside each other, in drawing on our common values of whanaungatanga, of whakapapa, of our cultural strengths.

Like our kaupapa in the Maori Party, the goals put forward for youth development will reflect values and practices handed down by the ancestors.

This is what I believe strengthens the links between total health and learning in the alternative education setting. It is about Being and Knowing - making identity real - having a goal that can be seen.

Almost ten years after alternative education first got going, it is timely to be looking at what works, and what investment has been made in ensuring success.

Between 2005 and 2006, the expectation of the Ministry of Education is that the numbers of students in this category would rise from 2800 to 3500 - and yet the funding has remained static.

Throughout the country we have heard stories of programme rolls overflowing; and yet funding being woefully inadequate. We also know of the dedicated commitment of so many providers, who are putting in the hours, with little financial reward; believing that if they invest in the potential of these young people, society will see what they see.

You see I believe the alternative education programme was in fact designed with the attitude of targetting failure.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about this - a programme for kids who don't fit. A programme because schools can't provide for all their children.

The general one-size-fits-all model of our schooling system often deserts the strugglers and ignores the gifted.

And I say here to the world, that we do not patch up alternative education kids - that we don't repair them - that we don't see them as lesser - or they will be.

Instead, we see them with new eyes and join with them to build an exciting future of possibility. To be able to nourish a child with their long police record, to become a fully qualified kura kaupapa Maori teacher, is just one example of the possibilities available.

Our team has heard, provider after provider, talk to us about the incredible devotion of their tutors, the work involved, and the success involved.

As an example, just across town, very few of the 220 thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year-old students attending the Waitakere City Alternative Education Programme last year achieved less than thirteen credits in NCEA. That's a great good news story - which you would think lends itself to encouraging the Government to invest more - not keep the funding caught in a fixed amount.

The concept of new eyes is really important because in kura kaupapa Maori what started as an initiative to save te reo Maori ended up as a flagship to lead a renaissance around re-validating kaupapa Maori - reconstructing the current Maori world view.

Through new eyes, it became a symbol for tino rangatiratanga.

I want to end with the story of two remarkable New Zealanders.

The first, Maurice Wilkins, was awarded the Nobel Prize for making possible the discovery of DNA. He was born in Aotearoa and lived here until he was six. On a TV interview, he was asked whether it would mean anything to him to be recognised as a New Zealander. He put his face in his hands and wept.

New Zealand-born Nancy Wake, who at the age of 93 is one of our greatest living war heroines, also left New Zealand at a tender age. She is Maori, from the Pourewa line, and has been honoured by Great Britain, France, USA and Australia, and as such is the Allied Forces' most decorated service-woman.

Despite, at the time, an eighty-year absence from her country of birth, in 1994 Nancy Wake refused to donate her medals to the Museum of Australia, protesting that she was still a New Zealander with a New Zealand passport.

One of the greatest ironies of our time is that this heroic war hero, celebrated by every other country in the world it would seem, has still, at this point, failed to receive a long overdue recognition by the New Zealand Government. In sheer frustration, the RSA has taken it on themselves, to honour her with their highest award, the Badge of Gold, which will be presented to her at Buckingham Palace before the end of this year.

I wanted to share the stories of these two international heroes, because they reflect the cutting edge, the cultural strength that speak to us of the survival of te käkano i ruia mai i Rangiätea.

Both of these heroes, have held passionately to their identification with their homeland; wanting nothing more than the honour of being recognised as a New Zealander. It tells us much about the importance of identity; of knowing and believing in who we are.

It is precisely this resilience, the passionate identification with one's homeland; the importance of landscape and heritage and 'Being' that the Maori Party believes could be critical in ensuring alternative education provides a foundation for future success for the young people of Aotearoa.

We will continue to advocate for more resourcing for alternative education - just as we continue to advocate for appropriate recognition to be given to Nancy Wake. But while it is right and proper that our efforts are directed towards ensuring the system responds; we encourage you all to continue investing in the potential of our future leaders.

In caring for our future, you are helping us all to have new eyes in which to attain success. And in that, you are making sure the seed that was sown at Rangiatea, will grow and bear fruit. With the right nurturing, the appropriate investment, and strong leadership from us all; we will, indeed, never be lost.

ENDS

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