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Sharples: Psychological Society Conference

New Zealand Psychological Society Conference

Sky Tower Conference Centre, Auckland

Tuesday 26 September 2006

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

[Check against Delivery]

A week ago today, at about this time, in what the pollsters define as the optimum period to gauge the size of one’s listening audience, a thunderbolt was issued on national radio.

I referred to the kahu, the hawk, as my spiritual guide.

I described the significance of the kahu as my kaitiaki, foreshadowing times when I need to be more attuned to events around me, reassuring me that my tupuna are watching over me. I mentioned how there is a particular stretch of road leading to the mighty kingdom of Takapau where the kahu will make itself manifest. Everywhere I go, the kahu follows me around.

I have often wondered how the Hawkes Bay rugby team located in my iwi Ngati Kahungunu, ever got motivated by a magpie - I’d have thought my kahu is more appropriate as a symbol for motivation. Keen of sight, of grace, of speed and of strength - necessary requirements on a rugby field.

But back to the listening audience of last week.

The thunder cracked, the lightning flashed, and not one email, not one letter, not even a phone call has been received.

And yet it is but six years ago, in September 2000, that my esteemed colleague Tariana Turia, addressed this same annual conference held at Waikato University, and issued some comments which shook the nation.

Her speech was sensationalised within hours, for her reference to the Waitangi Tribunal’s Taranaki Report of 1996. Tariana’s reference to the explicit association between colonisation and cultural genocide sparked off an acrimonious debate, which resulted in her being censured by the Prime Minister; and psychology students having a bountiful supply of words to illustrate thesis dissertations and conference papers for the next few years.

But there was another part of the speech which also provoked a barrage of abuse and condemnation. Tariana addressed your hui with these words:

Does your training and education address issues like the nature of the Maori kai tiaki, the spiritual guardian all Maori have? What if I told you I have been visited a number of times by my kai tiaki and had carried out a conversation? What if I said to you that my kai tiaki had cautioned me about a particular action?

The response from the New Zealand public was scathing. The letters flooded in, the talkback steamed, and practically every politician in Parliament rushed to dissociate themselves from her.

National MP Roger Sowry described her reference to her kai tiaki as ‘off the planet’. But it wasn’t just Tariana that had ‘lost the plot’. Political commentator, Lindsay Perigo observed, and I quote,

“It's doubtful that Mzzzzzz Turia was any nuttier than most of her audience - purveyors of what Winston Peters so aptly called "psycho-babble".

Indeed Mr Perigo got quite worked up, describing Tariana’s reference to her spiritual guardian as reflecting the “absurd resurgence of primitive, tribal superstition” which resulted in ‘kaitiakitanga’ being included in the Resource Management Act of 1991. Perigo warned the nation that this type of ‘mumbo jumbo’ would end in chaos, citing Voltaire’s observation, that “People who believe absurdities commit atrocities”. An interesting commentary from a man who believes in the freedom of speech.

Russell Brown, on talkback show 95BM, concluded that the consensus from the country was that Turia should be told to “Shut up, keep her thoughts to herself, deny the beliefs of a lifetime”.

So I come to this esteemed annual conference with a certain amount of anticipation. Will my speech today become the subject of talkback hostility? Will I be asked to withdraw and apologise for my absurdities? Will I be condemned by the nation, for referring to te kahu as my spiritual guide? Should this section of the Sky Tower be cordoned off and media barred from entry now as a precaution against prejudice?

For right now I pause to tell you that I have such “absurdities” in my own life. For example, I mentioned to you all that I have as one of my spirit guides the kahu, or hawk. I knew this as a child and always felt comfortable in my rural upbringing to be continually surrounded by these birds. They were always around me - or flying above me, and equally, I expected them to be there. Even as a senior boy scout my patrole was named after the kahu. And when I moved to the city as a young adult these country birds regularly visited me at Te Atatu Peninsula, at Hoani Waititi Marae in Oratia and many of the country side patches in city parks whenever I was training or jogging.

Our Maori religion reveals to us that we have kaitiaki - guardian spirits, accompanying each of us. In fact, an essential element of the traditional Maori pöwhiri is to respect the presence of those spirits amongst both the manuhiri and the tangata whenua.

For myself, on several occasions the presence of the kahu has preceded my own communication with kaitiaki including my late mother.

And so, is my address also to be condemned and to be assigned to the “mumbo jumbo” or has the Psychological Society been so successful in its response to Tariana’s questions, that te hinengaro, the female who is both known and hidden, the conscious and subconscious mind, is now universally valued as a key component of the holistic nature of health?

Is the script upon which we read the Maori psyche now a full one, where the severe psychological toll of land alienation is acknowledged?

Has Aotearoa advanced to a space where the reconnection to our spiritual healing is recognised as critical in addressing the fragmentation and dislocation of identity?

A dislocation which Sir Apirana Ngata associated with the loss of land, the structural impediments to access finance to develop the land and interestingly the leasing of Maori lands where the people moved from working the land to being the non working recipients of rent monies. This in turn resulting in a dependence on passive incomes and a loss of the sense of work and self sufficiency.

Or was it just that the focus of New Zealanders a week ago was instead focused on the ‘real issues’ of the day, the muck-raking and mud-slinging about affairs of the state between the Labour and National parties?

I wonder - have we really come that far? Is the mainstream acceptance of concepts such as wairua, as kaitiakitanga, a case of they can say what they like, just not in my backyard? Accepted yes. Supported no.

Massey University researcher, Dr Amohia Boulton, examined the experience of Maori mental health providers and found that they frequently and consistently worked outside the boundaries of their contractual obligations in caring for the well-being of clients.

She challenged the Government to recognise that generic models of contracting are ill equipped to accurately monitor, assess or measure Maori mental health service provision. Dr Boulton observed:

“They are expected to provide services that are aligned with the values and norms enshrined in Maori culture but are often not resourced to do so. A more responsive health contracting environment, which takes account of both world views, is required”.

Is the nation really any further along that the controversy of 2000, if a mis-match exists in the standard contracting approach?

Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done.

An environment which believes in social justice would not only recognise different world values, but also value them as credible cultural performance standards.

If a loss of spirit is acknowledged to restrict the possibilities inherent for a healthy, human existence, then so too must the converse be understood. Or as Maori health professionals would say, health is more than the absence of disease.

What then, can we understand, about wellness and holistic health?

Just over a fortnight ago, I talked to the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists and shared my enthusiasm for Te Aho Tapu Trust, a kaupapa Maori based organisation in South Auckland which provides psychological services.

Te Aho Tapu has moved past the categories of the International Classification of Diseases (UCD 10) and the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statististical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) to rely on models which differ to Western models of health.

The organisation, formed by two Maori clinical psychologists, Aroha Panapa and Sharon Rickard, promotes the use of concepts such as manaakitanga, whakapapa, karakia, te reo, as a means of promoting Maori identity and heritage as the key intervention for their whanau to flourish.

Such concepts are not only of benefit to tangata whaiora, but also the business of psychology.

Michelle Levy of the Maori and Psychology Research unit at Waikato university has described the intervention of ‘Maori focused psychologies’ - psychologies which are relevant to and for Maori’ as creating environments in which Maori wish to participate; where competency to work with Maori is seen as best practice; where there are real opportunities to influence outcomes and priorities.

The concept of healing our health, mind, spirit and soul through promotion of our own cultural practices is also one that resonates with other indigenous nations throughout the globe.

Joe Garcia, President of the National Congress of American Indians, spoke earlier this year about ensuring indigenous peoples are creating our own solutions. He said:

We are a people that have every right to be on this mother earth. We are the ones protecting mother earth. …. don't falter. Continue, and always ask the Great Spirit for help. Don't forget your way. Don't forget your children. Don't forget your language, your culture, your tradition.

The practice of Te Aho Tapu demonstrates, however, that sometimes the psychological unwellness or imbalance resident in tangata whaiora, may require a process of stripping away the clutter in order to restore vitality and connection.

Looking to our global indigenous whanaunga again, I was struck by mind pictures created by Dr. Eduardo Duran (Apache/Tewa), in his newest book: "Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indians and Other Native Peoples."

Duran, a healer with the Miwok/Maidu community in Northern California, provides a spiritual definition of decolonization as

“the exorcism of an energy or a spirit that has taken over our minds and spirits”.

Our tupuna believed and lived in a way which respected each life as sacred. That is the energy and spirit we need to return to, in order to truly heal ourselves, our whanau, hapu and iwi.

It is such a concept which has encouraged us in the Maori Party to call for a Genuine Progress Index, GPI, as providing a measure of comprehensive, sustainable, and inclusive advancement. To restore our minds and spirits to an energy which is uplifting and encourages relationships which are mana-enhancing.

The GPI distinguishes between positive contributions to progress (the building of schools) and negative activity (the building of prisons). Within this model, health promotion is a positive; the use of time and resources for treating addictions, though necessary, is a negative.

The GPI, then, is an indicator of net advancement and progress.

The Maori Party supports the development of GPIs for use at national and community levels; believing it to be the type of initiative which may well bring about the sea-change, the transformation necessary, to achieve the shift in perception and understanding required.

We have much to learn from each other.

Your conference will enable vital conversations to occur about cultural relativity and mental, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing. To share indigenous ways of cultural expression. To debate the ways in which inter- and trans-generational aspects of trauma can be addressed with practical processes for healing. To learn about strategies to build resilience, in tackling the impact of family and community violence and recovery.

The perspectives of our indigenous brothers and sisters across the Tasman will be of particular interest. I am aware that in April this year, the second intake of students in the Master of Indigenous Studies (Wellbeing) at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples graduated; and that the Bachelor programme (Trauma and Healing) has witnessed an increase in student enrolments. Developments such as these are highly relevant to our story here in Aotearoa.

We will be interested to hear your thoughts about the Sorry Books, the Sorry Day, the business of reconciliation; and how that has addressed the Journey of Healing for the stolen generation.

Has it achieved what South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has shown, in being seen to acknowledge the injustice before expecting any progress to be made in healing the wounds?

Has there been a commitment to rebuild relationships on new foundations of recognition, respect, sharing and responsibility? Has justice been seen to be done?

Finally, I refer to the words of English poet, John Keats:

The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing -

to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.

We have our own powers, our own solutions, our kaitiaki to call on, to truly heal our soul wounds as a people.

When we know we will really have achieved genuine progress as a nation, will be when these solutions are recognised and resourced in such a way to address the disparity between the health of indigenous peoples and the health of the general population.

And then we will truly know that kaitiakitanga, the spiritual and cultural guardianship of Te Ao Märama, is in good hands.


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