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Sharples: General Debate

General Debate; Wednesday 20 February 2008

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

One of my great loves is to return to Ngati Kahungunu, and go back to our marae, to listen, learn and reconnect. All of our marae have histories and legacies that can assist in the problems of the world.

I was thinking particularly of Rongomaraeroa – and its dining room, Te Uaua Tamariki – literally the Sinews of Youth. This name came from a great feast, the kaihuakai, hosted by our tipuna, Te Whatuiapiti and his eldest son, Te Rangiwawahia.

But like with so many of our names, it also represents another meaning. It honours the effort, (the sinews) of the younger people of Ngati Kere who fund-raised, who refurbished the marae, who made it happen. The name recognises the hope that young and old, like Te Whatuiapiti and Te Rangiwawahia, can work together.

And this is the ambition I hold for our nation.

It is an expression of hope that I have returned to in sharp contrast to the otherwise grim anger and despair that has played out across our screens over these fledging weeks of the new year.

We have had talkback radio erupting with the rage of New Zealanders about tagging and taggers, a rage so violent that one would almost assume that the brutal death of a young tagger in Manurewa was being minimised, accepted as his fate.

In the same period, we have witnessed an elderly couple randomly attacked in their home by a man armed with an axe and knife.

We have had Cabinet Ministers describe Waitangi Day as being a recruitment drive for gangs; or refer to what he calls ‘the ongoing degeneration in the behaviour and conduct” of our young Maori men during the haka as “making growling noises like underfed mutts”.

And while these comments were being aired, other media outlets were seeking conflict as the theme for Waitangi in 2008 – the fascination with Tame Iti, with whether the Prime Minister would go on to Te Tii, the astonishment that there could be peace at Waitangi.

Well contrary to some speculation, Waitangi has always been an opportunity for peaceful reflections around Te Tiriti o Waitangi, for collective spirit and commitment to our nation’s good, and for challenges whether they be in protest or in the addresses presented in the church services of this festival.

I could go on, but it is all deeply depressing.

The point is, that if one is searching for conflict and fury, sooner or later an issue will come bubbling to the surface.

But then just when we thought Operation Eight and the terror raids against Tuhoe were a bad memory, more arrests in Ruatoki and Maketu have taken place.

As Tamati Kruger, Chairperson of Te Kotahi a Tuhoe Trust remarked, these arrests felt like further persecution of Tuhoe.

Now this weekend, at Opotiki, the Mataatua Kapa Haka regional competitions will take place. I am told there are 18 teams and 700 adult performers and every group has chosen to deal with the terror raids.

What will be the legacy from this period of time for the mokopuna of Mataatua? Last November, the marae digipoll of 1003 Māori voters, described how Maori perceived the impact of Operation Eight. The poll revealed

- that 68% of Māori surveyed saw the armed raids in Te Urewera as an unnecessary over-reaction;

- that 52% of Māori polled saw the raids as having negative consequences for race relations;

- that 55% of the Māori surveyed agreed that the police have acted in a way which has terrorised Māori communities.

In the midst of this darkness, I do, however, hold perpetual faith that it is in the very nature of our people and our traditions, that we can stand strong as we face our future.

For what our histories also show is how uniquely Māori responses developed in resistance to the actions across Aotearoa.

In Kahungunu, at home, when the Police Commissioner came to talk about these things, the elders all sat in the front row of the Paepae, clad in black balaclavas.

Other iwi made their way to Tuhoe, supporting in solidarity a people who have had their civil rights violated. Individuals have co-ordinated various complaints to the Human Rights Commission or the Police Complaints Authority. And others took part in a peace vigil - focused on support for the communities, families and individuals affected by the terrorism raids.

These actions are actions of resistance which refuse to let Ruatoki just be added to the list of actions experienced by Māori at Parihaka, Maungapohatu, Bastion Point, Pakaitore, Waitara.

We must not forget – and we must also remember that the future of this nation will always rest in the power of the people. That is where our greatest hope lies.


ENDS

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