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Turia: National Maori Women's Refuge Hui Speech

National Maori Women's Refuge Hui

Christchurch, Wednesday 12 March 2008; 10.30am

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

It has always disturbed me that in the horrific aftermath of our fatal crimes against children, our community invests considerable time in blaming, naming, shaming and inflaming the nation as we wag our fingers and say, 'this must never happen again'.

It was in the midst of one of these times, that a quiet letter to the New Zealand Herald was written by the grand-uncle of one of our lost children. Against a tidal wave of anger at the child's mother, who had supposedly sat by and allowed the boy to be murdered, her uncle said, and I quote:

"the real tragedy, aside from the act of murder, lay in the assumption that a young, vulnerable and impressionable teenager who was doing her best to survive in an abusive relationship, could protect another more vulnerable life beside her own.

My niece bears the worst scar in our society and is judged daily by people who have no comprehension of her situation".

It was one of those letters that makes you stop and think.

The child was Maori. The mother is Maori. The uncle is Maori.

It was the powerful reminder of the circles of despair that surround domestic violence. The casualties of violence against women and child extend way beyond individual statistics recorded for the purposes of the DVA approved programmes.

Domestic violence is complex; it is controversial and it is relentless.

As I understand it, for every woman that enters refuge, she will return at least another six times, before she makes a break.

There is no quick fix, no one-stop shop that will make the changes necessary to resolve these issues which plague our community.

The solutions will require the child, the mother, the uncle - and far more in order to achieve mauriora for all of our whanau.

As you here all know - the manifestation of violence is also horrendously complex.

It is abuse which leaves us feeling physically exhausted and mentally fatigued.

It is about spiritual poverty, the sabotage of opportunity, economic stress.

It about being accused of infidelity when one takes pride in their appearance.

It is revealed in swollen eyes, and raised bruises.

It is hidden in reoccurring nightmares, or behind locked doors.

It is disguised by the innocent stories made up by children who stay home from school to look after Mummy.

It is about the worried grandparents, the courageous callers who pick up the phone and say, I don't know what to do for my girl.

I am a strong believer in the notion of Mauriora - that in order to achieve change in our whanau we must first dispel any notion that violence is normal and acceptable.

But in my quest to denormalise violence, I am also just as passionate about normalising the way in which we talk about these things.

On Monday, a conversation was overheard between two Maori men - probably in the fifty year old bracket. They were reacting to an act of self-inflicted violence, which saw another Maori man take his life.

One of the men told the other, "bro, we just have to start getting our act together, talking about things that get us down, asking each other if we're alright".

That same man, the very next day, revealed, the day he "cried for Fernando and for the Rainbow Warrior, the night that the state sponsored terrorism came crashing into our living rooms".

Of course the concept of terrorism is fresh on many of our minds, after the unprecedented raid on the Taupo Maori Women's Refuge last October, under the guise of Operation Eight.

That man - Hone Harawira - and the conversation overheard on Radio Waatea with Willie Jackson - gave me great heart that our men are at least talking about the need to show we care, the courage to love, the power of compassion and drawing on the strength of our feelings to our advantage.

I am so often reminded of the challenge left by my dear friend, Irihapeti Ramsden who asked us to discard the tired old cliché of Maori as warriors, and remember too that we "once were gardeners, once were astronomers, once were philosophers, once were lovers".

I am of course painfully aware of the generations of endemic violence that confronts us. But I find it far more empowering to focus on the generations of entrepreneurs who paved the way for our future through the enterprising and innovative solutions they had at their disposal.

And for so many of these solutions, the answers lie within the korero. They lie within the lyrics of the moteatea passed down, the learnings inherent in the waiata, the haka, the oriori, the pepeha.

Why should it be any different in 2008?

Indeed, over the last five years, if you have been to Te Matatini, to the kapa haka festivals of our school students, in fact probably at the Polyfest in Auckland this week, the most prominent message that comes resonating through the haka, the waiata, the whole performance is of our people saying, enough is enough, no more violence.

I want to really mihi to your organisation for your dedicated leadership in influencing the prevention and elimination of family violence.

I know that part of your vision is that whanau will be liberated from violence because of the quality of the services and the social commentary that you provide.

I am particularly interested in this notion of social commentary - the korero, the discourse, the analysis, the advocacy, the hui.

Mauriora is about being able to live well, to know that wellbeing is more than a matter of physical health.

Mauriora comes from assisting whanau to live without violence; to understand the historical, social, political and cultural context in which it has been raised, and to model new ways of being.

One of my mokopuna came up with an interesting strategy the other day. In the middle of a very tense situation, she grabbed a plastic bag, screamed her lungs out into the bag, and then marched to the wharepaku, opened up the bag and released all of that hot air down the toilet bowl.

A fairly basic approach perhaps, but it worked for her, and it worked for everyone around her. She found her own solution, she was able to express her anger but then also recover a sense of satisfaction after having released all of that tension without hurting anyone in the process.

The korero that we all need to have is what will be the practices that move us forward from the quest for revenge and retribution, to the source of forgiveness and peace?

What is the paradigm shift that we need to make in order to rethink justice, to create a society where we can express our feelings in all their kaleidoscopic colour, but also maintain basic respect and dignity for one another.

I believe that this organisation is well on the way to making that paradigm shift happen.

I am honoured to be here on such a special occasion, at your 21st birthday of the opening of the first women's refuge for tangata whenua, Te Whakaruruhau which opened in Hamilton in March 1987.

Unlike other 21sts I have heard of, there are no hour-glasses waiting to be drunk, no strip-a-grams waiting in the wings - although you may surprise me.

This is a 21st birthday celebration of great significance for Aotearoa. You have demonstrated that parallel development is not only possible, it is extremely successful.

This national Maori women's hui is an opportunity to congratulate both Te Whakaruruhau and Te Whare Roki Roki in Wellington for setting the way for now a dozen refuges operating especially for our wahine and tamariki, as well as general women's refuges working in respect of kaupapa Maori under this model.

I have always been very proud of the way in which the Women's Refuge movement has worked with issues such as confronting racism, understanding decolonisation, respecting tikanga Maori.

I think too, of the huge work that leaders of this movement and all of our kuia have made towards investing in tangata whenua well-being.

I congratulate Heather Henare, the national office and the board, and all of the tireless champions who keep the collectives alive.

Without the core advocates, both paid and unpaid, who work with you in promoting prevention, early intervention and advocacy, it would seem an uphill battle.

I truly believe that the momentum towards mauriora is gaining strength.

I hear the korero of our men, I see the strategies of our children, and I am always overwhelmed with the generosity and the courage of our women in helping us to talk about violence, to articulate the problems, and importantly to aspire towards solutions.

This annual hui is your chance to unwind, to debrief, to cry, to laugh, to sing, to hug, to tell jokes, to share sad stories, to cry again, and maybe to even shout into your closest plastic bag.

But most of all it is your opportunity to celebrate the wonderful commitment you are all making to our whanau. You are doing the hard work, to restore wellbeing, to assist in the healing and reconciliation of our whanau.

It is the greatest challenge of our time. It is the paradigm shift that will make the difference we need to move into a future of peace and of promise.

The Maori Party is extremely honoured to be here to open your hui and to remind us all - we have the power and the potential to really make the change we want to see in the world.

Let us all walk the talk to create the society we want.

A society where we will not be rendered powerless by the ceaseless toll of violence.

A society, where our whanau, hapu and iwi live by the kaupapa and the tikanga that have been gifted to us by those who have gone before us.

A society, where we can truly be proud of having a strong and independent Maori voice to take us into our future.


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