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Sharples: Leaders in Sport Conference 2008

Leaders in Sport Conference 2008

Championing Indigenous Causes Through Sport

Skycity Convention Centre, Auckland

Dr Pita R Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Friday 4 April 2008

Two years ago, on the eve of Waitangi Day, an ex-Navy diver, Robert Hohepa Hewitt, spent four days and three nights lost at sea.

The Westpac helicopter, the Wellington Police Maritime Unit, a platoon of coast guard and private boats, all converged on the Kapiti Coast, searching unsuccessfully for Robert.

His remarkable survival after 75 hours of immersion in sixteen degree water has been explained away by an array of factors and analysis.

The extraordinary feat was described as exemplifying core values of the navy – courage, commitment and comradeship.

Medics explained the survival as having been about the rescue team following correct procedures in treating dehydration and hypothermia.

From both being old boys of Te Aute, I might well have explained it as exemplying the excellent foundation we had at such a fine school.

Or it may well have been the quality of the kina and crayfish that Hewitt rationed to himself during his ordeal which provides us with the answer.

But perhaps the greatest answer lay in the profound application of kaupapa Maori – and in particular whanaungatanga and wairuatanga.

The relationships that sustain our whanau, hapu and iwi; the common bonds of whakapapa, our genealogy; were a powerful source of inspiration to Hewitt as he lay, close to life’s edge. He called out to his whanau, to his children, his parents – his love for them becoming the source of great stamina.

The other life-sustaining factor was undoubtedly the connection that Robert felt to his tipuna, to the atua.

In his book, Treading Water, he spoke about praying to God, and the Gods of the Sea and of the Wind. It was the wairua that brought him home, his younger brother Norm Hewitt explaining that he felt as though his brother had been delivered to them by Tangaroa, the Maori God of the Sea.

As I thought about the focus for this session, championing indigenous causes through sport, it was the example provided by Robert Hewitt that struck a chord.

And I thought of that whakatauaki left us by Ta Apirana Ngata

Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori, hei tikitiki mo to mahuna.

Hold fast to the treasures of your ancestors as a plume for your head.

I was delighted to be able to speak to you today, at this Leaders in Sport Conference, and to share with you some of the indigenous ‘x’ factor that we believe provides a context for sport and recreation.

Context for Indigenous Sport

Tangata whenua have a proven record of achievement at the highest level of international sport, competing and winning on the world stage.

Over 120 years ago, Jack Taiaroa and Joseph Warbrick were two of the outstanding members of the New Zealand representative rugby team which toured New South Wales in 1884, and later as part of the 1888 Natives, Great Britain and North America.

They were followed by some of the greatest All Blacks to ever grace the earth – including George Nepia, Buck Shelford, Johnny Smith, Mac Herewini, Waka Nathan, Sid Going and many others.

And then of course, there is the incredible Aotearoa Maori Women’s Rugby Sevens who have won every tournament that they have competed in since the team’s inception eight years ago. In this time they have won the prestigious Hong Kong International Women’s 7’s Tournament for a record five consecutive years, and are ranked Number One in the world.

And perhaps the ultimate proof of just how successful the Aotearoa Maori Women’s Rugby Sevens team have been, is evident in the shock decision that was made to exclude them from this year’s Hong Kong international. Tournament organisers suddenly decided that only full national representative teams could compete, thus excluding our team – leaving coach Peter Joseph to wonder if maybe they had just been too successful.

That successful application of Maori talents in the sporting arena is, of course, not just displayed on the rugby field. Tangata whenua are succeeding in the US Golfing open; in rugby league, in netball, squash, wood-chopping, rowing, cue ball, waka ama, tae kwon do, body boarding, cricket, wheelchair racing, in fact in every sphere right across the world.

But we are also very keen to see Māori participation in activities that are non-competitive but involve a level of physicality. Participation that is good for the emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing, alongside the physical, must also be encouraged.

Our vision as the Maori Party is that all New Zealanders are supported to have healthy and active lifestyles in order to focus on fulfilling their aspirations.

Championing Indigenous Causes – Kaupapa

So what is behind this remarkable x factor that was responsible for a remarkable fortnight in New Zealand history – when the Maori rugby team beat the British and Irish lions; and then a week later Michael Campbell made world history, in beating Tiger Woods to the post, in the final round of the US Golf Open.

Sport and Recreation New Zealand may tell us that it’s to do with incredibly high rates of participation. Over the course of a year, 97% of Maori adults will participate in some form of sport or active leisure – maybe joining a touch rugby game at the whanau reunion; taking to the netball court with other old girls; helping out the kids, blasting the whistle as a referee, or in a coaching role.

Some forty percent of Maori are active members of a gym or sports club; while good old-fashioned walking is the most common way that both men and women are active.

But our success is not just about living the 'Just Do It' Nike Brand.

Our success and leadership is about Just Doing it in style.

Maori style. Kaupapa style.

I’ve looked through the conference programme and seen some of the weird and wonderful ideas to be promoted during this hui – social marketing, performance measures for elite sports, extreme adventure, sport as a unifying tool.

One of the most fundamental success factors for our Maori sportspeople and leaders is the source of inspiration we draw from kaupapa handed down by our ancestors.

The late Irihapeti Ramsden, architect of cultural safety, had a way of describing the value of our ancient traditions, which have been passed down the generations – which I think apply to the context of performance sport. She said, and I quote:

“The epic seagoing journeys of our tipuna are amongst the most dramatic in the repertoire of all human achievement.

These tipuna had all the building blocks of a powerful future: confidence in themselves, their way of life, their dream and their right to fulfil it”.

Is it any wonder then that the America’s Cup winner, Alinghi, included in its crew, Dean Phipps, Matt Mitchell and Brendan Simmons all from Ngai Tahu, and Ngapuhi lawyer, Hamish Ross.

The epic journeys of our tipuna, the building blocks of success, have been aided by the kaupapa and tikanga that we in the Maori Party believe can be of universal value for all who call Aotearoa home.

These kaupapa Mäori, the foundation principles of the Mäori world, form the bedrock from which we seek success in all of our lives.

It is about a way of living which acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own – Manaakitanga.

It is about rangatiratanga, walking the talk, following through on commitments made, demonstrating integrity and honesty. It’s about determining our own futures, creating our tomorrows.

And it’s about Whanaungatanga - inter-dependence with each other and recognition that the people are our wealth, our source of strength and support, as Rob Hewitt so clearly showed us.

I'd like to use the example of kapa haka, for instance, as a point of unique identity, a point of difference, the potential for the absolute expression of who we are as tangata whenua.

After over thirty years in Te Roopu Manutaki, I can truly say to you I have never reached the plateau – and never want to – where I can just go through the motions, do the actions, sing the songs.

Every kapa haka performance is an opportunity to honour each other, to honour our tribal histories, to honour our commitment to tino rangatiratanga. And so, there is no place for mediocrity or complacency.

The haka is about rhythm, grace, balance, hand-eye co-ordination, use of voice; it engages every aspect of your physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological being.

We strive to achieve the highest standards of excellence; we challenge ourselves to live up to the most rigorous forms of discipline, to treat each other with respect, to be tight in our sense of unity as a team, to endeavour to achieve a collective vision.

This is the value of kotahitanga in action - achievement of harmony and moving as one.

Another excellent opportunity for observing students working as an ope taua – as a team, following instructions and working together, is in the ancient art of mau rakau. Mau rakau is the advancement of traditional weaponry skills nurtured and guided always within a context of personal pride, of self esteem, of self discipline.

Participants in mau rakau wananga are challenged to test their agility, their speed, their strength; but significantly, alongside the physical skills they are also the beneficiaries of a powerful source of knowledge – their history, whakapapa, tikanga.

Significantly, any wananga is also a time of spiritual sustenance, as we call on our ancestors to offer protection. It is the value of wairuatanga - the connections made to our tipuna, our marae, our maunga, awa, moana.

It is the capacity to understand where we stand as mana whenua - the principle which defines Mäori by the land occupied by right of ancestral claim.

Finally, the application of kaupapa Maori as a framework of thought, a process of visualising success, has been demonstrated at the highest levels, when we think of the influence of New Amsterdam Reedy, and his role as a cultural attaché as part of the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s Maori Advisory Group.

Amster is now an established part of the Commonwealth and Olympic strategic team, having helped to shape the cultural identity of teams competing at Athens, Torino, Melbourne and of course Beijing.

He is joined with others the calibre of Trevor Shailer who of course is an Olympian in his own right, having competed in boxing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and winning a bronze medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

What is so fantastic about the work that Amster, and the other experts that constitute the Olympic Committee’s Maori Advisory Group, is that the process they have used at the highest levels of competitive sport, is a process firmly based in kaupapa and tikanga Maori; a process which can be used to enhance personal performance, and importantly a process which was used to unify and consolidate the overall shape of the team as New Zealanders.

Just how important this process has been, is demonstrated when we think back to 2006 and the outrage that international competitors raised about the fact that haka would spontaneously break out, in victorious rapture, by the members of the New Zealand squad.

At the time, New Zealand chef de mission, Dave Currie, responded to the Ozzie complaint of overkill, and I quote,

“It’s something that is uniquely New Zealand and I think that other countries envy us because we’ve got something of substance”.

He went on to say that the haka is a way of celebrating, recognising, honouring, welcoming and sending off their teammates, and an expression of the emotions they were feeling.

And ultimately, it is time that New Zealand recognised that we are the haka and the haka is us. Something uniquely New Zealand, something of substance, our own home-grown strategy for success.


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