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Tariana Turia: A Framework for Wellness

Te Pae Mahutonga – A Framework for Wellness;

Fourth Mental Health Promotion Hui Aotearoa

Orongomai Marae, Upper Hutt

Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Thursday 7 August 2008; 7pm

There’s something about the place of Rongomai and stars.

Just last weekend I enjoyed a wonderful event here dining with the stars, our kaumatua and kuia.

And here we are tonight, celebrating Te Pae Mahutonga – the four central stars of the Southern Cross.

Orongomai Marae welcomes everyone to this special place – a base for any iwi away from their ukaipo.

And I have no doubt that there are Ngati Awa people who come here and share their special connection through Taneatua, the tohunga of the Mataatua canoe. Taneatua brought the comets and meteors with him in the canoe, known by the composite name of Rongomai.

There is, indeed a local saying 'The sparks of Rongomai never fail to bring shouts of wonder from the lips of men.'

But Rongomai also has another meaning – it can be interpreted as medicine, healing, and good news.

With such an assiduous connection to the heavens, to healing and to good health, I firmly believe that all stars will be in alignment for this mental health promotion hui.

But I draw the line at Dancing with the Stars! There’s no way that you’ll be getting me to tango, samba or paso doble tonight. I’ll leave that perhaps for Derek (Fox) and the multi-talented Te Coasties whom I understand are the feature entertainment for this grand dinner function.

My function, then, is to be the warm up act, that leaves you with the tingling sensation of wanting more, preparing for the encore.

And really, isn’t that our ultimate aspiration for mental health promotion – that we are encouraged, challenged, inspired towards achieving our own framework for wellness.

I have been looking forward to being with you, to acknowledge the distinctive role you have as mental health promoters towards keeping us all well.

Sometimes our tangata whai ora may feel as if the place of comfort they are seeking is indeed as far away as the stars above; out of reach, but forever in sight.

Other times their vision is obscured by clouds that conceal even the brightest light.

Clouds such as discrimination, stigma, racism, lack of understanding, ignorance, rejection, dis-association.

In the days of great clarity and the nights of relentless confusion, it is important to have the direction of pointers, to help us all face fear.

That is where you all come in.

Your wisdom and leadership in standing along Maori, Pasifika and tangata whaiora, is vital in supporting the capacity of whanau and communities to take great care for their mental health.

It is about willingly taking up the role of navigators, to guide communities in ways which will enable and encourage the full participation of all its members.

Participation in the economy, in families, in education, in employment, in decision-making, in the knowledge society, in the life of the community.

Thirty or so years ago, an advertisement for a mind altering benzodiazepine, proclaimed, “You can’t change her environment but you can change her mood with Serenid”.

Te Pae Mahutonga is the absolute opposite of such a mindset.

We know now that we all have many different routes towards optimum health; that there are as many different waka to take us there as there are indeed pathways through the constellation of stars.

The central point, is in knowing what our focus is before we set out on our journey in the first place.

Mental health leadership has advanced a long way from the days when prozac or psych units were the only answer

We now have far greater appreciation of the triggers that make people unwell. We accept that there may have been significant impacts from external sources that have impacted on our wellness.

Factors such as:

• The long term impact of post-colonial traumatic stress disorder;

• Loss of land, loss of language, loss of the essence of who we are;

• the piercing damage of sexual abuse;

• the challenge of presenting with co-existing disorders;

• the complex and multiple needs that emerge from the experiences of refugee populations;

• the post-migration adjustment of new New Zealanders;

• the effects of gambling harm or domestic violence.

Stress, isolation, social dislocation are key elements of the environmental trauma that threaten mental health The issue is – how do we reconnect ourselves to who we are?

And we remember of course, that the smoking hot guitar kind of blues we associate with African-American artists was sourced from a brutal history of slavery and captivity.

The basic attitude of the blues, is that it is possible to rise from unanswerable pain by taking courage from the spirit of resilience and hope.

Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis expressed this strength in his belief, and I quote,“freedom is no simple thing but all you need to know”.

So what is the freedom from the blues that mental health promoters can offer, which may ‘bring shouts of wonder from the lips’ of our people? What is the good news that Te Pae Mahutonga will promote in the pursuit of wellness?

The concluding comments of Maori respondents in the Respect Costs Nothing report reminds us of the urgency for freedom from discrimination. One comment advised:

“You can not help me directly – only indirectly by bringing the community around to thinking and believing that change is both possible, necessary and beneficial to all”.

Our whanau, our families, our communities, our partners, our children can create an environment of calm and balance if they have sufficient information to understand the illness.

Such support is essential to give trust and confidence to tangata whaiora that they are still capable of functioning fully as a member of the family.

I am not suggesting that medicine, per se, does not have the power to prevent ill health, or to relieve pain and disorder. But at its very best, it can only restore or maintain our equilibrium. On its own, no medicine can uplift and fortify the spirits of those who are struggling; those who are suffering.

We are no longer living in a time where people are locked away out of sight, out of mind.

But we are also a long way off a time in which issues such as institutional racism or disparities no longer influence the healthcare system.

Another African American artist, Haki Madhubuti, author of an amazing legacy of literature such asThink Black; Black Pride; or Don’t Cry – Scream; speaks powerfully about strategies in which we can confront the environmental hazards that make life hard.

He said,

“Those who humble themselves before knowledge of any kind generally end up the wiser and as voices with something meaningful to say”.

It is a message my grandmother and aunts used to counsel me in as well. When in any doubt, be quiet, listen and learn.

And perhaps that is the greatest guidance of all we can think of in navigating our journey forward.

What is the knowledge that tangata whaiora share with us, that we can learn from? What are their experiences?

Tragically, some of the most severe forms of judgement have come from those who we call our ‘loved ones’.

Family members who keep their children away out of fear.

Family members who make decisions on behalf of tangata whaiora – without consent or explanation. Family members who practice ‘tough love’ – enforcing seclusion from the whanau, until the behaviour is more acceptable.

It’s a variation of the ‘just get over it’ phenomenon. It also highlights the lack of understanding about mental health – and therefore our inability to cope. When we are well informed, we are able to be more observant, and therefore respond more positively and constructively.

I would like to encourage the Mental Health Commission to ‘just get over it’ and to also be prepared to listen to the wisdom and knowledge of tangata whaiora.

Our advice to the Minister, from the Maori Party, has been to rectify this huge error of judgement. We have asked the Minister to address the outrage that came from the community following the decision to exclude the consumer perspective from the Mental Health Commissioners which report to the Minister.

We all recall the huge pride we had in the Government when Mary O’Hagan was appointed, because what it said was that we placed value on the participation of tangata whaiora in informing the Minister about mental health.

The Mental Health Commission were the ones who talked about cultural competency, who gave us guidance, set the direction for mental health promotion. As a Minister at that time I learned so much from them, that cultural competency can be an important requirement in every government sector that is involved with our families.

And so it is disappointing to see that progress being eroded by the recent events.

If we are truly committed to mental health promotion, we must be aware that every environment is an opportunity to improve health.

Our social, physical, economic and cultural environments are the ways and means by which we can assist people to feel connected, to feel valued, to feel supported, and to grow.

It comes from within.

For Maori, the predominant environment is that of whanau.

The Māori Mental Health Needs Profile published earlier this year by Te Rau Matatini tells us that tangata whenua have little contact with mental health services – most tangata whenua with either serious or moderate disorders have no contact at all with any service for their mental health needs.

The challenge is upon us all, to get it together, to do all that we can to maximise health and wellbeing, to achieve mauri ora.

It is about understanding that everyone has a mauri – and when the mauri becomes unbalanced, we become unwell.

We can all spread the message of hope, of courage, of inspiration.

We must invest in wellness, seeking out the knowledge we need to carve out a path for all who follow.

We must select the best range of services, of strategies, of solutions that achieve whanau ora.

And we must always have in our sights, the glow of mental healthiness and wellbeing as something we can all achieve.

Finally then, taking our leadership from the singers of soul and blues, I share the inspiration of Tuini Ngawai,To Aroha.

“Horohia e Matariki ki te Whenua

Te Mara-matanga mo te motu e

Kia tipu he puawai honore

Mo te pani, mo te rawakore e.

Shine thy glowing light oh Matariki

On to Mother Earth

As a guiding light for this land

Nurture the bloom that it may blossom

As an honoured bloom for the poor and needy.


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