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Tane Ora National Conference 2012

Te Ururoa Flavell
MP for Waiariki
Wednesday 5th December 2012

Tane Ora National Conference 2012
National Maori Men’s Health Coalition

Marlborough Conference Centre, Blenheim

I congratulate the organisers of this hui for putting together a fantastic programme, and bringing together a compelling group of speakers. I note that you hosted the National AGM for Te Rōpū Wahine Māori Toko i te Ora. So a big congratulations is in order.

It is great that we take time out to talk through our issues. Recently the Māori Affairs Select Committee of Parliament went to Alice Springs in Australia where we were able to see the issues that Aboriginal peoples face. There are a number of interesting tikanga they practise. There is ‘sorry business’ which is another way of saying a ‘tangi’. There is ‘women’s business’ and there is ‘men’s business’ and they are very strict that only men discuss ‘men’s business’ similarly, women’s issues are with the women only. There is no interference.

It is sort of a novel idea at first glance although I am not sure that we should necessarily import all aspects of ‘men’s business’ here for part of that involves the practise of circumcision of young men I was told!! We probably need to give that some thought.

I can assure you that I would really like to stay and join in, rather than head back over Raukawa Moana (Cook Strait) to a different kind of wharenui, where there will be much more talking but not much listening.

I’d rather be here to listen to Buck Shelford. If I do not have too many claims to fame, at least one of them would be that once upon a time I was captain of the Auckland Māori team where I got to tell him what to do. I would like to think that he learned from me, but really I know that he had it all anyway.

Buck is one of the all-time great All Blacks – not just for his inspirational performances on the field, but even more because of what he did for the haka: in 1985 he laid down the challenge to his team mates, saying “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.” That’s not a bad rule for living, is it?

I’d much rather be here to listen to the calm, deep wisdom of Professor Sir Mason Durie. I’d much rather be here to do some quality inspections of Eru Tutaki’s kai.

But most of all, I’d rather be here because you will be grappling with the essential issues of what it is to be a modern Māori man. To be a man; to be a Māori man, to be a Māori man in the 21st century. That is truly exciting stuff.

I love the kaupapa of the three concurrent sessions that will be running over the next few days.

Roles and responsibilities of Tāne within whānau. Tick.
The cultural construction of masculinity. Tick.
Working to achieve Tane ora within the context of Whānau Ora. Tick, tick, tick.

Personally, I don’t know how I would choose between those three sessions. I would want to do them all, to learn from each of them. Because, let’s face it, being a modern Māori man can be bloody tough.
The media – on television, talkback radio, in the newspapers and on the blogs – all the media are telling us every day about how we’re supposedly failing.

Failing at school.
Failing in relationships.
Failing as fathers.
Failing at getting or keeping jobs.
Failing to follow the law.

Which is, of course, mostly rubbish. Most men – and most Māori men – are doing pretty bloody well thank you very much, often against some pretty tough odds.

Look around you. Look at all of you here today. Are you Tane failing? No. Are you Tāne failing to try? No.

What I see here today is Tāne facing up to the challenges and responsibilities and joys of being a modern Māori man.

Some people will say that, of course, everyone here today is a success because somehow it was predestined or predetermined or pre-something. Just as failure is also somehow pre-determined.

Well, I know some of your stories, and I know they’re not all about milk and honey and happiness. And even for those of us who come from strong, supportive, whole whānau – life is never easy, life is never straightforward. Every day is about making new choices, whether you come from the richest family or the poorest one.

Yes, having money makes a difference, but it’s never a guarantee of success or happiness in life. Yes, not having money makes things much, much more difficult, but nor is it a guarantee of failure.

Being successful, to me, is simply about giving it a go every day, giving your best shot every day. If you keep turning up to life - especially after you’ve had a knock – if you keep turning up, something will happen. Because that’s just how life works.

Last weekend my sons and I completed the IronMāori triathlon. If you want to see the modern face of Māori, if you want to see inspiration, there’s no better place.

People in all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, all ages and all conditions: they just turned up, they gave it a go, and each and every one of them was a champion to their whānau.

The thing that struck me most, was what a kick the younger generation got out of seeing their fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles and grandparents going hard out. And we more mature folk just loved that our rangatahi wanted to hang out with us for a while.

And I was conscious of not wanting to let my sons down. Thankfully I did the preparation and can say that I did alright.

So here’s my observation for you as you begin your conference: the roles and responsibilities and requirements of being Tāne change as you go through life.

What drives me as a man now is different from what it was ten or twenty years ago. And it will be different for me again in ten or twenty years time.

It’s not an original thought: that wily old Englishman Wiremu Rurutao (William Shakespeare) nailed it over 400 years ago:

One man in his time plays many parts, he said
His acts being seven ages.
At first the infant, mewling and puking
Then the whining schoolboy, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school
And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Then a soldier, jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation
Then the justice, in fair round, with eyes severe and beard of formal cut
The sixth age shifts, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
Last scene of all, is second childishness and mere oblivion.

I don’t know whether it’s seven ages of man, but I do know that what it means to be Tāne changes over the years.

When you’re a boy, your job is simply to throw yourself at everything at a million miles an hour. School, sport, kapa haka, music, fishing, hunting – everything and anything, get into it. Taste everything. Squeeze out the last drop of juice from every opportunity, because you never know which thing is going be your thing.

The role of a teenage male, on the other hand – and as a father, it pains me to say it - but the role of a teenager is to test boundaries. It just is. And it can be very bloody testing for all involved, but that is simply what teenagers are supposed to do. It is their evolutionary programming kicking in. Think about Maui Tikitiki a Taranga. They are supposed to take risks, test the older brothers, challenge authority, re-invent themselves as adults.

It’s all about ‘failing fast’ and ‘failing forwards’, as they say in the business schools. It’s about making mistakes that you can learn from, so that you can be successful tomorrow.

Somehow, the rest of us need to surround that mistake-making with the right support so that there is no permanent damage, to themselves or to others.

As a parent, it pays to have some humility and not be so damn judgmental. To recall our own stupidities at that age.

Then comes the next age of man: when we’re all grown up, full of confidence, ready to take on the world, sure that we know everything.

And, wham, you run smack into reality.

Yes, it is tough to get a good job.
No, you’re not going to be the boss straight away.
Yes, you do have to pay the rent on time.
No, you can’t afford the latest big screen tv or iPhone or Porsche. Not yet.

This is the age of learning that old kōrero, that with freedom comes responsibility.

We often learn that most forcefully in relationships, I think. This is an area where men – Māori men, all men – have been challenged most profoundly in recent decades. Especially, but not only, in our relationships with women and children.

That is, unequivocally, a good thing.

Good for women, of course, who for too long suffered the silent conspiracy of domestic and sexual violence. As if, somehow, they had deserved it.

Good for the children, whose protection should be everybody’s first priority, but whose interests still lag behind in political calculations.

Beyond that, I believe that confronting the quality of our relationships has simply been good for men. It is good for the men whose violence towards others was actually a description of their weakness and fears and never their strength.

It is good for the men who were not themselves violent, but who still lived smaller lives because they could not live in their full emotional range.

Men taking responsibility for violence is something very important to me. I have been privileged to have been a White Ribbon Ambassador this year. It is a programme that is getting bigger and better every year, and will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

This is the stage of life I am at now – and looking around, it is the stage of life that many of you are at, too. As we have picked up the responsibilities of being parents, of earning a living, of growing in our careers, what really matters is that we want to play our part in making a better future.

We want to help to carry forward the flame of hope that our tupuna passed down to us. And, in time, we will pass it on to the next generation. We will stand at their shoulders, encouraging and offering all the wisdom that we have been able to gather, so that the flame will never go out, but will become an even brighter beacon for our mokopuna.

Tupuna and mokopuna. So much of what matters depends on the well-being of our whānau through time.

It is no accident that the Māori Party’s flagship policy is called Whānau Ora. The essence of Whānau Ora is whānau helping themselves.

It is about whānau articulating their own dreams, identifying the barriers to their achievement, accessing the right support to overcome those barriers, and taking responsibility for it all.

What Whānau Ora is not is the soft-option. Whānau facing their future together can be very bloody challenging indeed.

Whānau Ora is not touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. The philosophy is based on solid research and empirical data. Above all, Whānau Ora is emphatically not about settling for the status quo. It is exactly the opposite.

It is about turning on its head the state welfare pattern of permanent paternalism. Rather than putting officials and experts and providers at the bottom of the cliff to collect victims, Whanāu Ora gets whānau working to build their kainga at the top of the cliff.

Will it be easy? No. Nothing really transformational will ever be easy or straight-forward or immediate.

And so, yes, there will continue to be opportunities for populist politicians to pander to prejudice by attacking Whānau Ora. They’ll say that it’s only for Māori, and in the next breath they’ll say it’s all about helping wicked immigrants, and they’ll never even bother to try to square that circle.

What those old grey politicians should really do is come straight out and say that they’re quite content that Māori and Pasifika are over-represented in all the bad statistics, and under-represented in all the good ones.

They should come right out and say that they don’t think families are important, that they don’t think families make a difference, that they don’t think families deserve support to succeed.

They should come right out and say that they have no idea about how to turn the statistics around, and they don’t even want to try.

They should come right out and say that giving lollies to people over 65 is good, but trying to help people struggling just to get to 65 is somehow bad.

But they won’t. I know they won’t, and you know they won’t, because they’re just playing politics as normal.

Well that is not what the Maori Party is about. I think we’re about a New Normal.

And as Mitt Romney just found out, the New Normal is about unleashing the power of diversity. It’s about men and women succeeding together.

It’s about new citizens and old citizens, building together.
It’s about kids thinking it is absolutely natural that their friends should be all colours, all cultures, all religions.
It’s about economic growth and economic justice.
It’s about generational equity and social equality.

Above all, the New Normal is about hope, not fear. That’s why the Māori Party is an optimistic party.
We believe that the remarkable promise contained in the Treaty of Waitangi – the promise that we will all go forward together - will be honoured.

We believe in the fundamental importance of relationships: relationships between people, relationships between humanity and the environment that sustains us, and the relationship between the past, the present and the future.

We believe that Māori will not only survive in the 21st century, but that we will thrive in the centuries to come, and that our country and the world will be a better place for it.

We believe that global humanity needs the genius of all its cultures if we are going to conquer our common challenges and find our fullest potential.

That’s why the world – the whole world, not just Aotearoa New Zealand – needs modern Māori men. Because we have something truly unique and valuable to offer.

I therefore have great pleasure in declaring this hui open. I only wish that I could stay longer to be part of your kōrero.


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