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Inaugural Maori and Indigenous Suicide Prevention Symposium

Hon Tariana Turia

Associate Minister for Health

Inaugural Maori and Indigenous Suicide Prevention Symposium

It is a great honour to be in the presence of our Governor General, His Excellency Lieutenant General the Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae.

I acknowledge our kaumatua Te Ariki Morehu, Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru and Des Ripia and thank you for the guidance you bring to this hui.

Our distinguished manuhiri, Dr Eduardo Duran, Associate Professor Jacque Gray, Professor Judi Atkinson, Mr Normand D’Aragon.

Our wise and wonderful scholars and philosophers including Moana Jackson, Moe Milne, Associate Professor Luamanuvao Winnie Laban and Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho.

And the leadership, the energy and the innovation of the rangatahi who are here will help to keep us all on track in dealing with the mahi ahead of us.

I want to especially acknowledge those whanau who have lost loved ones to suicide. Our aroha is with you all as you continue to make sense of circumstances few can understand. We know that today, as with every day, they will never be far from your thoughts.

Ka nui te aroha ki a koutou i tenei wa o te pouri nui. Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.

How then, can we move forward, to restore that sense of ownership and responsibility back to our lives?

When we gather at home to hui, there is one particular patere that links us to the foundation we are born of.

It starts, ‘Kia uiuia ma, na wai koe? Mau e kii atu, e tirohia atu nga ngaru e aki ana ki Waipuna ki te Matapihi, Putiki-Wharanui…’

‘Should you be asked, whom do you belong, you should say well look yonder at the waves surging towards Waipuna and Te Matapihi, at Putiki-Wharanui…..

The patere travels over hills and waters, passes the long sands at Matahiwi, wanders through the battlefields of Ranana and Moutoa. The words follow the river as it flows at Paraweka, Pipiriki, Parinui, landing upon Ruapehu and acknowledging the original fire of Paerangi-i-te-whare-toka.

As our people stand and give voice to the naming of our awa, our maunga, our whenua, our whakapapa, it represents survival. It is, if you like, a powerful anthem of belonging, a tribute to resilience, to the enduring legacy of whakapapa that gives all of us our place in the world. Today then, is all about belonging – the power of whakapapa – the source of strength that we find in our genealogy and our connections to one another.

I am so pleased to have this time with you, at this very significant hui focused on Maori and indigenous suicide prevention. These next 24 hours are a vital time to explore, to dream and re-discover the essence of who we are.

Like our voyaging tupuna before us, we must take on that brave determined spirit that allows us at times to sail away from the safe harbour, to catch the winds and to do all that we can to avoid shipwreck.

I have been so inspired by the richness of the programme presented in this symposium. The challenges are many, the stimulus will be great.

I want, this morning, to share some thoughts about perfection.

Matua Whatarangi Winiata tells a wonderful story about a visit he made to a museum in Chicago in the early 1960s. During this tour, Matua came across a statue of a person about six feet tall, of brownish hue and with an impressive physique. At the foot of the statue was a simple label, “Perfect Human Specimen – New Zealand Maori.”

When I have heard that story I have always believed it to be self-evident. Each time I look upon the face of one of my mokopuna, I know that museum label to be true. The mystery and magic of birth reminds me how incredible we are, how promising the potential of every newborn life.

So how did it come to be that our understanding of perfection has been eroded by the tragedy of suicide?

What has occurred in the psyche of a population to dismantle our sense of security, leading our people to become fragile under stress, vulnerable, finding life too difficult to continue?

How do we understand our past history and the impacts of colonisation on us? We know too well that there is a historical context to the issues that confront us. The poverty of spirit that we endure has had the greatest impact on our hinengaro. There is no clinical response that can heal the hinengaro – or is there?

There will be others in this symposium more qualified than me to talk about the social pathology of suicide amongst indigenous peoples - to speak of the fatal consequences for first nations people when our language is removed - our culture threatened, our identity in question. My focus is located in the quest for perfection that I genuinely believe every whanau, aiga, family seeks for those within their midst.

And I want to take us to a place that I call home, Whangaehu marae – and in particular our tupuna whare, ‘Rangitahuahua.’ Most often our whare are named after a particular ancestor – but in our case, Rangitahuahua refers to a significant place in our tribal history.

Rangitahuatahua is more commonly known as Sunday Island, located in the Kermadec Islands. It is Rangitahuahua where the Kurahaupo waka took refuge after becoming wrecked by a storm while on its journey from Hawaiiki to Aotearoa.

Why is that place of shelter so important to my story of survival?

Our old tupuna whare stood on our marae around the turn of the century until the fateful day of 10th April 1968. Some of you here may remember that date as the time of the treacherous storms in which the interisland ferry the Wahine sank. It was at that time that our sacred tribal buildings were also taken.

Years passed, and our people came together to, to dream and scheme, and eventually we purchased the old Salvation Hall in Whanganui which we relocated to our lands, to gather together as whanau and hapu. Once more we had a place to be - our site of perfection.

Our joy was short-lived. It was not long before a blaze of fire leapt from the rafters of the old hall, our new home reduced to smoke and ashes.

After our whare burnt down, one of my mother’s cousins wrote to her, enclosing some funds, and encouraging us all to think about a new beginning, to be strong enough and committed enough to start again. She didn’t want our families to be disillusioned by all that happened.

And so we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and started again.

I’d love to say, Rangitahuahua was erected at that time and has forever withstood the perils of earth, wind, fire and water.

But that wouldn’t be true.

There have been more torrential rains, there have been floods. Each new event pushing up the costs of insurance and taking its toll on our whanau.

But now – as we stand resilient in our whare made from the powerful foundation of Papatuanuku - a rammed earth construction – I have come to know another meaning to our history.

Rangitahuahua also refers to ‘our sky father taking care of us.’

As each new disaster occurred, our whanau become adept at crisis management. We clung to each other in our grief and when the tears subsided, we leant on each for strength. We began to practise waiata that had previously slipped away. Our reo became a priority. We grew more fascinated with our tribal histories.

We started to think about ways of building our knowledge – we began holding wananga. We cherished the photographs that we had retained. In essence, we fell in love with ourselves all over again. We reminded ourselves that whakapapa tells us that we are what our tupuna were. And we were comforted by the fact that building a strong base for our survival was also about protecting and extending our whakapapa. In the process of rebuilding our whare, we came to rebuild our whanau.

For our greatest discovery in finding Rangitahuahua was that we found ourselves. We were able to talk about our issues in the open, we knew where to go for help. We supported each other, we lifted each other through the hard times and we made more effort to celebrate the good.

In so many ways I see those same approaches occurring in the training and education programmes that are being developed to help build capacity and capability within whanau within the context of suicide.

We understand the importance of a unified, collaborative and well-planned approach to Maori, Pasifika and indigenous suicide prevention.

It is acknowledging that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility and that our whanau are key to leading the change.

It is therefore so good to announce at this symposium, the launch of the National Maori and Pasifika Suicide Prevention Programme which Te Rau Matatini and Le Va have responsibility for implementing.

Te Rau Matatini and Le Va aim to strengthen our families, whanua, hapu and iwi through establishing a national voice by forming a National Leadership Group.

Alongside of this group will be a national co-ordination centre for Pacific community suicide prevention and Maori community suicide prevention. The project will advance a strategic research agenda and manage a one-off funding pool to build an evidence base of effective practices for Maori and Pasifika communities.

I am also pleased to announce that as part of this programme a one off two million dollar community fund is being launched today to create tools and resources, develop appropriate prevention and post prevention approaches - and put in place the training to invest in support.

If I can, however, be as bold as to state my intentions. In taking this funding directly out of the control of Government the last thing we expect would be for funding to be allocated to infrastructure or provider capability per se.

I am very clear about ensuring there is practical, tangible support as close as possible to whanau, aiga and families as we can possibly make it. I am absolutely serious about the priority that must be accorded towards investing in whanau solutions. That’s the way forward for us – whanau making their own decision for their future.

It is indeed an opportunity for our whanau to build a new tomorrow - to recover and restore to themselves a sense of optimism for their future.

Finally, I want to return to my starting place - to Te Awa Tupua for one more story.

At a certain point of the river – Ohinepane – my cousin Archie Taiaroa would tell the love story of our tupuna, Tia. Tia was in love with someone her family disapproved of. But so intense was her love for her tane that Tia was inconsolable and struggled to find a way ahead.

Her father spoke to her, saying ‘e noho me to panipani’ – stay and rest a while and think carefully about your situation.

Tia sat alone; torn between Hotu-iti downstream – the sobbing agony of her whanau and Hotu-nui upstream – the heartfelt pain of her lover.

Unable to find peace, Tia jumped off the cliff, plunging to her death. She is now forever destined to be our kaitiaki – our guardian who watches over us all and keeps us safe.

My cousin chose to tell that story - not to judge her fate or to diagnose and psycho-analyse the cause of her mental distress. He wanted to remind us that we have been this way before – while at the same time encouraging us to learn from the lessons of our past.

I believe our answers can come in finding our own Rangitahuahua – and strengthening the support around us. It is about being grounded in our place to feel at home and contemplate the issues that affect our lives. A place to recover – and to gain strength and support to carry on.

When we reflect on the troubles that beset us at our marae we realised that the greatest fruits were found in our whanau. There will always be someone who offers a fresh perspective who can suggest a new way when times are tough. Our collective force provides us with the capacity and the experience to keep going. Our biggest opportunity was to realise we have the solutions already within, if we are open and willing to learn.

Survival is about finding our place to rest and restore, keeping our culture growing, our language blossoming, our poetry performed, our standard of living secure.

I know this hui will be a constructive conversation across continents, across whanau, hapu and iwi, across lands and seas and rivers. Like the winds of Tawhirimatea and the tides of Tangaroa, I wish everyone at this hui much wisdom in being guided by the thoughts, the analysis, the experience that each of you have to share.

The healing of trauma is heavy work. The question is...How do you heal the wounded spirit? When we know the answer to that question, then we may find a way forward.

I want to wish everyone here an opportunity to revitalise, to reflect, to find moments of joy amongst our gathering. Tena tatou katoa.


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