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The Treaty of Waitangi and Health Outcomes

The Treaty of Waitangi and Health Outcomes

Opening remarks by Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner, at the symposium on Human Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi: Healthy Christchurch, 24 July 2006, Christchurch Netball Centre, 10.30 am – 2.15 pm.

Tama tu, tama ora, tama noho, tama mate.

It is particularly fitting that today’s symposium on Treaty perspectives for a healthy Christchurch should take place on the first day of Maori Language Week.

Fitting, firstly, because the promise of the Treaty was the protection of what it means to be Maori and language is an essential part of one’s culture and one’s identity. That is why the Waitangi Tribunal placed such importance on the Te Reo claim and recommended extensive government action to ensure the recognition, protection and revitalisation of the language. I urge you to read the story of that claim which has been posted on the New Zealand History website for Maori Language Week (www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/tereo)

Fitting, secondly, because the recognition of one’s identity and one’s culture is so important to one’s health. Research published last month in the British medical journal The Lancet demonstrated that the experience of racial discrimination was a major factor in the poorer health outcomes of Maori in New Zealand. Over a third of all Maori respondents in the 2002/2003 New Zealand Health Survey reported that they had experienced verbal or physical racist attacks and unfair treatment because of ethnicity in health care, work or housing. This experience of discrimination was associated with poorer overall health, lower physical and mental health, more cardiovascular disease, and with smoking. This was so even when adjustments had been made for socio-economic disparities. Yet the Treaty was a promise of the equal enjoyment of civil, social and economic rights. Better health outcomes require better race relations.

Fitting, thirdly, because the theme of this year’s Maori Language Week is health and sport, hence the whakatauaki which I included in my mihi: Tama tu, tama ora, tama noho, tama mate.
An active and participating person will be alive and well, an inactive and non participating person is on the road to death.

Fitting, finally, because the positive affirmation of te reo Maori in New Zealand by people of all cultures has the potential not only to affirm the unique indigenous culture of New Zealand but also to celebrate our common identity as New Zealanders. The Treaty, after all, is not just about the rights of Maori but also about the coming together of two peoples, indigenous and settler, with a shared nationality, a shared land, and shared responsibilities towards each other.

Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development has just released the results of its third survey of attitudes to the Maori language. One of the encouraging trends since the fist survey in 2000 is the increasingly positive attitudes of non-Maori towards the protection and use of te reo Maori. 80% of non-Maori in 2006 for example support the use by Maori of te reo in public places and at work, double the number in 2000. 70% and 75% respectively support government funding of Maori television and radio, and over 50% support bi-lingual signage. However, the survey also indicates that the degree of participation by non-Maori in Maori language and cultural activities is still very low. Only 6% of non-Maori respondents had been to a marae, and only 17% had attended ceremonies or events with Maori welcomes and speeches.

That is the challenge in race relations – not just between Maori and Pakeha, but between all people in New Zealand – first to respect and foster a diversity of cultures, but second and equally important, to share each other’s cultures: to know, and not just to know about; to be welcoming and hospitable, and also to be inquisitive and open to the other; to build bridges between communities. That remains one of the challenges of the Treaty.


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