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Pacific Student Challenges MPs To Change Racist Laws: Race Unity Speech Awards 2024

Photo credit: Ben Parkinson (Race Unity Speech Awards)

“How can we use one end of our rope to pull up an island for “people of priority”. While the other end, knotted and tangled, still chokes, and strangles those of the minority.”

The 2024 Race Unity Speech Awards National Champion Jessica Tupa’i has called out the government’s racist laws and the country’s biases in a confronting and moving speech.

The Year 12 student from Wellington’s St Mary’s College was one of seven finalists who presented ideas and solutions to racial unity and social cohesion in Aotearoa.

Tupa’i challenged parliamentarians, government policy-makers and community leaders to “strip our country of unnecessary burdens” such as “racist laws and social policies”.

“The bill to reinstate New Zealand citizenship to the Samoan’s that had it stripped away from them in 1982 must be restored. The agreement to have Government Department’s Primary name in English, must be removed and allow any official language of Aotearoa to be the primary name. The legislation passed to disestablish the Māori Health authority must be repealed,” called Tupa’i.

The national finals of the Race Unity Speech Awards was held today at Auckland’s Ngā Kete Wananga Marae at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

The Awards is New Zealand’s only and longest-serving platform dedicated to hearing young people’s ideas on race relations and solutions to racism in Aotearoa.

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New Zealand Police Deputy Chief Executive Iwi & Communities Pieri Munro says the challenge from Tupa’i was not just to ministers but to the whole country.

“What they had to say is nation-building for us and the people here today… What a wonderful privilege and opportunity it is… listening to our future and to our leaders,” said Munro.

While New Zealand Police has been a long-time principal partner of the speech awards, it was Munro’s first year as chief judge of the Race Unity Speech Awards.

“I was taken with the calibre of speakers and the younger generation coming through… If like them we’re able to listen and to see the world as it should be, through the eyes of our rangatahi, surely, we would consider and re-think the decisions that we’re making today,” said Munro.

Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Melissa Lee was one of the MPs who was confronted by Tupa’i’s challenges today.

Lee said every speech that she heard, resonated with her in so many ways.

“I came to New Zealand in 1988 and New Zealand was quite a different place back then. Some of the [race unity speech awards] speeches have reflected that things haven’t moved on that far from those days.”

The Race Unity Speech Awards are organised by the New Zealand Bahá’í Community and were established after the tragic death of race relations advocate and Bahá’í Faith member Hedi Moani.

One of the national co-ordinators of the Race Unity Speech Awards Bev Watson says hearing the young people speak on such sensitive issues is refreshing and essential.

“In a world that often feels more divided every day, it’s essential that we listen to the voices of our rangatahi as they share their views, ideas and insights about one of the most divisive issues of all – race relations,” said Watson.

“The Race Unity Speech Awards allow our youth to do exactly that, and they are well worth listening to.”

Tupa’i also received the Tohu Auahatanga – Speech NZ Award for Delivery, thanks to her creative and engaging use of spoken word poetry that captured the audience’s attention.

The Tongan-Samoan-Irish senior student also received the Tohu Māramatanga - Baha’i Community Award for Insight - providing deep insights into how we can bring about the oneness of humanity in Aotearoa.

Former Trustee of Speech NZ Meredith Caisley said Tupa’i’s message was not only memorable, but her delivery was also captivating.

The six finalists that were part of the Race Unity Speech Awards 2024 were: Tanya Moeono, Leo Mwape, Ansh Dhot, Tanyn Wood, Rewi Te Kani-Nankivell Jr, and Caleb Jenkins.

Photo credit: Ben Parkinson (Race Unity Speech Awards)

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