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Turia: Sexual and Reproductive Health Conference

1st National Maori Sexual and Reproductive Health Conference
Wainuiomata Marae, Wellington, Monday 1 November
Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

E nga iwi o nga hau e wha, tena koutou katoa

As I came to this conference I was thinking about the tangi I attended less than a week ago of one of our whanau from the river.

John Manakore Peina was a good man. A hard-working farmer, a Justice of the Peace, well-respected within the community. A committed Catholic, a leader in our society. A host of officials from various government departments turned up to express their condolescences to the whanau.

And the collective asset base that we will remember him by, literally overwhelmed the humble marae at Kaiwhaiki.

In his last service, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren were asked to stand at the front of the tent, and be seen.

It was an awesome sight.

The balancing of the intensive depths of a tangi with the therapeutic value of the life before us, made it both agonising and uplifting all at once.

You will all be well aware of the whakatauki, confirming our very existence began as a seed from a place called Rangiâtea.

E kore au e ngaro, te kâkano i ruia mai i Rangiâtea
I shall never be lost, the seed which was sown from Rangiâtea.

In that action of whakatinanatanga, we saw visibly, how from the käkano of John and Hera, and their tupuna before them, developed new lives in their multitudes.

In fact, one of his daughters was due, the day her father was buried.

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And as is so often the way, the cycle of life is restored.

I was delighted to accept the honour of speaking at the first national Maori sexual and reproductive health conference.

And in doing so, I wanted also to honour the contribution that Te Puawai Tapu in particular, has made to the discussion about Maori sexual and reproductive health.

I want to record my appreciation to your members, including the kuia Anne Delamere, Dr Papaarangi Reid, Pania Ellison for the leadership and expert advice you have provided me with over the years.

And we can never gather in a hui like today, without remembering the legacy of our great friend, Dr Irihapeti Ramsden, her tenacity, her courage, and her passion for saying it how it is.

And so too, it is her influence, which guides me when thinking through the implications of work associated with aitanga aria mate, aitanga maru; with safer sex.

The lasting impression from the tangi at Kaiwhaiki will be the wonder and privilege of life.

These are concepts which Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru will celebrate in his address. The knowledge that our origins emerged out of te kore from which came ira atua. In tikanga Mâori terms, ira tangata came from ira atua.

So when we look at the faces of our babies, we recognise the imprints of those before us.

I think of the concept of kawai whakaheke: we are what our ancestors were.

I think of my nannies who would hold my face in their hands, and mihi to our tupuna. Tena koe e te hunga mokopuna.

It’s more than DNA.

In looking to reflect the dreams and aspirations of our people, the Maori Party has looked to such concepts as our guiding kaupapa.

Kaupapa such as manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, mana tupuna, and the tikanga that emanate from them. Concepts that our nannies and koroua lived, concepts we can restore to ourselves to set our futures.

It’s in cherishing the special status that befalls you when you move into the Nanny category. When I sit with our kuia and koroua at hui, they don’t ask me how much I paid my cleaner, or what’s the size of my pay packet? Their interest is in how many mokopuna we have.

And similarly, my heart just bursts when I disclose we have 6 children, 24 mokopuna, 5 mokopuna tuarua.

It’s not a numbers game …..but then again, it is disappointing to read that statisticians state the annual growth rate of the Maori population is projected to slow from 1.4% in 2002 to 1.2% in 2021.

The statisticians tells us that the age structure of the Maori population will undergo change reflecting, amongst other factors, our reduced fertility.

What this will mean for instance, is that the demographics of our population start creeping upwards. The number of Maori children aged between 0-14 years as a proportion of the total Maori population will fall from 37% to 30% over the next twenty years.

Maybe one of our policy goals in the Maori Party should be to go forth and multiply! I want to return to this issue of our ‘reduced fertility’ as a population.

I often think when I read through the statistics telling me that Maori experience gonorrhoea in higher numbers at a younger age than do non-Maori; Maori and especially rangatahi Maori are at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections; the rate of Chlamydia for Maori (at 10.5%) is over two times higher than non-Maori (4.6%); that the tragedy of these statistics is lost when seen only in the context of epidemiological data.

Similarly as new developments in biotechnology occur I question how any discussion of such technologies can be appreciated without guidance from tikanga and matauranga Maori. Our whakapapa must be the context in which all such discussions sit. Our whakapapa is the bridge which links us to our ancestors, which defines our heritage, gives us the stories which define our place in the world. We are te kakano i ruia mai i Rangiatea.

Mana Tupuna helps us know who we are, from whom we descend, and what our obligations are to those who come after us. And we must celebrate that whakapapa in every heartbeat, every birth and in the lives we have lost.

The expression of our rights defined by Mana Atua, by Mana Tupuna, is best reflected in our drive for rangatiratanga, our self-determined destinies. The survival and the prosperity of our people is determined by the protection of our whakapapa. And I have chosen those words deliberately. Protection, not control.

I am intolerant of the excessive focus on controlling our fertility. When I used to sit around the Cabinet table with colleagues, one of the many hot topics I got into strife about was discussion around the ‘problem’ of teenage pregnancy.

My objection was to the problemmatization of conception.

Professor Sidney Hirini Mead has discussed how our cosmological beginning as a people, are mirrored in the processes of conception. From the kâkano (seed) develops the koi ora hou (a new life), which - while within the whare tangata (womb) - possesses mauri, whakapapa, wairua, hau and pûmanawa (natural talents). It is then born into the world of light .

So when Cabinet Ministers sat around tut-tutting the fact that the fertility rate for Maori females aged 13-17 years was 26.2 per 1000, more than five times that of non-Maori, (4.9% per 1000), I objected to their analysis of our fertility as a problem.

If there was respect for our existence as based on kaupapa, the foundation principles of the Mäori world, these Ministers may have thought more carefully about the interventions they were seeking to impose. Indeed, their guidance might have been sourced in these words: Ma ratau anake ratau e korero, Ma tatau anake tatau e korero, ehara ma tetahi ake (We will be our own assessors, they in turn will be theirs, it is not for others to judge) I am not saying that we should not be concerned about the impact of STIs, or that indeed that I am opening the doors to a sexual explosion. Quite the opposite.

If we are to actively demonstrate rangatiratanga, to respect wairuatanga, our connections must be affirmed through promoting knowledge and understanding of atua Mäori; and they must be maintained and nourished towards the achievement of well-ness. Tikanga Mâori gives us clear cultural guidelines about how we treat one another and how the human body is regarded.

Whether it’s medical intervention that is considered such as hormonal replacement therapy or hysterectomy, or some other form of intervention such as depo-provera, inter-uterine devices, or some other form of contraception, there are guiding principles to understand our obligations to respect all attributes of human life as tapu.

It’s not a textbook science, but it is in understanding our responsibilities for protection, for nourishment, for respect for te whare tangata. Implicit in our kaupapa is the reality that we are all children of our ancestors entering this world through the whare tangata that is woman. Such a precious gift is not meant to be the responsibility of one person, alone.

In the matter of pregnancy, manaakitanga will tell us that care must be placed on the life within – but also conscious of the need to ensure the mother’s health is not placed in jeopardy. The expertise and support of inter and intra whanau, hapu and iwi relationships must be called on for support. As descendants of ira atua, we are part of an inter-related universe. Our strength is collective. As part of this the concepts of vertical and horizontal care that include the roles of grand parents and siblings may need to be actively restored.

Tino rangatiratanga is about revitalising and reminding ourselves of the rights, the responsibilities and obligations that exist within whanau.

We need to retain the essence of who we are, to celebrate that, and to focus on promoting the importance of oranga wairua for Mäori well-being. If we nourish and nurture respect for whanaungatanga, if we ensure protection of te whare tangata, we will truly be demonstrating our belief that our people are our wealth. Na reira, kia kaha koutou ki te whai o koutou moemoea, mau ki to tino rangatiratanga.

Kia kaha koutou, ki te tu, kia kaha, kia kaha.


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