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Sharples: Opening of Te Aho Tapu

Opening of Te Aho Tapu
29 East Tamaki Road, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe
Monday 6 November 2006; 10am
Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party
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Te Papakupu o te Taitokerau describes ‘te aho tapu’ in the following way: 'Aho tapu ko te totoro o tona ringa tapu, to wehenga atu’.

The sacred link to eternal life is through our out-stretched hands.

It seemed to me an apt way to describe the unique experience that we celebrate today with the opening of Te Aho Tapu, the first Maori provider to deliver Maori psychological services to Maori – by Maori for Maori.

The outstretched hands of tangata whaiora, of whanau, of tangata whenua are ready and willing for whanau to flourish.

And what we know to be the absolute truth, is that the sacred threads that join us to our ancestors, te aho tapu, will provide us with a key intervention to confirm our strength.

As we say, hapainga te aho o to tupuna –our line of descent, our whakapapa brings with it the knowledge and the experiences that can help us to attain the wellness of Maori people.

Central to this is the role that whanau play as the foundation of our society. Whanau is our key source of identity, of strength, of support, of security.

And so when a person walks in the door at Te Aho Tapu, the Trust knows that with them – even if not in physical presence – will also be their kuia, koroua, pakeke, tamariki, mokopuna. Ten minute consultations will be replaced with hui that may involve the whole whanau in the journey towards wellness.

Whanau must be able to actively participate in developing services for Maori, and to work with services, to improve the services they access.
Before coming here this morning, I consulted the latest study, Te Rau Hinengaro, published in September 2006, which surveyed 2595 Maori individuals, asking them about the prevalence of mental health issues.

In the study developed by Joanne Baxter, Te Kani Kingi, Rees Tapsell and Mason Durie, it revealed that the prevalence of any mental disorder was higher at 29.5% for Maori, than any other group (24.4% for Pacific peoples, 19.3% for others).

In particular, the prevalence of bipolar disorder and substance use disorder were higher for Maori than other groups. The research concluded, that the results indicate that Maori have a greater burden due to mental health problems, a burden which appears to be due to the youthfulness of the population and their relative socio-economic disadvantage.

Yet when it came to access to mental health services, Pacific and Maori people were less likely to access service than others. And the conclusions of the research are particularly interesting. The study concludes

“The extent of these disparities is little affected by socio-demographic correlates. This indicates barriers to access for Maori and Pacific people that are not explained by youthfulness of socio-economic disadvantage”.

So what does all this mean in plain language?

Basically, the fact that so many of our people are young; the reality that our people earn less income and live in more deprived areas is connected by the research to explain higher prevalence of mental health disorders. The stress and struggle of never knowing where the next meal will come from, all adds up.

But then there are other questions which must be asked, as to why Maori and Pacific peoples are significantly less likely to visit a mental health service. Could it possibly be the R word that is in play?

Professor Suman Fernando, of the London Metropolitan University perhaps has an answer. In light of his own experiences as a man of Sri Lankan descent, he describes the way in which black and ethnic minority communities have little confidence in mental health services:

“The status of psychiatry as a medical discipline, and the power of people working in its institutions, provides a cover for racism to operate unchallenged”.

Now that’s a bit of a different twist to some other korero that may put up explanations which describe Maori as failing, or resisting, or protesting, or being unable to cope, or out of their depth.

All of this provides a context for me, as to why I was so thrilled by to able to come here today, and to celebrate with Sharon and the whanau at Te Aho Tapu, the proud defiance of a little provider who refused to accept the oppressive force of racism.

And I think of the vision of the late Reverend Pura Panapa back in 1999, who guided the whanau towards cherishing the sacred thread which is the essence of all people.

His legacy remains in the motivation behind, ‘Whakatika te Aho Tapu, ko tera te oranga o te iwi Maori’ - if we make right the sacred thread, we will never be lost.

For those of you who are weavers, you will know also that te aho tapu refers to that vital first row of weaving which sets the pattern and determines the outcome. We need to get our processes right from the very outset.

I was thinking about that last week, when a reporter asked me for my views about whether spirituality should be part of Parliament. “Of course” I said. “Really?” he asked with a sense of incredulity.

And so I told him about the importance of karakia in our daily life – whether in Wellington or in Hunters Corner or in Takapau. Karakia to open our proceedings; karakia to close; karakia to pay our respects to those who have passed beyond the veil; karakia to bless our taonga; karakia before our kai.

I have seen people enter hui who may be riri, who may be pouri, who may not want to be there. And yet karakia has the power and the potential to bring all people together, to bring us back to our focus, to unite us in order to move on.
“Gee”, he said, “You’re really different”.

It was a break-through moment, one which reminded me that we still have a long way to go towards truly understanding and celebrating our differences.

But it was also one of those moments, the “a-ha moment”, when you remind yourself, how unique our kaupapa, our tikanga are in forming our foundation.

If you get the first row right, the outcomes are in good hands.

Te Aho Tapu demonstrate that through respecting and valuing karakia, te reo, whakapapa, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, wairuatanga, that our identity and heritage will lead to the path to well-being.

The connection of tangata whaiora to their tupuna, the wealth of whakapapa, is drawn on to find greatness and strength.

The skills and strategies available through the specialist expertise Sharon has acquired as clinical psychologists are used alongside the value of karakia to ensure safety.

Our waiata, our stories, our traditions become another resource to develop the people; ways of uplifting pride which our people can relate to, rather than being fixated on the categories of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – known as DSM IV.

The Maori Party is delighted to honour the initiative of Te Aho Tapu, and to endorse your commitment in working towards tino rangatiratanga for all who come through these doors.

And we also commend ACC, Child Youth and Family, and all the other mental health providers and community organizations, who may be saying “Gee – you’re different” – and trusting that your difference, your integrity, your cultural vitality is worth investing in.

We celebrate your successes in preserving te tapu o te tangata, in holding strong to your mission to make right the sacred thread. I am extremely proud to officially open Te Aho Tapu.


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