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Sharples: Global Forum for Bioethics in Research

Ninth Global Forum for Bioethics in Research
Orakei Marae; Auckland;
Wednesday 3 December 2008; 7pm
Hon Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

This is a fantastic time to be holding this ninth global forum on bioethics in research.

The last three months, in particular, have been unprecedented in terms of the acts of resistance and celebration initiated by indigenous peoples and members of vulnerable populations.

On 23 September in New York, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales called a press conference at the United Nations, telling the General Assembly it was meeting at a time of rebellion against poverty, misery and the effects of climate change and privatization policies throughout the world.

He spoke about the uprisings of indigenous peoples and farmers questioning the effects of economic systems such as those of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - and he went further and suggested it was those privatization policies that had caused the current financial crisis.

Just over a week later, this time in Geneva, a statement from the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust; the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest and Te Runanga o Nga Kaimahi Maori o Aotearoa Te Kauae Kaimahi was presented, calling for a transparent process to support the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The collective intervention, called for guidelines to be created about how research would be carried out, to ensure a legitimate body for indigenous people was built, and its research reports acted upon by the United Nations and States.

The third turning point came just over a month later, at a time when Kenya declared a national day of celebration; a public holiday to celebrate the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency.

And Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, sent a letter of congratulations, stating:

"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place”.

Finally, here in Aotearoa, the Māori Party, the independent voice of Māori in Parliament, succeeded in bringing a fifth MP into the Beehive after our recent election; and just a fortnight ago, signed a relationship agreement with the National Party, which symbolized our willingness to be part of Government, in our efforts to do all that we can to uphold the aspirations of our people.

These acts of resistance, these opportunities for celebration, create a brilliant foundation in which to discuss respectful research.

They represent uprisings of indigeneity; of the first nations people across the world daring to dream we can change the world for a better place. And here we are tonight, daring to dream that the research world will continue to inspire us to do so.

The developments that have occurred over these last months on the global stage provide a rich environment to discuss the next stages of our development - the ways in which our traditional beliefs and values, our cultural norms - are upheld in ethical research.

But there is one more context that I want to draw to your attention, in my capacity as the Member of Parliament for Tamaki Makaurau.

And I turn to mihi to the mana whenua of this land, Ngāti Whatua o Orakei.

Half a century ago, the hapū lived peacefully on their papakainga land in Okahu Bay, in the haven of their whare tūpuna - Te Puru o Tamaki. That was, until the Government of the day decided to evict the people from their homes, burn their marae, homes and buildings to the ground, and relocate the people to an allotment of state houses. They were left virtually landless.

In 1976, the Crown moved to make its final nail in the coffin, to dispose of the last sixty acres of uncommitted land at Orakei. And then came the uprising. For 506 days, Ngāti Whatua, under the leadership of Joe Hawke, occupied the point, Takaparawhau - or Bastion Point.

On 25 May 1978, the largest mobilization of Police and army forces in New Zealand’s history was directed to Bastion Point, to evict the people for trespassing on their own land. 222 people were arrested, the photographs and memories of that time still linger on as we recall the kuia and kaumatua, the elderly of the tribe, dragged off their land, crying and digging their heels in with all their force.

In time, Ngāti Whatua took a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, standing up for the return of the 700 acre Orakei Block. In 1991, the Orakei Act was passed, returning the marae, the papakinga lands, the church and the urupa to Ngāti Whatua o Orakei - but also importantly, the Government put on record, it had failed to keep its part of the Treaty of Waitangi, the promise to protect the rights and property of the indigenous peoples.

This year, we marked thirty years since that police raids on Orakei, and we celebrated the resistance of Ngāti Whatua in protecting and preserving their land, their language, their customs, their cultural heritage.

It is not my place to tell the stories of Ngāti Whatua - but there will be many others here who can take you on that journey back through time, and I would encourage you to take that time to also share your stories, the stories from Africa, Asia, Canada, America, Australia, Europe and the Pacific.

Our histories, our stories, our aspirations, our troubles are unique to us as indigenous peoples and members of vulnerable populations.

My hope for this conference is that we leave no-one in any doubt, that the context for any research involving us, must be set by us.

I read a statement the other day from Luther Standing Bear, Chief of the Oglala Sioux. He said, and I quote:

“Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame”.

Never again will we return to the days when the people of the land are suppressed; their stories obliterated; their cultures denigrated.

Never again, will we permit anyone to call us savage; not one more acre will be stolen from us; we will not be defined as ‘other’; marginalized as minorities; alienated from our territories.

We have come too far, and we are not going back.

We must have courage, and not fear the backlash from standing out in the crowd, from speaking out.

This is where forums like this are so vital, to keep our spirits high, to uplift us, to inspire us, to consolidate in solidarity.

bell hooks reminds us it will not be easy. She said:

“the space of radical openness is a margin - a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a safe place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance”

This forum is a mark in the sand, a profound edge - to encourage the world research communities, to develop practical measures to promote research which is more ethical.

We need to have the strategic strength to face the risks, to move forward.

Just as Evo Morales acted on the calling of his people to issue his challenge in New York, we must all be bold enough to act with integrity in setting and upholding policy on research ethics.

Just as Ngāti Whatua o Orakei prepared and researched claims and invested in the legislative process; research practitioners and professionals must uphold and adhere to guidelines involving consent, access and participation for indigenous and vulnerable groups.

Having strategic strength is knowing what procedures and protocols we can call on, to provide guidance on the involvement of indigenous peoples in research, intellectual property and traditional knowledge.

74 years ago, Te Rangihiroa (Sir Peter Buck) wrote to Sir Apirana Ngata, saying

“I have come to the conclusion that the Pākehā attitude towards native races is on the whole saturated with the deepest hypocrisy…..even in ethnology, I doubt whether a native people is really regarded as other than a project to give the white writer a job and a chance for fame”. [Sorrenson Vol 3, 1982:126]

This is no doubt a reoccurring theme in the tribal narratives across the globe, that many indigenous peoples would share in common.

But what we know now, is that we are at a turning point where the nature of knowledge and knowing is in our hands. We must invest in strategies which affirm our own whānau, hapū and iwi self-determination; our rangatiratanga.

We must be vigilant to ensure that the theories, methods and research tools are those that extend indigenous knowledge, that serve the interests of the people being researched.

We must draw on our creativity as the means of building resilience within our whānau. We must embrace our indigenous resources - our songs, our poetry, our arts and crafts, our tribal histories, our archives - as a way of distinguishing our research as our own.

And we must insist that the highest form of knowledge and knowing is ultimately used to liberate ourselves, to set ourselves free.


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