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Tariana Turia on Problem Gambling

Inaugural International Indigenous Problem Gambling Symposium – Practice, research and knowledge gathering

Tamatekapua, Te Paipaiouru Marae, Ohinemutu, Rotorua

Hon Tariana Turia, Associate Minister of Health

Monday 15 February 2010; 2pm

I was proud to receive the invitation from Te Herenga Waka o te ora whanau, to speak at this auspicious event, the inaugural international indigenous problem gambling symposium.

Te Herenga Waka is based around the concept of a waka – a canoe in which we can all travel in the journey towards wellness.

Over the last fortnight, Aotearoa has marked our foundations as a nation, in the day in which we honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi. At this year’s activities in Waitangi, there was a distinctive armada of ceremonial waka including waka taua, waka tete kura and waka Hourua, the voyaging waka.

One of the waka had literally had its finishing touches only a week before it was launched on the dawning of Waitangi Day. Another waka, Ngatokimatawhaorua, had been commissioned by Princess Te Puea in 1940, to mark the 100th year of the signing of the Treaty.

Attending the festivities, was native American Bobby Mercier, skipper of the Grand Ronde Canoe family of Oregon who had hosted members of Nga Waka Federation during the Tribal Canoe Journeys paddle to Seattle in 2009.

It seemed to me that the waka at Waitangi have provided us with the most remarkable image in which to embark upon this indigenous symposium.

For just as the fleet of waka embraced the old with the new, and brought together hapu and iwi from across Aotearoa, it also reached out to stories and connections we share with our indigenous families across the globe.

During this symposium, there will be an opportunity to learn about traditional indigenous concepts, models and strategies alongside newer perspectives in the journey to restore wellbeing to all of our whanau.

Just as the waka must always stay focused on the destination in mind, so too, our journey must keep whanau ora uppermost in our collective vision, as the ideal for uplifting all of our family members who have been affected by the impacts of gambling.

The biggest challenge ahead for us all is not to become submerged under the turbulent waters associated with problem gambling; but to stay united and strong on the aspirations of our whanau.

I know this is easier said than done.

The situation for the indigenous peoples within Aotearoa is, I imagine, a situation reflected in overseas shores.

What we know from all the facts and figures around us, is that Maori are over-represented as clients, as significant others, as those affected by gambling.

The New Zealand Health Survey showed that Maori were approximately four times more likely to be problem gamblers than the rest of the population.

Of course if we look at the characteristics of the gaming environment, we should not be surprised at this disproportionately high gambling prevalence. The most economically deprived areas have a far higher number of non-casino gaming machines, Lotteries and TAB outlets than in lower deprivation areas. Subsequently, people living in more socio-economically deprived areas are significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than other people – half of all problem gamblers lived in the most deprived areas.

Add on to this picture the targeting of Maori, and the outlook is grim.

Dr Wiremu Manaia of the Problem Gambling Research Initiative reports that the low socio-economic status of many Maori makes them particularly vulnerable to gambling problems.

Maori spend almost twice as much on gambling as non-Maori and yet the Maori median income is half that of non-Maori.

The demographics of Maori within the problem gambling environment are indeed treacherous waters into which our waka glides.

If we put all our energy into focusing on the particular problems for an individual whanau member, problems such as financial disruption, isolation from whanau, loss of relationships, mental ill health and criminal offending – ultimately we may resolve each specific issue but the opportunity for a sustainable whanau-wide approach is too often lost.

And so this is where I return to the challenge and the opportunity provided to us by the imagery of the fleet of waka at Waitangi.

We have a saying in te Ao Maori which essentially tells us that the loss of a canoe or a meeting house can be remedied, but the loss of human life is irreparable.

Our journey forward, must focus on the potential of the human life to cope with seemingly insurmountable challenges; we must focus on he tangata, he tangata, he tangata; the people, the people, the people.

All too often we know that the harm of gambling is inter-generational.

Gambling has become normalised - the card games played for money in our youth; housie nights at the marae; or batons up to raise funds for the club has become replaced by new forms of gambling dominated by the pokie machines.

And so it simply makes smart economic sense – if we are to achieve sustainable change, we must take into account the wider whanau - the lessons learnt from generations gone; the inevitable harm passed on to our mokopuna – our children, the leaders of tomorrow.

Taking a whanau ora approach requires us all to make the commitment to the restoration and revitalisation of our people.

It is at its most fundamental point, a process of transformation.

As we all know, the gambling industry preys on our most basic urge to escape our problems and to achieve our dreams.

Lotteries advertisements encourage us to contemplate, ‘what would you do if you won a million dollars’. The old vintage car becomes transformed into a souped up hotrod; riches and glamour suddenly become within reach.

And yet the question remains – is the reconditioned car actually the vehicle to your future; does it place the wellbeing of your family at the heart?

The challenge that I think must occupy our every agenda, is how we can achieve the transformation of people’s lives that will enable them to take back more control over their lives? How do we support our whanau to be more self-determining about their future? What can we do to reconnect them to the essence of who they are?

It would appear that some quarters of our community like to do nothing else but talk about the reliance of Maori on certain aspects of the state; to focus on social ills such as drug and alcohol abuse, on truancy rates, on unemployment.

Whanau ora takes a different approach, which rather than drilling down into individual deficiencies asks us to instead have faith in the potential of our families to change their situation.

And so the innovation lies with both whanau themselves – to encourage them to become more self-determining; and with the agencies of the state, to support a more holistic approach.

Within a whanau ora approach we might expect communities to have the authority, if they wish, to remove gambling venues and pokie machines from their locality.

We might expect that our community, cultural, sporting and marae development should not have to be dependent on the funding acquired by gambling sources.

We might see nga kaupapa tuku iho – Maori values, beliefs, obligations and responsibilities – as providing whanau with a sense of direction; the sense of where they have come from; the aspirations for the opportunities ahead.

Whanau ora, is essentially about outcomes. It is about our families living healthy lifestyles, being self-managing; able to participate to their full extent across our communities.

While we would expect the ambitions of individuals to be realised, the shared hopes of the whanau are key.

I return, again to the image of the waka.

No waka, no matter how strong, will travel forward without the combination of all the right elements – the winds of change, the smooth passage of water, the united strength of the collective force at the helm.

This symposium aims to bring that unique combination together in the programme it has designed. It is so exciting to see the emphasis on our young leaders with the rangatahi workshops; and the empowerment of the people expressed in the three themes.

The focus on healthy communities, healthy environments, and new frontiers of knowledge are the building blocks towards the transformation of society and the economy reflected in the third theme.

The bringing together of indigenous perspectives from Aotearoa, Aboriginal worldviews, Pasifika peoples and the native communities of Canada and America, will be consolidated in the unique opportunity to create an indigenous declaration on problem gambling.

There is much to be done – and the momentum is evident for creating change within our communities.

I wish you all well in this wonderful gathering of First Nations people seeking to address problem gambling.

May the spirit of transformation encourage us all to lift our sights high to the wellbeing and strength of our families and our next generations to come.


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