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Māori Leadership

A bit over a week ago Duncan Garner of The AM Show made some strong statements about child abuse being a Māori problem and that Māori need fierce leaders to show the way to solve this issue. A friend sent me the clip and asked for my thoughts and so I thought I would share here as well. These thoughts are based on our experiences from our research, but more so, the hundreds of conversations we had about child abuse with people from all walks of life while traveling Aotearoa.

Firstly, we did not meet one person who denied that there was an overrepresentation of Māori in some of our abuse stats. In fact, we were overwhelmed and humbled by the genuine ownership, openness to discuss the issue, a want for and striving towards better, from Māori in general.

Secondly, I would suggest that this is not a Māori problem, it is all of ours. There is an over-representation of Māori in our (obvious & reported) statistics of physical abuse and resulting deaths; and of those who are under the care of the State (Oranga Tamariki). However, we also have an over-representation of Māori living in poverty. It is widely known across all cultures that poverty directly correlates to an increase in family violence (resulting from stress, overcrowded homes, substance abuse, general hopelessness). I don’t mean to say that one has to = the other, nor do I want to provide justification, but these circumstances are more likely to lead to behaviours that trigger an increase in family violence. In Aotearoa certain things have taken place in our history that have had a detrimental effect on Māori. These things became systemic. I believe that it is all of our problem in the sense that we can now all be a part of making better decisions that empower Māori going forward. This includes better education of correct NZ history in our schools (in order for us not to repeat the mistakes and increase cultural understanding), inclusiveness (Te Reo, Tikanga practices), and exploring our own preconceived biases that may result in disempowerment. Overall (I speak as a Pākehā), we can stop being defensive and halting Māori from being, well Māori! This may seem trivial and unrelated to abuse – but in a nutshell, we have stripped the identity from many of our Māori because we ‘think’ our westernised approaches are best and we have been unwilling to consider different. Loss of identity results in displacement. I’m sure we can all relate to the need to belong and to know we have a valued place in this world.
I realise this is a spiel and I would like to go deeper but you may not read on.

Thirdly, please do not be fooled that child abuse is only a Māori issue. Sure, our ‘reported’ stats show an overrepresentation but our preconceived ideas of a given group (in this case Māori) lead us to make assumptions too quick about that group and blinds us to what is going on in our own. Throughout our journey with STB our eyes became wide open. EVERYONE had a story – of a child they knew, if not themselves, affected by abuse (often sexual). As pākehā we can write off other pākehā cases as ‘one-offs’ but let me say this loud and clear – it is not. These are not normal conversations that you have with people in the streets so, you unless you are researched, or work with a related service, it is unlikely you will be aware of the scale. Child abuse is a PEOPLE issue, and we are all responsible to be a part of the solution.

In saying all of this, I do agree we need fierce Māori leaders to show the way, who lead by example, advocate for better, and call out their own people, but I would say that about any group of people. I think we need Māori leaders speaking to and influencing Māori, Pākehā calling out Pākehā, men speaking to men, women to women etc but also listening and taking time to understand each other across all those spaces.
There are so many layers to unpack, and all of the above goes hand in hand – leadership, compassion, love, support, opportunity, freedom to claim identity, advocacy, access to help… HOPE!
You may think, why write all this. My frustration with the media is they have just a few seconds to make a statement on a complex issue. Sometimes simplifying the issue does more harm than good. We have had too many conversations with people who write child abuse off as a Māori problem, and in doing so – they relieve themselves from being a part of the solution. I say ENOUGH! This is all of our problem. It’s time we all took fierce ownership of this sickness in our country. It matters first and foremost for all those children who are affected by abuse right now; it matters to your children who are also affected by those flow-on effects at school & in the playground; and it matters for the overall wellbeing of our country.
I say, let’s ALL lead the way forward.

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