Neighbours Day Everyday…

I met a wonderful couple this week, grandparents with huge hearts for their family and for other local families. Born into poor circumstances themselves, this couple know what it is like to really struggle. They have tragedies in their own extended family to deal with but wanted to know how they could help Kaiti kids reach their potential.

These grandparents want to connect with other people their age and younger ones to talk about how their generation can make more useful contributions to young families in Gisborne.

We talked a bit about Tairāwhiti Positive Aging Trust and other groups that support seniors to be active in wider community life. Healthy churches, marae and sports clubs are still great places for intergenerational relationships to be nurtured and life lessons passed on to younger people.

Neighbours Day this weekend is an opportunity for us to think about the people we live close to but may not feel close to. When we reestablish trust and care within our streets it has been proven to reduce crime, increase safety, school attendance, health and happiness. Every one of us should know that when we have reason to worry, celebrate or grieve, someone will notice and someone will care. Many people in our communities don’t have that support and it is so encouraging to hear when residents are willing to make an effort to be that special someone for a neighbour or family in need.

I also met with a young man this week who is concerned about neighbourhood safety and, with signatures of support from everyone in his street, has been trying to get Council to install speed inhibitors to prevent another crash that could injure or kill a child. Whether or not he succeeds with his campaign for the speed bumps or chicanes (I certainly hope he does), it is awesome to see young people taking responsibility for making their neighbourhood a safe and enjoyable place for those who live there and visit the area.

It has been heartening to see the people willing to make the effort to present their ideas and concerns to Council committees and public meetings over the last few weeks.

Submissions on the Draft Annual Plan are due by 31 March. Whether or not the local stuff you care about is mentioned in the Plan, it is an essential part of the democratic process and you can make a submission about anything you are passionate about.

In the future I’m keen to look at extending the influence residents and (direct and indirect) ratepayers have on the Council budget. Participatory budgeting is a small but energetic movement through which ordinary people directly decide how a portion of their municipal budget is spent. Pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1990 as a democratisation strategy, the process has spread to over 1,200 cities around the world. From Cologne in Germany to Entebbe in Uganda, the concept is giving more people more control over how their tax dollars are spent locally. An interesting discovery through the models developed to date is that as residents spend time deliberating on the budget with their neighbours they start making decisions based on the collective good rather than individual interests.

Perhaps on Neighbours Day this weekend you could have a conversation about what would be the collective good for your street and the district as a whole? Oh, and please let us know what you decide.

Profile & Priorities

Te Poho-o-Rawiri, Waitangi Day, 2010

I am standing for Council because I want to encourage much more public participation in discussions and decisions about the future for our communities. Diversity around the council table is important so the district leadership truly reflects the people they serve and we all move ahead together.

I moved to Gisborne with my wife Natasha Koia in 1998 to provide care for her elderly grandparents. We still live with her grandmother and now have our own family with two young children.

I have a degree in communication design, a post-graduate teaching qualification and have worked as a graphic designer, teacher, researcher and community organiser. My research and project management business was established in 2004 with local, national and international clients including the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and The World Bank. I currently hold governance roles with the Board of Trustees for Waikirikiri School and Presbyterian Support East Coast, and I served three years on the board of the NZ Council for International Development.

More information about my priorities, track record and a list of respected locals who endorse my election are available at: http://www.manu.org.nz

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Question 1. Rates

Our region currently has huge infrastructure, transport and energy costs, low incomes and limited employment options. I would support Council appointment of a skilled advocate to influence central government so that any impact of national regulations are fully understood and compensated for by central government not ratepayers.

GDC needs to get much smarter at securing external resourcing for major projects. We need much more sophisticated negotiation skills to make the case for private and public investment in local infrastructure.

We should establish a ‘50,000 Taskforce’ with the goal of reaching this population by 2020. Design and implement an aggressive national and international marketing campaign to attract world class talent to relocate to the region bringing expertise and increased earnings.

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Question 2. Infrastructure

Cycling and walking needs to be made much easier and safer than it is at present.

We need to urgently establish alternatives to more logging trucks in the city. We need the companies benefitting to pay for the constant road upgrades required.

The rail needs a rescue plan in place by April – based on a robust study of the options not rushed reports.

We need ultra-fast free broadband to every home by 2012.

We need a bylaw requiring all rental homes to pass a Warrant of Fitness to reduce the negative health, education, financial and social outcomes from substandard housing.

The community needs to think about and decide how we best support local businesses and how much big box retail we want in our town. We should take a different development path to places like Tauranga.

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Question 3. Council involvement with economic and community development

The sobering social and economic issues in our region are not just statistics – they have faces and names as friends, family and neighbours.

Council doesn’t need to lead economic development but needs to ensure it is smart and takes into account potential impacts on social, environmental and cultural wellbeing. Similarly council doesn’t need to lead community development but needs to work with residents and other stakeholders to ensure communities lead their own development.

Local authorities should have a key role in coordinating central government funding coming into our region for social and economic development to make sure it is lined up with local priorities. I will encourage council support for residents groups at neighbourhood and village level to determine local priorities and development plans.

Question 4. Council provision of facilities and events for young people

Council doesn’t need to provide these directly, but should work with young people, community organisations and businesses to develop more opportunities for young people. This could include computer clubhouses, homework centres, all ages music venues, business incubators, community gardens, and sports and recreation facilities.

Young people are full citizens and Council should provide a non-voting seat for the Tairawhiti Youth Council around the Council table and on all committees.

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Question 5. Biggest environmental problems

Significant challenges facing the district include farm and beach erosion, waterway sedimentation, agro-chemical pollution, minerals exploration, native habitat destruction, increased risk from extreme weather and our dependence on oil-based energy.

However one of the most important issues is the need to secure a collective commitment to adjust our lifestyles to ensure future generations are also able to enjoy the abundance we have been blessed with.

Council should lead by example – using more solar energy, providing loans paid off by rates for solar water heating, switching to hybrid vehicles, using bicycles around the CBD and planting vegetables in public gardens.

Council should facilitate more environmental education and community action and establish a regional Environmental Forum with statutory agencies, businesses and non-government organisations to identify, plan and monitor action to address priority environmental issues.

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Big Society – Big Community


David Cameron re-launched his Big Idea this week. The new British prime minister says the ‘Big Society’ concept is about empowering communities, redistributing power and fostering a culture of volunteerism. In a speech in Liverpool, Cameron said community groups should be able to run post offices, libraries, transport services and shape housing projects. While one motive for the Tory version of ‘people power’ is obviously to help lower Britain’s debt which is spiralling out of control, I think there is some substance in the plan.

Modern society has turned many aspects of our lives into commodities. Citizens have been replaced by consumers and nearly all our relationships are mediated by the market. In the market-based society we earn money to pay other people to care for our young and elderly, we become slaves to debt, and outsource our responsibilities. Families become less important and effective and neighbourhoods lose their ability to function properly.

Gisborne has much to offer the rest of the world, and it’s not just a wall of wood, wine or wool. What we can offer is a healthy model of true community – and we are not too far from manifesting that goal.

I was so encouraged to see the big turnout this week to a presentation by historian Jane Luiten on the history of local government on the East Coast. The diversity of our community was represented in the 60 or so people from all walks of life who came to hear some challenging stories from our local history. The interest in this topic from young and old, Maori and Pakeha and new immigrants gave me a deep sense of optimism for the future of our community.

There are a few simple truths that citizens of Gisborne can hold on to if we want to be a place where more people love to live. Our neighbourhoods are the primary source of our health as a community. Whether we are safe and secure in our neighbourhoods is largely within our control. In our neighbourhoods, towns and villages we have the power to build a resilient economy. We are local people who must raise our children.

We live in a democracy, a political system that gives us the freedom to choose a common vision and then make choices that bring that vision into being. But the institutions we look to, whether they are government and its agencies, businesses and the ‘free’ market or civil society organisations cannot make us into a community. Only families and neighbourhoods acting together can create a sense of belonging, unconditional care and acceptance, trust and support.

Community organiser John McKnight suggests a community becomes powerful when three things are happening:

The Giving of Gifts: The gifts of people in our neighbourhood are boundless, every single person has something of value to contribute to our wellbeing.

The Presence of Association: Through association our gifts can be shared, celebrated and magnified and become productive.

The Compassion of Hospitality: There are no strangers here, only friends who haven’t met – we welcome the gifts of new people and need to share our own with them.

The characteristics of the Big Society may also be those of an abundant, healthy community: kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness and the acceptance of fallibility. These virtues aren’t delivered by the market, or by government or local body organisations. They come from within us and could become what makes Gisborne a fantastic place to live.

Universal Access for Gisborne?

A recent survey of households in Kaiti found that 90% have a mobile phone and more than one in three have broadband internet in the home. Gisborne residents are obviously committed to using new technology to help with communication, education and involvement in society.

Given the isolation of our region relative to the big cities and overseas markets, access to high speed internet access and affordable information technology should be the centre-piece of any plan for a prosperous region.

High-speed wireless internet access for all residents is becoming a top priority for local authorities around the world.  Whanganui District Council has just subsidised free wireless to two low income neighbourhoods in their town and in Canada advertising is being used to sponsor wireless access to poor neighbourhoods. Given the high access rates charged by the telecommunications companies in New Zealand, electronic infrastructure is quickly being recognised as a public good that requires democratic control rather than just private owners.

Gisborne District councilors wouldn’t even allow staff to setup a Facebook page for the Annual Plan this year. Thankfully Corporate Affairs Manager Douglas Burt has championed Council involvement in broadband initiatives and projects like Computers in Homes and getting broadband to all our rural communities.

Bristol City Council over the past twelve months has been using Participatory Budgeting, including online ways for citizens to set the city spending. The council put aside funds for three city wards to allocate spending through an online discussion.

To carry out the project, the council used Open Source (free) software which enables residents to suggest ideas for what the money should be spent on, and allows other citizens to vote for the ideas they support. While the final decision on spending can’t legally rest with ‘the internet’, the council committed to stick by the decisions made by participants, so long as they are legal.

Half way through the pilot project results are showing that 130 people had registered on the site, a participation rate that is much larger than the numbers who usually turn up to public consultation meetings.

The age of participants has moved down about twenty years in age compared with attendees at traditional public meetings, showing 40% of participants are under the age of 40.

The site asked people who responded to state their location, and this has shown that most respondents come from the three wards in which the funding will be spent. So people are engaging in their local area, but others are having their say too, just as intended, especially given one of the wards covers the city centre, used by pretty much all residents from time to time.

Gisborne District Council will be interested to know that a sizable proportion of the ideas submitted in Bristol turned out not to need funding at all, and could be undertaken right away. These ranged from some ideas actually being issues that could be passed on directly to council officers for action, to users being able to help each other. In one instance, a user suggested it would be good to fund having bus timetables on your mobile phone, and another replied saying that they’d already worked out how to do it, and gave instructions on how to do so!

The council has thus benefitted from another channel for receiving customer feedback as well as encouraging the wisdom of crowds, in addition to the benefits hoped for by the project itself.

Universal access to high speed broadband is fundamental to transforming the economic performance of Gisborne but a key question is whether or not prospective councilors and local voters consider this infrastructure essential for the future of our region.

My Priorities

These are the things I think are important and would strive to promote if I was elected to Council next year…

  1. A region that values the rich traditions and diversity of all its residents.
  2. A region of safe communities based on caring relationships between families.
  3. A region that fosters innovation, enterprise, the creative sectors and scientific discovery.
  4. A region that nurtures well-educated young people and leaves no one behind.
  5. A region that is a magnet for young families and values the contributions of older people.
  6. A region that will leave the natural environment better than we found it.
  7. A region that is committed to ensuring housing, energy and healthy food are affordable and that supports families to manage their finances wisely.
  8. A region that understands the importance of increasing the economic productivity and sustainability of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
  9. A region that promotes the use of cycling and walking for most people making short journeys.
  10. A region that is well connected with the rest of the planet through low-cost, high-speed, internet access.
  11. A Council that encourages public participation in decision-making.
  12. A Council that is able to keep any rates increases at (or below) the rate of inflation while still providing quality services and infrastructure.

Letter to the Editor – Endless Summer or Last of the Summer Wine?

gisborne

Recent Statistics NZ projections that Gisborne is likely to have a lower population in 20 years time should come as no surprise. That we are likely to have the fourth highest rate of population decline should be concerning and something everyone in the region is committed to reversing.

I’m yet to see a clearly articulated strategy for attracting people to relocate themselves, their families and business to our great region.

The first place to start would be with the upwardly mobile young people who grew up and left to study, work and/or explore the world. One such young man recently contacted me from Queenstown and said he would love to live in Gisborne again. He thought more young people and families would choose to make the move if the following things were addressed:

  1. providing low cost, reliable access to high quality broadband and mobile coverage across the whole district;
  2. cheaper transport by air and rail in and out of the region;
  3. enhancements to lifestyle amenities like recreation facilities, cafes and entertainment options;
  4. promotion of the relatively low cost of land and houses in the region.

I would add to the list a proper analysis of the benefits of doing business in the Gisborne region compared to Auckland, Hawkes Bay and the Bay of Plenty. This analysis would include the cost of labour, rental comparisons for offices and warehouse space, road use intensity, port charges and education profiles.

It is encouraging to see the “Endless Summer” brochure going into Air New Zealand planes over the next three months, but I can’t help thinking this needs to be connected into a much longer and more strategic plan to carefully position the regional profile with potential residents and visitors. Such a strategy could be something that all of us understand and support for the future of this place we call home.

Council Draft 10 Year Plan Submissions

Here are some of the submissions I helped prepare on the Council’s Draft 10 Year Plan – opportunities to speak to the submissions come up in early June:

Positive Ageing

I spoke at the Positive Ageing Expo last week and read from the draft Positive Ageing in Action Accord:

“Positive ageing in Tairawhiti will only become a reality when society respects all seniors, values their knowledge, wisdom and skills, and acknowledges the considerable contributions they make to family and community life…

“For positive ageing in Tairawhiti to become a reality, people of all ages must acquire deep respect for the dignity of seniors and the wisdom they have gained from many years of experience. Our history resides in their memories.

ACTIONS:

3. Promote inter-generational programmes in schools and communities to overcome ageist stereotypes, build inter-generational bonds and enhance the understanding of a wide range of historical topics, social issues and cultural perspectives.

I said I thought these statements and the proposed action should be much earlier on in the document as I think attitudes in the wider society present the biggest challenge and opportunity to realising positive ageing for everyone.

By the time I am 65 years old there will be twice as many people aged over 65 as there are today. Our country and community will see this as a great opportunity only when we all appreciate the treasure that our elders are to us and the world. The ageing population is not a liability, and not a problem to be solved – it is something we need to plan for but it is about realising the value in every person who has a story to tell, critical perspectives on a wide range of issues and experiences that we all need to learn from as we honour those passing on and those still to come.

Do you care about the future of Gisborne?

I have been talking to lots of people lately about what kind of place we want Gisborne to be.

This is the kind of Gisborne that I want to live in :

–  GISBORNE as a model for the country and the world, demonstrating how people from different cultures can live together, accept each other and celebrate our ability to achieve great things as a united community

–  GISBORNE attracting world class scientists, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs who together create new knowledge, new understanding and new products for the benefit of people here and across the globe

–  GISBORNE developing carefully to ensure housing is affordable for both our elders and young families, where rates make up no more than 50% of Council income and debt is no longer a burden

–  GISBORNE as the most sustainable city in the world – producing safe high quality food, generating our own power and zero waste

–  GISBORNE people knowing our neighbours, feeling safe and taking pride in the quality of our relationships

If elected to Council I will work hard for the benefit of every person living in this region – regardless of race, gender, religion or socio-economic status.

In many ways I represent the future of this country. Within me I hold on to the best of my European and Maori heritage.

As a father, husband and self-employed businessman,  I know the importance of taking responsibility for myself and my family and for making a positive contribution to the community. I believe I have been a positive role model to other young people in our region.

Council needs to include a diverse range of people who understand the different communities that live and work in our district. I appreciate what is important to people with young families, so I have ideas about what is needed to get talented people to move back here.

People have said that I personify the potential of our region. I believe that every one of us have a crucial role to play – working together is the only way to realise the full potential of this great place we call home.

If you want people on Gisborne District Council who base their decisions on sound principles and good information, who can work well with a diverse range   of people and who are committed to a united community, then please help me make a real difference.

What do I know?!

My wife and I are both 34 years old. We have two children. We both have bachelor degrees and post-graduate qualifications. We own two businesses and are involved in a wide range of local community organisations in addition to the marae committee, Kohanga Reo and the school our five year old daughter attends.

We are part of a demographic group that Gisborne needs to appeal to as a place to live and work.

Tarsh grew up around Tauwhareparae, Makarika and Kaiti. She left Gisborne during her last year at high school and went away to university. I grew up in Tauranga and did the same. We both ended up in Wellington and moved home 10 years ago to live with and care for Tarsh’s grandparents who raised her.

We understand what needs to change to make people like us want to move back to Gisborne to raise a family. We can count at least twenty outstanding individuals that we can claim some responsibility for influencing their decision to move to Gisborne over the past seven years.

I believe Council needs one or two people of my age and experience around the decision-making table. Some others need to move on!  

Working with teenagers for the last 15 years has given me a good insight into the way young people think about their future, their families, neighbourhoods and the wider community. I have recently been working with a local project that brings a group of elderly women and a group of teenage girls together regularly to learn from each other. This kind of interaction is what our community needs much more of and the positive outcomes flowing from these relationships will benefit generations to come. 

Living in a neighbourhood that even the pizza delivery people won’t come to has some good and not so good things about it. Every human being has an absolute right to personal safety and to know they are valued members of their community.

We all have contributions to make. Young people have idealism and energy, parents and working aged people provide social and economic security for the less enfranchised, people with physical and intellectual impairments teach all of us to appreciate whatever we have, elders provide their wisdom, knowledge and experience to guide the next generations. Maori and Pakeha share rich histories in this region, new immigrants bring fresh ideas and different ways of doing things that we can all benefit from if we value diversity and create an inclusive community.

As a self-employed researcher I like to have all the evidence before making a decision and I understand that there are pressures on this region that other areas of New Zealand do not experience as severely. I also recognise that for a large proportion of the world’s population, this place would be considered Paradise.

I was pleased to see the recent Rates Enquiry commissioned by central government recommended that rates make up no more than 50% of Council income. This signals some relief to rates rises as central government contributes more to costs incurred by local government. But the key I believe relies on us becoming more self-sufficient so that as a region we can rely less on external influences and develop the capacity and resources within the region to care for ourselves and make this the place we all know it has the potential to be.

For more information about my views on a wide range of issues visit my website: http://www.manu.org.nz (or invite me for dinner)

Top of my Wish List

Top of my wish-list for what I would like to see happen with Council support:

COMMUNITY PLANS developed with residents for every settlement and suburb that wants one (e.g. Te Araroa, Tokomaru Bay, Wainui/Okitu, Kaiti, Whataupoko, Mangapapa, Matawai, etc.). These would be facilitated by a steering group of local residents with support from Council staff and other stakeholders (e.g. runanga, government agencies, business owners, etc.).

Each plan would include:

  • a Community Profile including a history of the community, an overview of the local demographics (age, ethnicity, gender, income levels, etc.) of residents, economic, environmental, cultural and social profiles.
  • Special Features of the particular community (physical features, demographic trends, etc.)
  • Heritage Register summarising assets of historical significance within the community that should be protected, cared for and/or promoted.
  • Critical Issues for the community under headings such as: local economy; community development; public services, recreation and facilities; and infrastructure.
  • Community Goals documenting the aspirations of community members for their suburb/settlement.
  • an Action Plan identifying priority activities that will assist residents to realise the stated goals and aspirations, who will take leadership and supporting roles, what resources are required and timeframes for completion of each task.

Council planning staff should have a key role in facilitating this process but it may be more appropriate for local residents to lead or to engage an independent facilitator from another community to coordinate.

These plans would provide clear messages to Council about local priorities and aspirations so that Council plans support the opportunities identified in the specific community plans.

  

Council involvement in economic and community development

Councillors need to provide strategic leadership and decisions based on high quality information and long term goals that encourage wide understanding of and participation in the key drivers of economic wellbeing and community development.

Council staff have a facilitation role to increase cooperation within the region and advocacy capability and capacity on behalf of the region.

Council should be advocating for far more local accountability of public funds spent in the region but currently answerable only to Wellington.

The Council urgently needs a well considered policy statement and plan, developed in partnership with the community, for its role in Social Development. This could have a similar structure to the recently released Draft Economic Development Strategy (A Framework for Sustainable Prosperity) which provides an excellent overview of how Council can best contribute to ensuring a sustainable future for the region.

Mark Cabaj

“When the structure of an agent’s world is changing rapidly, unexamined assumptions are likely to be out of date, and the actions based on them ineffective.”
Lane & Maxfield

I enjoyed the recent visit to Gisborne by Mark Cabaj of the Tamarack Institute in Canada. Mark spoke passionately about the challenges of working on complex community issues and provided some practical solutions on ways to approach these situations.

Mark’s report on his isit to New Zealand including a range of resources is available here: mark_cabaj.pdf 

Affordable Housing & Urban Development

From my submission on the 2007 Draft Annual Plan & LTCCP Review…Recommendation: 

That GDC develop Inclusionary Zoning requiring developers to include social housing and affordable housing equivalent to at least 20% of new developments of 5 or more houses for social and affordable housing.

– That GDC remove any exclusionary regulations prohibiting affordable housing from being built in new developments.

– That GDC develop a housing policy that makes an explicit commitment by GDC to do  everything it can to ensure decent housing is affordable for all people living in the Gisborne District.

Continue reading

Population Growth Model

From my submission on the 2007 Draft Annual Plan & LTCCP Review…

Recommendations:

– That GDC Population Growth Model include the anticipated net impacts(including anticipated level and impact of mitigation strategies) of climate change over the next 20-50 years on populations in each locality in its Population Growth Model.

That GDC Population Growth Model include the anticipated net impacts of Maori migration over the next 20-50 years on the populations in each locality in its population.

That GDC support investigations into opportunities for supporting a de-urbanisation movement that would result in more people moving to rural lifestyles that increase self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on resources being transported into the region from other parts of the planet and other parts the country (often back into the region after being grown here and shipped to a distribution centre outside the region only to return to shops here).

 That GDC do not include the text on page 313 “However, even if the older segment of the population increases, putting pressure on accommodation suitable for senior citizens, the Council will not necessarily provide accommodation.”

That GDC policies and decisions are made on the basis of ‘human scale’ design and arrive at creative solutions that challenge and discredit the unsustainable mantra of ‘growth is good’

That GDC monitor income, health, education and justice disparities in the region as well as ‘connectedness’ indicators to measure progress toward a more or less inclusive society.

Continue reading

Local Ownership

All members of any community are experts and leaders in their own right. We are all followers as well. As both teachers and learners we have a right and responsibility to contribute to any decision that impact on us and future generations. If people do not feel they are involved in a decision or the process leading up the decision being made, they will feel no ownership of the consequences and blame decision-makers for a bad decision (seldomn acknowledging good decisions!). We need to move forward together as a region – different ages, genders, cultures and classes need to find common ground if we want sustainable development to be realised.

Te Reo

We all know that no group of people are all the same.

The concept of ‘Maori’ culture is only used in contrast to other cultures (usually European/Pakeha) – but otherwise iwi, hapu and whanau all have their own cultures/tikanga/kawa ways of being and distinctives that have similarities and differences to each other.

Sometimes when someone talks about bi-culturalism (two cultures co-existing) others point out that our society is multi-cultural and bi-culturalism is too exclusive. The point is that Tangata Whenua, however you wish to describe the decendants of the first inhabitants of these islands, have only got this place to be who they are. Tangata Whenua cannot go to some where else to learn about their history and have their identity, language and traditions affirmed – only here are Te Reo me ona tikanga tuku iho able to live, grow and regenerate themselves amongst the people to whom they belong.

In our home we speak only Te Reo to the children and try to use it as much as possible amongst the adults. Within the home is the most important place a language can be used as it frames our understanding of everyday life and is not restricted to academic or institutional contexts.

My wife Tarsh is absolutely committed to the revitalisation of Te Reo o Ngati Porou. After her whanau, nothing is more important to her than to ensure she does all she can, every single day, to make the language strong in our household and the wider society. She is working hard on establishing a Puna Reo across the road from our place in Cambridge Terrace. With a group of similarly committed whanau we are undertaking all the planning and preparation required to establish a high quality early childhood education centre that uses 100% Te Reo and is based on the traditions of her tupuna and the best educational pedagogies from around the world.

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The Arts

Someone asked me today what my views on the arts in the region are.

As someone who studied visual culture and design, and then taught at university on the social history of New Zealand through the arts – I have a reasonable appreciation of the central role artistic expression and material culture play in creating meaning, increasing our connection to one another and the environment and also positive social change.

Two profound experiences I have had in relation to art have stuck with me. The first was when I stood in front of William Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World” in St Paul’s Cathedral London – all the history, suffering and joy of the world seemed to rush into this picture at that very moment – it moved me to tears and I could barely stand there but neither could I move for some time. The other was recently as Miria, my five year old daughter, showed me her rendering of Papatuanuku and Ranginui being pushed apart by Tane Mahuta – the two parents were both crying – it was a simple but profound expression of true relationship and demonstrated to me the power of visual stories.

Te Tairawhiti has produced some of the greatest artists this country has every known – Raharui Rukupo, Pine & Hone Taiapa, Hine Ki Tawhiti, Ngoi Pewhairangi, Kiri Te Kanawa, Derek Lardelli and many many more. 

Recently efforts have been made to celebrate the creativity of the region – kapahaka festivals, Nga Manu Korero competitions, art in public places, concerts and many other initiatives provide platforms for allowing art to shape reality and vice versa.

I think we need to balance carefully the economic and cultural imperatives driving the production and consumption of art. We need to ensure our artists are supported and remain free enough to make great works for everyone to benefit from – this ensures art has a place of value in society. If we commercialise art production too much we run the risk of turning our culture into another commodity to be bought and sold by the highest bidder. Artists offer gifts to a community that provides a critical reflection back to the community – this role is essential and must be nurtured and protected.

I am also passionate about community arts and to some extent ‘de-expertising’ art-making. From 2002-2005 I supported the establishment of a commuity recording studio and record label in Kaiti, we also set-up a youth radio station, film production unit and creative space for people with mental health issues, children’s art workshops and the elderly. Since 1998 I have facilitated with children and young people, the design and production of community murals and mosaics at Wainui Rd, Hardy Lane, Waikirikiri Reserve, Alfred Cox Skate Park, Turanganui-a-Kiwa Activity Centre and Kaiti Memorial Park.

I have a cousin who married a Cambridge University computer sciences Professor. For their wedding, the Professor made by hand for my cousin, the most amazing wedding dress I have ever seen.

We are all artists – human beings are created to be creative.

Here are some prints and paintings I have made over the years:

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