Personal Race Relations

The last week has given me a few reasons to think about race relations with good progress in some areas and setbacks in others.

The joint visit by leaders of the National Party and the Maori Party last week provided an opportunity for us to reflect again on how Maori and non-Maori get along locally.

The same week we heard the apology issued by the South African government and two national Rugby Unions to the families of players denied the opportunity to face South Africa because of their ethnicity.

In spite of all its obvious failings, the current government has provided an example of how people with very different priorities can cooperate for the benefit of the whole society. So while John Key may have undermined the good faith of Treaty negotiations with Tuhoe, his government committing New Zealand to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a universal standard by which the decisions of government can be judged.

The Treaty claims process has been incredibly important for local tribes, but one of its many problems is that the process is quite removed from most Gisborne residents. There is a large part of our community who, unless they are highly motivated, will not have a chance to hear the stories or find out how the process arrives at its outcome. Te Ūnga Mai has done some good work in this area over the past few years in terms of trying to create greater appreciation of local history and focusing on schools is a good place to start.

My Facebook page recently became a forum for two extreme ends of the cultural politics continuum and, perhaps not surprisingly, the people who at first traded insults and stereotypes eventually found a way to coexist and reconcile some of their differences. It must be to our peril however if we have to rely on electronic communication to improve race relations in our country! Our leaders could make more effort to create safe space for everyone who wants to share family stories, express concerns and articulate hopes for the future. Instead of assuming that if we leave it long enough, the fear and misunderstanding that still exists will subside – history shows it usually just festers away and gets handed on to the next generation.

My message to John Key and Dr Pita Sharples last week was to encourage their respective local branches to work together around the country. Is anyone else interested in creating spaces that are safe for people from different cultural backgrounds to talk carefully about the things that are important to us – the stuff we have in common and the things we are not all agreed on? If we are going to mature as a country and a local community, we need to learn how to talk about the important stuff respectfully and build trust so we can all move forward together.

The best definition of a leader that I have come across is ‘anyone willing to help’, so I would be keen to talk to anyone else interested in progressing a meaningful and respectful conversation on local race relations. It is difficult. Maori are busy with their own issues and often non-Maori see it as a non-issue, but the conversation is essential if our region really does want to prosper.

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.

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:

What about those of us who are NOT Maori?

As I have been talking to local residents over the past few weeks, a number of people have asked me this important question.

If elected to office I will work extremely hard for the benefit of every person living here – regardless of race, gender, religion or socio-economic status.

My mother is a fifth generation New Zealander. While our family has a rich history in this country as settlers and citizens, I am extremely proud of our deep roots in Scotland, Ireland and Spain.

I have been a strong advocate for Maori and young people – mostly because I think they get a raw deal sometimes and because unless we address some of the unmet needs that exist in our community, in 30 years time we will be in much the same place as we are today.

If Europeans had disproportionate rates of school failure, poor health and high crime rates – then I would be advocating for their rights and needs. Of course there are Europeans and other sectors of society who have real unmet needs – that is why I have been a strong advocate for children and young people – who don’t get a vote to choose the community leaders and who often ignored by decision-makers. Our elders, particularly those on the pension, people with disabilities and illness, single parents and people on low incomes all have significant needs that Council regularly overlook.

I believe we can get to a place where everyone has their basic needs met in this community – personal safety; affordable, healthy housing; and high quality education, employment and recreational opportunities.

As someone who understands both Maori and European worldviews, there have been many times when I have been able to bring diverse groups of people together, united under common values and working toward shared goals.

My wife and I are planning to living in the Gisborne region for the rest of our lives – this has to be the best place on Earth. We want to join with others and contribute in whatever small ways we can to making Gisborne even better!

Maori participation in local government

I think to start with we need to move on from representation and into active participation – by all sectors of the community, not just Maori. GDC has never had the adequate skill base, quality of relationships and cultural capital within the organisation to engage with Tangata Whenua in a mutually meaningful way.

Recognising the value to every local resident from real participation by Maori in decision-making is an important first step. Councillors and staff need to understand why this is important today and how critical it is for ensuring a positive future of the region.

Appreciating the essential relationship between Maori and local government will lead to employment of staff with different skills and an increased ability by Council to engage in ways that help make the organisation more relevant and responsive to Maori. Which will ultimately improve life for Maori and the rest of the community will benefit greatly as a result.

Speech for Te Whare Whai Hua Opening 11/08/07

First I would liek to thank the staff and management of Te Whare Whai Hua for inviting me to speak – it was quite unexpected and very humbling to be asked to open this new facility!

A seed is planted…

TWWH started out as a conversation in early 2001 around the kitchen table at Jo Ashwell’s house in DeLatour Rd. A number of the girls in our Te Ora Hou youth club had become pregnant, wanted to keep their baby but were dropping out of school. We thought we might get support for the idea from Paul Smith, the Guidance Counsellor at Lytton High School so apprached him and he was very supportive. The Lytton High BOT got right in behind the idea and along with the JN Williams Trust underwrote the refurbishment of a couple of old classrooms that would become TWWH.

Our first students

Michelle, Monique, Susannah and Renee started in February 2002 at 2 Crawford Rd – the old Admin Building for the freezing works where Te Ora Hou was based. They were all in one big room with the babies on one side of a very thin curtain while the mamas sat around the old board room table trying to study their unit standards and correspondence work. Later these students were joined by others like Lovene, Hine, Sam & Pat and it is great to see so many of the graduates here today.

Education as liberation

If you are brown, young and female in this country the odds are stacked against you and your children – this society still privileges white, old men – and their values and beliefs continue to dominate the decision-making processes of our communities and country. 

Education at TWWH should be about permission to transgress – transgress the racist, ageist and sexist paradigms that we are born into. 

This is particularly important for men: last weekend 30 local men listed what we consider the causes of men’s violence – one of the main issues identified was our identity as men… 

From an early age boys are taught that we need to have the control in relationships, that we are initiators and emotionally detached power-brokers – the ‘Warriors’ who must dominate others. 

Conversely girls are taught to be objects for male gratification, that their value is in their appearance and their primary role is as servants of male desire and as procreative baby-making machines. Intellectually we know all of this is wrong but we continue to perpetrate such destructive attitudes when we do not challenge them. And while we lament the deaths of baby Jhia in Wanganui a few weeks ago and Nia this week – the dominant voices call for tougher penalties instead of radical social change and challenging our gender identities.

I hope that the curriculum taught in this facility starts to produce a lot more critical thinking and action by the students.  We have been sucked into seeing education almost exclusively as a training ground for producing workers to make money for business owners.

The curriculum in this facility must include teaching and learning that challenges the economic, political and cultural elites. It must encourage personal growth, responsibility taking, entrepreneurship and critical reflection amongst young parents and their whanau.

Hope & Courage

Te Whare Whai Hua is a symbol of hope and courage – it demonstrates that members of this community are committed to supporting the most vulnerable members of our community – our children.

It bears witness to the courage of young mothers, their partners and whanau who are willing to get up off the couch and stand up for their right as citizens of this country to a high quality public education.

TPU’s under review

I despaired when I heard Teen Parent Units are currently under national review as the Ministry of Education thinks they are too expensive and is reconsidering their future.

Most communities around the country are not lucky enough to have a place like this – fortunately we got in early but we should support the right of every student to an education that is accessible, affordable and appropriate.  

Future Fruit

We have seen the good fruit produced by TWWH over the past few years and the extensions will provide opportunity for more of the 100 teenage young women who get hapu in our community to continue their education.

Sex education is obviously not working in our community – we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the country and many of these result in terminations that leave deep trauma in the people involved – let alone the tiny lives taken. While the debate on reproductive rights and wrongs continues – places like Te Whare Whai Hua make it easier for young women to keep their children and find extra support as new parents.

The measure of success for TWWH should not be just how many students achieve NCEA or go on to further study or employment. It must be how many of the students go on to be great parents, community leaders and supporters of social transformation that creates much more loving whanau and healthy communities.

Congratulations to the staff of Te Whare Whai Hua who have worked so hard to make this place what it is, to the Board of Lytton High School for your ongoing commitment to the facility, to the government for eventually coming on board, to partners and whanau who support the mamas, and to the current and past students who inspire all of us with your sustained commitment to reaching your full potential as wonderful human beings.

Thank you very much.

Tangata Whenua Participation

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


–  That GDC undertake a feasibility study that explores various options for increasing Tangata Whenua participation in decision-making at all levels of the organisation.

– That a discussion document is circulated in the community requesting feedback, particularly from Maori, on the most effective options for increasing Tangata Whenua participation.

– That GDC, in consultation with Tangata Whenua representatives from hapu and iwi in the District adopt the most popular options supported by feedback from Tangata Whenua.


The existing provisions for Tangata Whenua deputations at committee meetings and a Maori Liaison Officer are grossly inadequate mechanisms for supporting positive, constructive and meaningful participation by Tangata Whenua in decision-making processes. The legacy of colonisation and settler society provide ample evidence of manifold injustices that have taken place when Tangata Whenua have not been involved in a meaningful way with decisions made by those with positions of regulatory power.

3. Increase the political, economic and cultural influence of our region in a way that reflects our local aspirations.

The Tairawhiti region is a unique place that has produced many world firsts and consistently excels in innovation and high performance in business, cultural and sporting arenas.

What we have lacked to date is local leadership that can use these strengths to capitalise on opportunities within the region and at national and international levels. I see huge potential in Gisborne being a model for sustainable economic, cultural and social development that the world will look to.



Massive inequalities of power exist within our region. Many relationships are based on inequality and male domination – these unhealthy gender identities lead to unhealthy, abusive and sometimes violent relationships. We have the highest level of Maori language speakers in the country but education and health systems that still is not providing an environment that is appropriate for many Maori. Children and young people have few opportunities to contribute to family decisions, education institutions and community service activities, let alone regional development decisions.

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.


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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