Gisborne Young People

Four years ago I helped organise the largest number of submissions on a single issue that Council received for the 10 year Long Term Council Community Plan. It basically asked Council to acknowledge only one thing – that young people are full citizens of our community. In the end only one line in the LTCCP referred to young people and it was silent on the recommendations made in the submissions.

Council does not need to provide facilities or events for young people as much as it needs to be asking itself how young people are thinking about and relating to their communities, how young people are organising themselves and under what circumstances young people are prepared to commit to the wellbeing and development of this region.

Rekindling intergenerational relationships are critical at this time – but those relationships must be based on mutual respect and appreciation of each others gifts and limitations.

I recently attended a planning meeting organised by GDC that considered what Gisborne would look like in 30 years time. There were less than five people aged under 30 years in a room of over 60 people. If young people are not actively involved in planning the future of the region now, they will have no ownership of the developments that occur and will join the masses leaving instead of contributing to a better future for all of us.

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“When the structure of an agent’s world is changing rapidly, unexamined assumptions are likely to be out of date, and the actions based on them ineffective.”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

Respecting Our Elders

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its most vulnerable members. Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)

I love this quote and I plan to make it a reality.  

Our society is fragmented and disconnected in many ways. Over the past 50 years a stark division has emerged in many families and communities between younger and older members. 

Before World War II the notion of a ‘youth’ population was unheard of (let alone ‘youth culture’ or ‘youth sub-cultures’) – that was because young people were expected to participate in the economic, cultural and social life of their family. Clear rites of passage existed in every society to mark the movement of a child to an adult. Now we have this strange transitional period where young people are no longer children and not yet adults – they exist in a confusing social vacuum that presents all sorts of contradictory messages – and we wonder why they misbehave!

The inter-generational transfer of knowledge, language and values has never been so poor than it is today. An unhealthy obsession with material wealth and status pervades the value systems of many young people thanks in large part to the influence of commercial culture and global communications media.

Reconnecting young people to their parents and grandparents is one of the most important challenges facing our community – passing on the best values of our elders is an essential component of any healthy society. Practical skills and activities such as growing, preparing and preserving food, passing on traditions and family stories that connect with our past and future generations must be a priority for everyone.

I make a point now of asking my parents about such things at every opportunity – and I love sitting in the presence of elders who are willing to share their wisdom with someone as naive and ignorant as myself.

What are some examples of this inter-generational connectedness that you have experienced recently?

Matini & Lena

My wife and I moved back to Gisborne in 1998 to live with and care for her elderly grandparents.

Matini and Lena Koia raised Tarsh as their own child, she grew up living in the same house as her uncles and aunties until they moved out and eventually Tarsh left Gisborne to undertake her studies in Maori and Politics at Canterbury University.  

Matini was a shepherd and farmer up the Coast all his life – other than a stint as an under-age soldier going off as a member of J-Force to occupied Japan after the war. He was an expert geneologist and had great stories about growing up around Tikitiki and Port Awanui! Lena grew up around Makarika as the daughter of the local midwife and raised 11 of her own children, as well as Tarsh.

Being raised by a grandparent is a special privilege – Tarsh has inherited some of her grandparents best attributes, their wisdom, humility and much of the knowledge they passed on.

Living with Matini and Lena as a young married couple was a great experience – seeing how these two 70-somethings loved, forgave and cared for each other was the best marriage guidance we could have hoped for as newly weds.

It was a great experience for all of us living together for the four years. While Matini was very sick with respitory illness and Lena has alzhiemers, we shared many stories, good laughs and a few times of tears.

Matini passed away exactly one year before our daughter Miria was born. She was named after his mother and we will make sure she knows Matini as well as we did.

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.

Why I am standing for Council

I am absolutely committed to working with others to build a community where everyone can reach their full potential and no one is left out.

Over the past ten years in Gisborne I have led projects and organisations that have strengthened relationships between individuals, families, neighbours, organisations and communities.

Local government must provide real leadership by working together, with the full involvement of the community, to tackle the complex problems our region faces. When people have meaningful participation in decisions that affect their lives, they also have ownership of the outcomes.

I support the development of a common vision for the region that ensures it is safe, affordable and healthy for young and old to live in this unique place we call home.

In 2001 I joined with a group of neighbours to establish KaPai Kaiti. This residents association is a bunch of volunteers who want to make their community an even better place to live and are willing to do whatever it takes to realise their goals. Through my involvement with this group I have seen the positive change that is possible when a community is involved in leading its own development.

From 2002-2005 I worked with Lytton High School to establish Te Whare Whai Hua, the school for teenage parents and an Early Childhood Education Centre for their children. The young mothers who have been through Te Whare Whai Hua inspire me with their commitment to personal development and the wellbeing of their children. Most of these students have gone on to further training, university education and/or employment – all have become better caretakers of the next generation.

Through these two simple but powerful examples of local solutions to local problems we have experienced the power of community-led sustainable growth and transformation. We have also seen how Council can actively block community attempts to move ahead. 

Gisborne District Council needs inspired leadership that is connected to ALL sectors of the community. I hope to be part of making this goal our reality.


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.

Sewage Solution

Congratulations to all those who have worked on a voluntary basis to ensure Gisborne city has a decent (and affordable) system for dealing with our effluent that does not continue to pollute the environment as grossly as the existing mechanism.

While we humans have a short memory and often don’t learn from our mistakes, in this case the process seems to have produced some creative alternatives to the antiquated status quo – and more importantly an example of what is possible when mutual respect, robust research and creative dialogue – rather than cultural supremacy – is the basis of negotiation.


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.