Annual MFAT- NGO Hui

Tēnā koutou katoa, Talofa Lava and Warm Pacific Greetings to one and all— and in recognition of Tokelauan Language Week this week, Fakatalofa atu ki te koutou uma. Malo ni.

Thank you for inviting me to join with you at the 2021 MFAT–NGO Hui. It’s a privilege for me to have the opportunity to share some remarks on the themes of relationships and resilience; both of which are central to my work as Minister for Pacific Peoples, and as Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Ministry for Pacific People has four key priorities:

  • thriving Pacific languages, cultures and identities
  • prosperous Pacific communities
  • resilient and healthy Pacific peoples
  • and, confident, thriving and resilient Pacific young people.

In the pursuit of delivering on these key goals, I see our work extending beyond the borders of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and it strikes me that much of your work is delivered in the wider Pacific, and that many of you - NGOs and your partners share similar priorities to the government’s work with Pacific people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Your partnerships reach the vulnerable and marginalised, and contribute to connectedness and inclusion in communities.

You are working with indigenous women, men and young people to increase their skills and pathways to start small businesses, contributing to a prosperous Pacific.

Your work in water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition and shelter supports Pacific communities’ health and wellbeing – in their villages, which are often disconnected from the global world – yet their lives are affected by global decisions.

And your initiatives targeting the personal and professional development of Pacific youth are increasing their confidence and participation in society.  I’ve seen your work empower young people, giving them confidence and helping them find their voice.

These examples highlight the common challenges and opportunities that stretch across our shared moana, our Blue Ocean Continent. This is why we’re here, having this conversation today.

Aotearoa New Zealand is in, and of, the Pacific. The voyaging history of our tipuna and ancestors connects us across Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, for which we are collective  guardians. 

I’m always mindful of this shared history and hononga, including when I’m connecting with Pasifika communities on COVID-19. 

Oral history and storytelling are powerful tools for us in the Pacific. The stories of the Spanish flu pandemic are harrowing, but also a source of knowledge to inform the challenges we face today.

In 1918, the steam ship SS Talune left New Zealand and sailed to the Pacific transporting people and resources; going about its usual business and making various stops across the way, all the while carrying flu stricken passengers and workers on board. The consequences were devastating.

In Fiji, between 5 and 7 percent of the population died.  In Tonga, up to 2,000 people died. 

And in my homeland, Samoa, about one quarter of the total population died over an eight week period. Samoa became the country most affected by the Spanish flu, in the world.

The pandemic stripped the country of its workers, its leaders, and those that held the cultural knowledge and genealogy of its people. Famine ensued as crops weren’t sown. Oral family history and family history was lost. Indigenous knowledge of kaitiakitanga for forests and oceans was lost. Future generations were profoundly affected by the fateful journey of the SS Talune.

And yet, we are a resilient people. 

In 1962, Samoa regained independence. Pacific countries are amongst the most disaster prone in the world but we rebuild and recover from king tides, tsunami and cyclones.

The dedication, innovation, bravery and perseverance of our ancestors, in the face of adversity, is integral to who we are today. These are also characteristics that will stand us in good stead to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SS Talune story is perhaps not the most positive illustration of the connectedness between Aotearoa and the Pacific — because the consequences were so dire — but our connectedness continues to be nurtured, and this is something we are immensely proud of. 

I am also reminded of the story of Tusitala in Samoa – the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson – who lived and died in Samoa. He learnt their language, their culture and became a respected advisor to the local Samoan chiefs in dealing with the colonial powers of the time.

When I am talking with people in the Pacific, or Pacific people in Aotearoa, a common theme emerges of - whanaungatanga — our family, aiga connection and kinship. 

Families and communities are rallying against COVID-19 because preventing death and illness of their loved ones is of utmost importance to them.  Pacific countries, like Aotearoa, have managed their borders as a means to protect their own, and each other.

There is a Samoan alagaupu or proverb: a logo ta,i ua logo uta. Literally it means: what is felt in the ocean, is also felt in the forests.

At its heart is an expression of whanaungatanga — when something happens in our aiga or whānau, no matter how far away they might be, we all feel the repercussions. Or as we say in Samoan, “He or she who comes to my aid in times of crisis – is my kin, my flesh and blood/O e e lavea’i ia te a’u i taimi o puapuaga o tino, o aano, o aiga.”

So, though our borders open or closed, our connections across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa remain as strong as ever.  Relationships do, however, require trust and need to be nurtured.  Especially during challenging times.

I know that you understand this.  Your work with civil society in the Pacific is based on your networks and relationships.  You’ve had to adapt and find new and different, sometimes better, ways of working together.

Your connections enable you to hear and amplify the voice of communities, including the vulnerable and marginalised within them.  This is why civil society is an important partner for government.

Our shared responsibility for Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa drives priorities for the New Zealand aid programme.  But, in Pacific development work, how we engage is as important as what we do. This is where I come back to the concepts of hononga and whanaungatanga mentioned earlier.

We can also continue to draw upon other values from Te Ao Māori, and shared by other Pacific cultures, to guide the way in which we engage with our partners:

  • manaakitanga, kindness or the reciprocity of goodwill, or the principle of looking out for one another;
  • kotahitanga, our shared aspirations for collective benefits, where the needs of the collective, outweigh the needs of the individual;
  • and, kaitiakitanga, stewardship of our environment and intergenerational well-being, ensuring that we leave things in a far better position for our children and their children.

I would like to wrap up today by thanking you all.  NGOs deliver on challenging and sensitive development issues, often in remote locations with limited access to services.  The global impact of COVID-19 over the last 18 months has further amplified many pre-existing challenges.

While it has been a difficult period, the resilience demonstrated by the sector leaves you well placed to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.

I wish you all well in your mahi, both in the Pacific and further afield.  I hope the discussions today strengthen your kaupapa and nurture your relationships.  We are able to achieve so much more when we work collectively towards common goals.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa