Northland Cultures And Our Youth

  • Marie Hasler
Women's Affairs

Rotary District 9920
Forum North Centre, Whangarei

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

I want to challenge all of you to extend your thinking about our young people and go beyond seeing young people as the at-risk group, or as adults-in-waiting. I also want to give you an overview of how my own Ministry works in relationship to youth and cultural identity. Then I hope you will forgive me as I transgress a little and speak on a subject close to my heart - Anzac Day.

I am particularly pleased to see several young people, both from New Zealand and overseas, represented at your conference.

While each of our ages brings its own challenges, joys and heartaches, it is important for us all to work together and be part of one national community.

I believe a strong cultural identity is paramount to our survival in this global age where the world stage is shrinking and as a consequence our young people are placed under enormous pressure.

For this reason I urge you all to think of our young, both now and in the future, as stakeholders in our community.

Once we all recognise that young people are stakeholders, then we can all act to ensure that they have the resilience to cope with rapid social change, are able to build their own personal development, and thus contribute to the overall development of our country.

The Government provides leadership, through agencies like the Ministry of Youth Affairs, but relies on the support and commitment of local government, communities, families and organisations like Rotary, to ensure that these ideals become concrete actions.

A critical step needs to be ensuring we all encourage young people to participate in decision making processes particularly when it comes to decision making on issues affecting them.

By giving young people the opportunity to be decision makers we are ensuring they learn important skills as well as help us to use the positive contribution young people can make to New Zealand's economic, social and cultural development.

While many young people take an active role in school-life, in community organisations and particularly sports clubs, all too few are involved in local body politics and in government.

The survey of local authority elected members conducted after the 1998 local government elections shows there are just six elected members under the age of 30. Just one percent of the total number of members.

Currently just 27 or four percent of elected members are in the 30-39 age group. And in Parliament there is just one representative who is under 30 - Nanaia Mahutu, a Labour list MP.

We need to do more to recognise the calibre and capacity of our young people and encourage them in to government at all levels.

As you know in Northland we have a diverse youth population. This diversity is not unique to Northland however.

As we found at the last Census, Maori youth in particular, and Pacific and Asian youth also, comprise a greater proportion of our young people. We must recognise this difference.

In my role as Minister of Cultural Affairs I have been fortunate to meet many young New Zealanders from many different ethnic backgrounds who make up our culturally rich and diverse nation.

I believe, and research shows, that where young people have a solid grounding in their own culture they are more able to meet life's challenges.

There are of course many challenges we must face, whether the we is the Government, a voluntary organisation, or the local community.

We all know the world is changing very, very fast. Incredibly mankind's knowledge is currently doubling every 10 years.

The information and technology revolution has made today's young people the best informed of any in history.

But with the many benefits of technology come some drawbacks. Young people are exposed to more risks and temptations than earlier generations.

They may also come under extreme pressure, through the influence of the rapidly expanding media and world of advertising, to look and behave in certain ways.

There is also a risk that, should they fall behind in education, they will find it increasingly difficult to fully participate in our technology driven society.

Employment opportunities for everyone, and particularly the young are changing. Employers are now looking for highly educated, technologically literate employees.

All these demands can place enormous pressures on our young people.

I realise many of you are concerned about the high incidence of cannabis use in the North, high youth unemployment, the crime rate and cases of self-harm and suicide. These problems can have such serious implications, not only for the young person concerned, but also for their families and communities.

Unfortunately, these problems are not isolated as reflected here in the different patterns of young people's health:

the main cause of young people's deaths is motor vehicle crashes, followed by suicide and self-inflicted injury, non-motor vehicle accidents and cancer (1994)

the mortality rate for young men, aged 20 to 24 years, is almost three times higher than for young women of the same age

young people are more likely than the rest of the population to take part in vigorous exercise

young men aged 20 to 24 are the heaviest alcohol drinkers among young people

young women aged 20 to 24 years are the youth age group most likely to smoke one cigarette or more a day

almost half of young Maori women aged 15 to 24 years are regular cigarette smokers

and hospital admissions for cannabis dependence are highest among young men aged 20-24 years.

It would be all too easy to be daunted by these alarming statistics, but I believe we can all do our bit to ensure that positive steps are put in place for young people to take advantage of.

I know there is some exceptional work being done by this Rotary district in the area of drug use to educate our young people how to resist in a positive way the strong peer pressure they face.

The achievements of the DARE programme are well recognised throughout this district as is the work being done in the area of youth suicide. The Youth Summits, organised to assist young people with the barrage of issues they face and to assist them with such practical skills as choosing the right job, are indicative of the hands-on approach taken by this district.

The Rotary youth exchange programme is another excellent way for young people to meet their peers from all over the world as well as develop invaluable social and leadership skills.

At every level, in the community and at government level, we can all encourage young people to take their place as stakeholders and participate fully in the community.

Here, at the local level in Northland, I would also like to support the tremendous work being done through the Conservation Corps projects.

Eight Conservation Corps and two Youth Service Corps programmes operate in Northland each year. These programmes cater for 16 to 25 year-olds and are 20 weeks long.

Through a combination of conservation or community projects, challenging recreation and practical education, the Corps programmes aim to develop life skills and social competence; raise self-esteem and motivation levels; increase problem-solving skills; improve job prospects; and link the participants to their local communities.

This youth development approach encourages the participants to grow to their full potential and to build a positive outlook on life.

Conservation and Youth Service Corps are the most successful youth programmes funded by Government. On average 80 percent of the participants will be in work or other training or educational opportunities within six months of leaving a programme.

Another way Government works with young people is through the Prime Minister's Youth Advisory Forum. Fifteen young people, aged between 12 and 25 years, meet the Prime Minister and other key ministers three times a year.

They discuss a range of issues important to them and the future of New Zealand. Through this forum Government gains an understanding and appreciation of the issues and concerns of young people.

And as stakeholders they bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to old issues. That young people are stakeholders is also an important idea in cultural policy.

A recent Ministry of Cultural Affairs publication, Government's Role in the Cultural Sector: a Survey of the Issues, looks at three major roles played by government in the cultural sector. Through its arm's length funding body Creative New Zealand and other agencies, Government supports the creation of new work by established and emerging artists.

Government intervenes to act as a guardian of our heritage through such measures as the ownership of national collections, or the regulation of historic places and artifacts.

And it provides for cultural education by funding training in various disciplines, and through the current development of a new national arts curriculum for schools.

Creative New Zealand has the statutory function of supporting the creative expression of all groups within New Zealand. Funding programmes support the identification of fresh, young talent in the various art forms. The training of new generations in the traditional skills of tikanga Mäori and projects to increase participation in the Mäori and Pacific performing arts are also supported.

Creative New Zealand provides grants for youth festivals and arts competitions. Established artists are assisted with projects for youth, and events, such as the Smokefree Rockquest, outlets for a distinct youth culture, are supported. Creative New Zealand has co-sponsored an award-winning CD ROM for schools that offers engaging, interactive ways to learn about the arts.

As a supporter of the new, the government also provides support for popular music through New Zealand On Air.

As a guardian or kaitiaki of New Zealand's cultural heritage government acts in the interest of present and future generations. Through funding, legislation and regulation, government works to ensure those parts of our cultural inheritance, the nation wishes to retain, are in fact preserved.

By maintaining national cultural institutions like the National Library or Te Papa government helps to make this inheritance accessible and comprehensible for each new generation.

While much of our cultural-sector activity takes place within the market-place, government recognises the need to act as a trustee for those cultural assets we need to preserve for future generations.

Then through the education system, government aims to ensure young New Zealanders receive both a general grounding in the arts and humanities and more specialised training for cultural professions. The arts can be liberating avenues of expression; they can also seem forbidding and obscure.

One of the things we should demand from our education system is for it to give young people the confidence and knowledge they need to take part in our cultural life, and that it nurture individual talents.

A positive trend here is the emergence of visual arts training courses and performing arts schools geared especially for our young people.

Creative New Zealand has also just completed a nation-wide survey of people's participation in the arts.

In the 18 to 24 group, and I include Northlanders here, the most popular art form was pop and rock music with 69 percent participation. The reasons for participating in art form were given as - something to do, 54 percent; a means of expression, 33 percent; and a way of meeting people, 17 percent.

Not surprisingly the most common way of becoming involved in the arts was given as through broadcast or recorded media at 60 percent, with radio second at 44 percent. Educational institutions and television arts programmes both came in at 34 percent.

Taking part, feeling valued, enjoying the immense satisfaction of creating something new, discovering a talent you didn't realise you had - cultural activity, well supported, can help to provide young people with these sources of satisfaction and self-confidence.

The deep alienation reflected in the bleak figures for youth suicide and self-harm can at least partly be addressed by taking our culture seriously, and recognising young people - as new practitioners, as new audiences - are key stakeholders in that culture.

Civic leaders of all kinds - in business, local authorities, on schools boards - can play a crucial part in integrating young people into our cultural life. They can do this not just with resources, but by the attitude they adopt.

I have suggested it is inadequate to regard young people merely as adults in waiting, as reservoirs of potential.

We have a broad and diverse youth culture in this country adopting and transforming local and international influences to produce new forms of music, of dress, of speech. This youth culture feeds into our mainstream culture, but before it can be standardised and co-opted it transforms itself again. This is a product of the restlessness and vitality of youth.

There are two ways to regard this drive towards self-expression. We can if we wish shun it, or even attempt to repress it. There is still a nervous conformity in New Zealand society that associates individuality with disorder - that excludes teenagers from their schooling because of their personal appearance, for example, or becomes fretful when they gather in city streets.

The alternative approach is to welcome and accommodate youth culture, to recognise its potential for increasing social cohesion and the sense of inclusion that helps to prevent disorder.

An approach by local authorities, allowing for example, within sensible by-laws, skateboarders to be part of their down-town life rather than confining them to the outskirts, and a willingness to allocate funds and public spaces for concerts and other youth events is commendable.

It is then, very much a matter of attitude - of understanding that the manifestations of youth culture contribute colour and variety to our streets, parks and schools and thus add enjoyment to all our lives.

Tomorrow is Anzac Day and I expect many young people will be well represented at my own local commemoration service.

From early childhood I regularly accompanied my father, a World War II veteran, to our local place of commemoration. Getting up in the dark was something of a struggle for me, but invariable I ended up finding each Anzac Day interesting and thought-provoking.

Right up to the death of my father in the late 1980s, the numbers who assembled at the cenotaph to commemorate those who had died in service remained fairly constant.

Over the past few years I have become aware of a profound change of attitude in the people coming along to pay their respects. The numbers and composition of those attending the Anzac ceremony is palpably different.

There are many newer and younger faces whose parents even were too young to have experienced a major war. It seems the flourishing of interest in Anzac Day is due to a resurgence in patriotism.

Patriotism is love of country. Indisputably, those who joined our armed forces had a supreme loyalty to New Zealand.

Nationalism is the most powerful force in the world, and patriotism has undeniable affinities with it.

The effect of its new popularity is that Anzac Day has become the most important and the most emblematic public day of the New Zealand year.

Anzac is a day connected with wars. Yet very few of our current generations have had direct or genuine experience of any war. Some of us had fathers and even mothers who had been involved with armed conflict, with bombing, and with other terrible consequence of armed conflict. Fortunately, there are not many in New Zealand today who have intimate knowledge of the dirty and grisly horror of real battle.

My own knowledge of the events commemorated is completely second-hand. There are literally thousands like me, and thousands of younger people even further removed from the arena of war. Yet they treat Anzac Day observances with gravity.

Anzac Day is non-political, non-ideological. It transcends any notions of social class, gender or religion. No other national day brings New Zealanders together more than Anzac Day. On this special day we all are absolutely together as one. And this is rare.

Why do New Zealanders bother with the Anzac ritual? Whatever the reason, it comes from the heart. Whatever strange force it is that impels us to places of commemoration at inconvenient hours, it is not through any kind of official instruction.

Older citizens find it interesting the way so many young people have identified with the serious observance of Anzac Day; that numbers continue to increase rather than the opposite. This seems to be a profound belief in the symbolism of Anzac Day and that it taps into a very deep human emotion.

The love of country implies a readiness to sacrifice for it, to fight for it, perhaps even to give one's life for it.

Traditionally patriots are those who love their country simply because it is their country - because it is their birthplace and the mansion of their fathers. Yet no one is born loving their country. Such love is not natural, but has to be taught or inculcated, or somehow acquired.

In ancient Greece the philosopher Socrates proposed a comprehensive programme of citizen education. He believed in persuading the young that it was natural for them to love and care for their city. Young Greeks were told that the piece of earth they were born in was their mother and their nurse and therefore they must plan for it and defend it, and they must think of the other citizens as brothers and born of the same earth.

In New Zealand we have not pursued any such tradition. We do not even, as the Americans do, ask the citizens of their country to swear allegiance to the National flag. So we have, in the traditional sense, no training in the notion of a patriot.

We have yet to articulate a new understanding of what it means to be a patriot.

I believe New Zealanders need to respond positively to the promotion of a New Zealand identity.

A form of cultural expression where we speak with our own voices, where we see ourselves on television, where we tell our own stories and involve ourselves in our own history.

The reason children want to hear the same stories over and over again is to learn from them. To know what to do in real life and how they should behave.

Children identify with these characters and it is the stories and other forms of culture that really teaches us about life.

Culture is not a peripheral matter. Culture is the way we understand ourselves. The way we express ourselves as a country.

Culture is a central requirement for any country. A society that doesn't understand itself will be unable to act coherently about any problem facing it.

In seeking to improve our community and our world as places for young people to live and grow, it is worth reflecting on the environmental message Think Globally, Act Locally. If we each do our bit then together we can achieve a great deal.

Thank you.