'youth And The Treaty'

  • Doug Graham

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this the last session of this Rotary District conference. Sunday morning in my experience is not the best slot on a conference agenda and I am pleasantly surprised to see so many here this morning - especially as some of you may have attended the dawn service to mark ANZAC Day.

The theme of the conference has been "Youth" and from an examination of the conference agenda it is clear that you have had a number of sessions which I imagine were very informative. I have no wish to repeat an earlier presentation but, not having seen the papers or heard the addresses, there is a possibility I may cover old ground. If so feel free to close the eyes and I will assume you are carefully considering the points I propose to make. Some of you may close the eyes in any event.

I have been asked to speak on the topic "Maori youth and the Treaty." There will be far better qualified individuals to do this than I, but I am happy to pass on some personal observations and hope they may add to the debate.

The first observation I would make is that there is a general view held in the non Maori community that we New Zealanders, whether Maori or non Maori are all pretty much the same, with the same opportunities and the same capability of succeeding or failing. It follows from this premise that if the statistics show that Maori are more likely to fail than non Maori then that is their own fault. They, ie. Maori, don't try hard enough or perhaps as this may have always been the case there is nothing much that can be done to correct thi9s anomaly. And if we look overseas and see the same problem in other jurisdictions then that just proves the point that there is a sort of predestination at work wherein the indigenous people are more likely to fail. But if this is so, and regrettably there is truth in that, then clearly we are not all the same with equal opportunities at all. While the physical resources may be the same for everybody, is there some intangible factor which blights the ability of the indigenous youngster to do as well as the non indigenous youngster sitting alongside? And if there is, what is it and can we do anything about it? For I suspect we would all want our children to have an equal chance - but is it really equal?

Now we all know that children are more likely to succeed if they are brought up in a loving healthy and stable environment, where the parents take an interest in their childrens' schooling and provide the necessary encouragement, where values are taught and where there is adequate income coming into the household. And I think it equally true in a generalised way that those on the lower end of the economic scale find it more difficult than the high income earners to ensure their children succeed. Of course there are exceptions but I think overall it is true. Sadly we have families which have depended on benefits for more than one generation and, however hard they try, it is probable their youngsters will mix with a peer group where success, as that is often measured, is the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately Maori families seem to be more likely to be in these lower decile statistics and have been for many decades. In 1997 the non Maori average yearly household income was about $10 000 higher than for Maori households and while about 39% of non Maori households earned less than $27800 a year, there were about 48% of Maori households in that income bracket. As might be expected therefore, more Maori than non Maori are dependent on benefits and proportionately fewer Maori own their own home.

What evidence then is there that the next generation may be able to correct this imbalance? For that we need to look at the schools. The figures are not very encouraging. Certainly Maori children are generally doing better than they were, but so too are non Maori children so the disparity gap continues. Maori make up about 15% of the population but are on average younger than non Maori. So there should be proportionately more Maori children in the school system. Yet for pre schoolers the disparity gap has widened even though there has been an improvement across the board. At primary and secondary schools while Maori children make up about 20% of all students, they account for over 40% of those suspended or expelled. 64% of Maori children sat School certificate compared with 92% of non Maori students. The proportion of Maori students who leave school with a sixth or seventh form qualification has risen sharply to 40% - but so has the number of non Maori gone up dramatically. So everybody has gone up and the gap remains. How many students go on to a tertiary education? The answer is 21% of Maori students and 43% of non Maori students. And so it goes on. Maori are doing far better today than they were a decade os so back unquestionably - but so too is everybody else. So the ability of Maori to successfully compete is really little better.

Relatively, their position on the scale of things is about the same. Is there anything we can do about this? The answer is yes there is. The first thing to do is to recognise that despite what people think we are not all the same. Maori families do not all have the same values as non Maori just as within non Maori do other cultures now living in this country all share the same values. How often do we hear a somewhat muted criticism of so many students from Asia who top the exam results because they work at it so hard - much harder than I ever did when I was at school a century or so ago. That of course is not to say that anyone enjoys or tolerates failure. I have little doubt every family want the best for their children and from an educational point of view hope they will be up there with the best. And obviously not every student can be dux. But if there is something we can do to recognise within the system itself that there are different cultures at play, then we may be able to see an overall improvement.

This is not something to be feared. It is not the start of apartheid. It is just common sense and no threat to anyone. In recent years the Government has made some positive moves in this direction. The Kohanga Reo kindergartens have grown in number and introduce pre schoolers in an ordered way to their language. There are the Kura Kaupapa schools where there can be full immersion in the Maori language and more recently Wananga or tertiary institutions which continue the task of instilling in young Maori a love for their unique culture. This inculcates a sense of self confidence and self esteem which in the past appears to have been lacking. There are some who see this as all nonsense and say that learning Maori is a waste of time. Better to learn Japanese they say. But that fails to recognise is that we are not trying to produce international traders by the thousand, but New Zealanders who are comfortable and confident within themselves here in New Zealand. Why is it that some people seem to believe that we cannot manage to learn more than English? Singapore has four official languages and South Africa eleven! Why do they do that? Because they recognise the importance of each to those for whom the specific language is important to them - no one else - just to them. So it should be here. Many of you may have heard Maori oratory on the Marae. Simply put it is awe inspiring. It is worth preserving for us all. And if in so doing we can help young Maori to gain in confidence then all the better. So the assimilationist policies of the past, designed to convert Maori into non Maori, has been found wanting. And thank heavens for that. It is surely unnecessary to extinguish the culture of our own indigenous people.

Over the last 10 years much has been said and written about the Treaty of Waitangi. The Waitangi Tribunal has reported on many grievances Maori have held - sometimes for over a century. The Court of Appeal has interpreted the obligations both the Crown and Maori have under the Treaty and have translated them into modern parlance. That Maori have justified grievances for past actions of the Crown can no longer be denied. On occasions the actions of the Crown were quite unconscionable. Those grievances have been handed down from generation to generation without being addressed. We living today did not commit the wrongs but we have inherited the obligation to correct them. I have listened to many Maori on the marae throughout the country on many occasions. Not only do they know of the grievances but many live them. They believe they did not receive a fair go at all and they make sure their children know their history as well. This cannot go on. It is unhealthy in any society to have 15% of the population aggrieved. It can become an excuse for failure - we cannot succeed in today's world because we lost everything. Now some of the grievances may have little substance or merit. But I have to say to you that many do. In 1994 we were able to reach agreement with Waikato Tainui over their claim for the loss of over 1m acres confiscated overnight. I have recently returned on a number of occasions to Turangawaewae and other places within their tribal area. The change I have seen is simply awesome.

From a disheartened and largely impoverished people they now have a confidence in their own future which is as exciting as it is constructive. They are investing in their own with 400 scholarships each year, health services particularly in the mental health area. They are providing jobs. They have joint ventures introducing new technologies to better equip their youngsters for the future. They are protecting their culture in cooperation with local museums. They are building an endowed post graduate college at Hopuhopu and will build another in Auckland. They have provided the money to build facilities at Waikato University and leased them to the University at a nominal rental. They have investments in forestry and other areas. They are a major player now in the Waikato and work well with local government. But most of all they have regained a confidence in themselves. I have no doubt that this will bring about a brighter future for the generations to come - indeed it is apparent already.

Ngai Tahu are doing the same in the South Island. If future settlements mean that this renewal comes to exist throughout the country we will, I believe, see a closing of the disparity gap between Maori and non Maori. We have much more in common than those where there are differences. Not everyone seeks to be a business mogul. What we seek is a fulfilling life and an ability to leave for the next generation an ability to do the same. In this country we have everything going for us. Hopefully the work that has been done over the past decade will help each of us, Maori or non Maori, reach his or her dream.