Grey matters: Its all about partnership

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Partnership. There’s good and bad partners and most readers will have experienced both, whether in marriage or business, work or recreation.

RECENTLY I have been contemplating one area of partnership where I have been continually learning more over four decades. That is partnership between Maori and Pakeha in this so-called bicultural country of ours.

Now I don’t really believe that the Treaty of Waitangi, or more precisely the signed Maori version of Te Tiriti, is actually about partnership. After all, Article Two is about tino rangatiratanga, (self-determination), which uncompromisingly says Maori are in control of decision making. But where Maori seek a partnership then it is incumbent upon us to respond appropriately.

Back in 1970 my friends involved in the Playcentre movement were keen to see more Maori join their centres. They made an effort to welcome Maori parents appropriately.

A few Maori began to join, but the vast majority stayed outside. Some Playcentre families, in those less enlightened times, began to wonder if Maori really cared about their children’s education.

Fast forward to 1983. By then, mostly through protesting alongside Maori against the 1981 Springbok Tour, I had become more aware of our fractured and fraught history, of cultural difference and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Kohanga Reo movement was beginning and I was at home with a baby. As a primary school teacher I had much sought after knowledge of where to score free resources. I supported friends in Kohanga Reo, even joining them at a national hui.

I was astounded at the energy that Maori parents throughout the country put behind this movement, many voluntarily working full time. Their total commitment left me in no doubt that their children’s education was hugely important to them.

The energy unleashed came from their ability to make their own decisions based on their cultural priorities, to do things in the way that suited them.

Later, working in the disability sector, I saw how Maori parents had to let their whanau join a Pakeha cultural world in order to get support. Once again I saw the commitment that came when parents saw a way to make positive change, setting up the first kaupapa Maori disability service in Te Teko.

One thing that I envy Maori is their greater reverence for older people, unlike Pakeha culture where we are often seen as past our best.

Kaumatua are treated with respect, have an important role on marae, and are much more likely to live with whanau. Yet local research has also shown that Maori are no less prone to feelings of isolation.

Living with busy young people does not always alleviate loneliness, and transport is a big problem for those in rural areas. We also know that, on average, Maori die a full seven years earlier than non-Maori. That is a shocking figure.

Eastern Bay Villages has been a community led organisation from its inception, aimed at reducing isolation and vulnerability among all seniors and kaumatua in the Eastern Bay.

Reverend Tamiana Thrupp gave us our Maori name: Te Kokoru Manaakitanga, and Moana Scott and Amohaere Tangitu have been our guides.

Georgina Moke has just joined our trust board, adding to the expertise available to us. Together we have grappled with finding ways to ensure genuine partnership, with Maori decision making at all levels within our organization, to enable us to be effective in two very different cultural contexts.

Our constitution has two houses, or whare, a tangata Tiriti one (for Pakeha and people of other ethnicities, in this country by right of Te Tiriti), and a tangata whenua one, with co-chairs from each house.

The Office for Seniors provided funding for consultation with iwi and hapu, enabling us to search for ways to use our skills and time to foster wellbeing alongside the many valued kaumatua days and marae-based initiatives.

We are now in an exciting phase of our work, with the beginnings of a plan of action, and looking for a part time Maori co-ordinator. If you, or someone you know, speaks te reo Maori and has great networking and organisational skills, then do get in touch.

By Ruth Gerzon

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