Monday 25 June 2012

A question of race?

Today I wanted to highlight a debate in the New Zealand Herald that I think has had the correct media treatment applied.

The New Zealand Herald is one of the best newspapers in the country and this clearly shows why.

The debate was about the operation of quota systems in medicine schools to allow a certain of number of Maori to train as doctors. It was kicked off, this time, by former ACT leader Rodney Hide in this opinion.

In it Hide said he was prompted to write the opinion after receiving a phone call from Dr Ranginui Walker during a radio show.

Hide said he “had been complaining about the two standards of entry to medical school: one for Maori and one for everyone else”.

“The (Auckland) university dropped the bar to a B-bursary for Maori. Everyone else needed an A-bursary or better. Once into medical school, though, Maori students had to perform and pass like everyone else.”

He also spoke of an adjustment to the selection scheme that allowed students’ suitability based on elements other than just academic success.

“They were no longer strictly academic. It counted if students did kapa haka, went to the marae, played sports or practised music.

 “Walker explained that gave Pakeha students "a bit of an edge over Asian students who are totally, single-mindedly focused on academic excellence and had nothing else to offer the profession.”

Later he admonished processes that use quota systems and other “touchy-feely criteria” to select candidates.

“The colour of a student's skin now counts for entry to medical school, as well as academic record and ability. It shouldn't.

“The legendary George Nepia wasn't selected for the 1928 All Blacks tour of South Africa. He was left out for a simple reason: he was brown. That was wrong. Maori players first toured South Africa as All Blacks in 1970. They toured as "honorary whites". That was disgusting.

“I was brought up with the ideal that we should judge people by what they do - it's wrong to judge people by their race, colour or creed. Everyone should be free to play; selection should be based on merit.

“Auckland University's policy turns that ideal upside down. Skin colour counts. For Walker, the correct mix of colour is more important than having the best class.

“But race, colour, creed shouldn't worry us. We shouldn't care if doctors are yellow, white or brown. All we should care about is that they are good at the job. And that should be the university's sole concern. It is wrong that the university discriminates on skin colour. It is wrong that it is attempting a correct colour mix. The university should treat all applicants equally: that means being blind to race.”

In response the Herald published this column from Craig Riddell, the president of the Auckland University Medical Students' Association who also happens to be Maori.

Riddell used the opinion piece to cleanly and effectively deconstruct Hide’s argument against quota systems.

He argued that through quota schemes there is a better chance of training “doctors who are culturally fluent and not merely culturally aware”.

“Strong interpersonal skills and commitment to extra-curricular activities mean more rounded people and potentially better doctors.

“…The University of Auckland's actions towards these goals are laudable, not lamentable.

“Maori and Pacific students are not the only group with different admission standards. Similar logic underpins the Regional-Rural Admissions Scheme, which provides places for rural students to enter medicine based on an assessment of their connection to their local community.”

Like Michael Laws, Paul Holmes and countless others before I suspect Rodney Hide knows that the race card always draws a large amount of attention and for a former politician struggling to find their relevance that is like gold.

But the fact that by the time I came across the opinion piece (a week after it was first published) and debate on it had already been closed because of the standard of comments shows that this sort of sensationalist opinion-writing always attracts the radicals.

I do not think that we should completely avoid articles that are against Maori however I do believe in the right of response and I think the Herald did a wonderful job by giving Riddell a chance to respond to Hide’s statements. Ka pai.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Coming home

When I first started this blog I was clear that I wanted to use it to discuss the media’s treatment of certain stories rather than focussing on the issues being discussed in the articles.

However yesterday morning I was reading the local news sites over my morning coffee when I came across this story. From a reporting point of view there is nothing wrong with the story itself, reporter Yvonne Tahana has done a fine job with balancing the different sides of the discussion.

However my problem with it is the actual issue and I felt compelled to write about it. So here are my thoughts, please indulge me.

I do not doubt Professor Paul Tapsell but when he talks about the demise of the roll of the marae in Maori communities I question whether his research basis was broad enough to make such sweeping comments.

While he is planning further research Professor Tapsell says in the article that he believes after monitoring death notices within his own iwi, Ngati Whakaue of Rotorua, over the past year that an increasing number of families are choosing to keep bodies at home.

He says he hopes it doesn't signal the demise of tribal marae as a Maori institution and remembers keeping bodies at home never happened when he was a boy.

“Any talk of it and kaumatua were down to the home in a "flash" with young people to help them carry the deceased to the marae.

“Now bodies don't make it back from Australia, let alone a couple of kilometres down the road, he said.

"Without the death ritual of tangihanga we're losing the real reason of why we have marae. It's about linking the dead with the living [and] with those yet to be born.”

But I think the view that marae are only used for tangi is missing the point. Marae have never just been for tangi. Marae were, and continue to be, used for birthdays, weddings, wananga, hui and a number of other events. In many communities the Marae is still the central hub and it will continue to remain that way as long as those who whakapapa to it can still identify with it.

I am pretty confident that my own marae will never die because there were many of us that were fortunate enough to grow up calling Wairaka home. As always there is a core lot of people who keep its heart beating, the ahi kaa burning, but the call home is always there for those of us who are no longer able to live there and we will continue to instil that same sense of turangawaewae in our own children.
Over the years the personnel who have kept that place ticking has changed, a trend that will continue to be so in the future but that is the point. Just like Professor Tapsell said the marae links us to the past and the also the future and so my boy will grow up knowing where his feet stand and one day, when he is ready, he will give back.

The problem for me is that the article makes no mention about the shift of Maori from their papakainga to the centres for work and the impact that this has had not only on the marae but on their children and grandchildren.

There are many Maori who no longer identify with their marae. Also other cultural influences are changing how people want to grieve for their loved ones. And while that is a personal choice I feel sorry for them because the aroha that exists in a marae is beyond beautiful and a marae will only die if the people let it.

If you haven’t been back to your marae lately I urge you not to wait until the next tangi, just do it.

Monday 11 June 2012

Songs from the Inside

Ok, so I’m back.
It’s been a while since the last one and to tell the truth I have no other excuse than I've just been too lazy. However that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been areas that I wanted to discuss on here, there have been plenty but too often I would finding myself just staring at a blank page or worse - lurking on Facebook.
Anyway today I wanted to talk about a series that was aired on Maori Television, Songs from the Inside. Last night was the final in the 13-part series and while it wasn’t technically a story in the media it was story-telling at its best.

It was also about an issue that impacts deeply on Maori.
According to statistics Maori, at May 2011, made up 51.2 per cent of the prison population. Maori are, clearly, over-represented and it is a problem that has been the subject of many a report, debate, media report. However, despite such Government policies as whanau ora, we are no nearer to solving the issue.
In fact it seems things are just getting worse and as I sat there watching the last episode I was reminded of something that a good friend always used to say: “give them something to lose…”

And I started to wonder.
As a reporter I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to see and hear some of the stories in Waikeria Prison’s Maori Focus Unit, Te Ao Marama. I wrote a story from my first visit to the unit and it one that will probably stay with me forever.

I hung it on a group of inmates graduating from a taonga puoro course offered. The course looked to rehabilitate by reconnecting the inmates with their Maori roots.

The reason for the story was to discuss the idea of privatising some parts of the prison system and whether Maori organisations could run those facilities. I didn’t ever get my answer but as part of my research I interviewed Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and he said that it could be idea for the future.

He based his statement around the success of some of the country’s Maori Focus Units, such as that seen at Te Ao Marama, and said at the time statistics showed that those prisoners who had been through the untis were 7 per cent less likely to reoffend than those who stayed in the general prison population.

He said he believed this was the case because these sorts of units look to reconnect Maori prisoners with their roots. After my experience at Te Ao Marama I could see that it was definitely a possibility – the men on the course suddenly had a reason to lift their heads up.

And the Songs from the Inside series also seemed to show the same promise.

The series was directed by New Zealand actor Julian Arahanga and follows four well-known Maori musicians on their journey to help prisoners serving time at Arohata and Rimutaka prisons.

Over the past 13 weeks the programme has shown Anika Moa, Maisey Rika, Ruia Aperahama and Warren Maxwell working with 10 prisoners in the step-by-step music programme to write and produce their own material.
The programme was developed by Evan Rhys Davis, who had tutored a pilot scheme of the course at the Spring Hill prison in Waikato a couple of years ago. It is hoped that inmates will be helped by developing a postive, creative outlet. 
Last night they unveiled the finish products and I was blown away. The musicianship behind the songs was unbelievable and the talent from the inmates as well as evidence of the sure hands belonging to the professional song-makers clearly showed through.
However it wasn’t just the songs that touched me – the brutal honesty in some of the stories coupled with the signs that this programme might have affected a positive change in the inmates was inspiring.

One of the male-participants summed it up perfectly.
Tama, who was interviewed the day before he was released, said the programme had given him something to hold on to.

“If it wasn’t for this production and this unit I probably would have tried anything to stay in here, it’s been my home for so long.”
It is a sad statement and I could almost hear Gaye’s voice saying “just low hanging fruit but just give them something to lose”.

And perhaps I am naive but I want to believe that Tama has been so inspired that he is going to follow a different path on the outside - because what is the point of locking someone up if there is no rehabilitation?

Sure these people have made some bad decisions but they are still New Zealanders and one day they will be released. Hopefully they never end up going back to prison. Hopefully they go on to make their lives better because in turn they will then make their families’ lives better and if their families are living better lives then our country will be better for it - don't you think?

They are, after all, somebody’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter. They are the “low-hanging fruit” at the moment but they could go on to do something far greater than they ever imagined, than any of us probably ever imagined, they just need to make the changes and take the chance.

Or at least that is what this series gave: the sense of promise.

The series was beautifully shot, the final programme simply amazing with the recordings of each song portrayed through a series of images that also told a story, and I have no other option but to commend Arahanga, Evans and Maori Television.

There is no way that our mainstream channels would have ever invested the time and money in a series like this and I am so glad that we have Maori Television because while people continue to discuss The GC and the depiction of Maori in it as well as whether it was a good investment of taxpayer funding, there is another side of the story out there that is also just as relevant and should be talked about just as much.

Ka pai to mahi Julian.

And if you haven't seen it check out the series here.