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May 22, 2017 | by  | in Ngāi Tauira |
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Te Ara Tauira

Dear Janices Everywhere

“I’m sick of hearing that Māori need different treatment, if they don’t want to live in our society then how about we put them all on an island and leave them to it.” — Janice

This statement would be easier to dismiss if our tamariki weren’t the ones suffering.

It’s problematic — statements like this only kindle the negative stereotyping of an oppressed culture. It is what justifies the awful correlation between being Māori and being poor, uneducated, or criminal. The ones who lose in the end are our tamariki. Because they are brought up in a world where they have to prove, in fact, that being Māori has nothing to do with any of those things. I am proud to be Māori, I am not proud of how Māori are treated.

We’ve seen the statistics. We know that Māori are more likely to be subject to socio-economic situations including high unemployment, low educational achievement, poor housing standards, and poor health. And we all know how this narrative ends, because each of these factors lead to a higher propensity for crime. After considering these factors, it is not surprising that Māori make up the majority of the prison population in New Zealand.

Now let’s stop there for a minute and take a look at our criminal justice system. In August 2016 the Waitangi Tribunal held an inquiry into the Department of Corrections. A claim, brought by Tom Hemopo, sought accountability for the Department’s failure to reduce Māori reoffending rates. Attempts to improve rates of reoffending have been ineffective, and this (arguably) is because the government’s interventions use tikanga as an add-on, rather than an integral part of intervention. The appointment of Māori cultural experts, the use of pōwhiri, and the inclusion of Māori language in parts of therapy means that the Department of Corrections can tick the boxes — but it’s really not enough. It just doesn’t make sense — why use a predominantly European system to engage with a population that is significantly Māori? It seems obvious: to achieve meaningful participation we need a system in which Māori can express ourselves and build aspirations.

Sir Eddie Durie highlighted two goals that are paramount to rehabilitation for Māori; the development of a secure identity, and the strengthening of relationships across spiritual, mental, physical, and social experiences. Durie believes an understanding of whakapapa, relationships, history, and tikanga Māori is paramount to spiritual, cultural, and physical wellbeing. And to deny these connections is to deny people their birthright to their identity, and the kaupapa that has been passed down by their ancestors. The main difference between models such as Durie’s and the current system is that Māori take a more holistic approach. The predominant cognitive behavioural therapy model focuses on altering dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, but whānau concepts such as Te Whare Tapa Wha view overly self-referential thinking as unhealthy.

I’m not saying that prescribing these models is the answer to everything. I am saying that it is time we considered a different approach. Because currently, Māori make up about 50% of the prison population, despite being only 12.5% of the total New Zealand population. So excuse me Janice, if you think that Māori get “preferential treatment”. But a biscuit won’t really cut it when you’ve been starving us for 177 odd years.

It is so clear that our current system cannot and will not cater to Māori. As Betty said to Riverdale, “we need to be better.” It is time that we took a different approach, the status quo is not working. It is simply not good enough to use a Pākehā-oriented programme and just slap on a few Māori words to call it “Māori”.

Ngā mihi.

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