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National conference of The Maori Women's Welfare League

Issue date: 
Monday, 8 May 1995
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

Tena koutou e kui ma.

Can it really be a year ago that I had the pleasure of entertaining the League at Government House in Wellington? I thought we were having an investiture and reception. Instead we had an instant party! In fact, about six of them all over the house with every piano the centre of a singsong.

Last week, another significant Maori occasion was the launch of the Friends of Te Reo Maori, at which I promised, in this Year of the Maori Language, to improve my own understanding of Maori. What a joy to hear young people speaking so well in Maori - as we have heard today.

These days, children are one of the few things left that don't come with instruction manuals. But they should.

For some reason, it's always been a common assumption that children's proper care and development is completely natural. That's nonsense of course. People don't have genetically-programmed nesting instincts - that's for the birds.

Instead, children's care and development has more to do with culture, not nature. When it comes to raising kids, there's a lot more to it than just "doing what comes naturally." And that applies to Pakeha as well as Maori, Samoan and Chinese, Indian and African - to humankind.

So I was really pleased to hear about E tipu e rea. It's a programme that so obviously matches the fundamental idea behind the organisation's name - you are a league of Maori women devoted to welfare. And obviously, once you start talking about welfare, you're talking about women's welfare in a cultural and family context.

Acquiring the skills that make for more effective parenting is an extremely complicated business. Your President spoke of the breakdown of whanau networks and the effects on the family and on children. And, of course, this is a problem not peculiar to Maori. Pakeha family support systems have changed too. In the old days, when families were often much bigger and there were aunties and uncles right next door always, young parents could be certain that there'd be support if they needed it. There were examples to follow, all around. But now that more and more families are living in cities, and without kin as close by as they were before, the old networks need to be replaced.

Having recently read a most interesting article on ways of learning indicating that some children - particularly Maori youngsters - can be stimulated to an interest in school and learning by adopting aural rather than written systems, it occurred to me that while Pakeha parents may be more willing to turn to books for parenting guidance, young Maori mothers may not see this as a way to get the family skills we all need. Which is where the programme E tipu e rea should be so effective - as a way of passing on culturally-appropriate parental skills. It promises to deliver something much better than an instruction manual.

That's because reading about how to be a better parent is not the way to improve childcare. Let's face it. Most young people get a lot less out of school than they could, because they're not as effective as they might be, in learning in a classroom way.

They might realise that things like parenthood are in their future, but it's not really taken to heart - when you're young, your attention isn't always on what's really important. You see that every time you walk past a games arcade or the clothing shops in the shopping malls.

But young parents will learn when the teaching comes from someone like an auntie, say - and when the lessons are oral and practical instead of written and philosophical.

And why are these lessons so important? It seems obvious, but it's such an important question, it deserves to be asked anyway.

Children are complicated little creatures. Of all the people we deal with, children are certainly the most delicate. They're easily damaged. Their development is easily obstructed, or delayed, or even, in the worst cases, prevented.

Yet since they're the most valuable beings that any of us are ever associated with, they are worth the best efforts we as parents can possibly make.

Children require so many things to grow and thrive.

They need physical care, affection, encouragement, enjoyment, correction, protection and teaching. Only a couple of those needs are physical. The rest are all emotional, or intellectual, or spiritual. And unless these other needs are met, the child is going to suffer from an invisible form of malnutrition.

And on that subject, I have to say that I do most anxiously worry about the extent of the violence that young people are exposed to every day - from so many different quarters. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a constant diet of film and television violence has a hugely bad effect on our people. There is hardly a film on in any city these school holidays that does not carry a warning about sex and violence. And I also worry when I hear well-educated, professional young women advocating burning, damage and vandalism, saying violence is an OK solution because of the severity of the complaint. Do less-educated, immature people hear the "fine print?" - the qualifying words which say "this might happen." I don't think many understand the meaning of the word "rhetoric." They just hear that a serious grievance justifies a violent response. As Patron of the Peace Foundation, I would be much keener to see people learning about problem solving and anger resolution without recourse to violence.

So I hope the league trains the trainers to start running E tipu e rea as quickly as possible.

Mind you, I suspect that there's something that everyone should be prepared for. A parent's career centres on helping a child grow in body, mind and spirit. Yet I believe it's highly improbable that anyone can help someone else grow, without doing some growing themselves. If the belief is too firm that parents have nothing to learn from their kids, those parents and children have a problem.

And I firmly believe that raising a family is the most demanding and the most important job any of us will ever be called upon to do. Your President recommended that we "think globally; act locally; be involved personally." I commend this view and urge that we all take personal responsibility for our children - no matter that we may sometimes shy or feel that it's not our business.

Words alone aren't enough to make a difference. They have to be backed up. For instance, there was an incident at Government House just a few months ago - a boy was twisting the arm of a girl about his own age, but he was really hurting her. The only trouble was, the incident was being ignored by the adults who were in a position to intervene. Nor did any of the adult onlookers immediately check to see that the girl was all right. Instead, what the adults did when someone suggested that they should become involved was to blame the girl herself for the bullying - by accusing her of provoking it! As Areta said, being an bystander isn't good enough.

Launching a long-term programme like E tipu e rea is a big ask, as the modern expression goes. But while the ask is big, the return will be huge. The return will come in the form of healthier, happier kids, and prouder, happier parents.

As well as Sir Apirana's proverb that begins, E tipu e rea, there's another that's always struck me as being worth keeping in mind: what is the most valuable thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

But I've always wondered if this proverb wouldn't have an even deeper meaning if the answer to the question was: he tamariki, he tamariki, he tamariki.

But perhaps that's the sort of speculation that should occur during this conference. As Areta has told us, the League has had its days of difficulty - especially in its early years. But today, you are a force in the land - respected, listened to and established. So I should let you get on with it. To quote Sir Apirana's famous proverb in full, "Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you, your hand to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your Maori ancestors as a diadem for your brow, your soul to your God, to whom all things belong."

So I declare - and thank you very much for inviting me to do so - I declare the Forty-third Annual National Conference of Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko I Te Ora officially underway.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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