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Honouring our ancestors, leading with our hearts

Dr. Pita Sharples

By Dr. Pita R Sharples

‘Intergenerational’ is a word you often hear roll from the lips of our tangata whenua leaders. We work hard to honour the labours of our ancestors, while also building on their vision for our future generations. Those of us here and now are a part of a bigger picture that spans many generations, and are working in what we view as a truly intergenerational whanau approach.

So when the Waitangi Tribunal came into focus this week, after comments made by the Prime Minister that seemed to dismiss the value of this institution, it hit a nerve. You see, the Waitangi Tribunal is more than a place where Maori can go to have their cases heard, it is a place where our people relive the mamae and pouritanga of the past, and ultimately seek to have that burden lifted from our shoulders.

The hearings are a place to hear the stories of colonisation, and how they have impacted on our whanau, hapu and iwi. Some stories are so painful that they rarely escape the lips of our pakeke. You also hear about the brave endeavours of our tupuna and their hard work to seek a simple concept – true honouring of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

When our tupuna have suffered you cannot help but be profoundly moved by the depth of the grief that lingers on. Their pain is our pain, their joy is our joy, so when you move through a process of grieving, of airing, and finally of lifting of the mamae – it is a powerful experience. So powerful that it can change the course of entire communities, and you need only look at post-settled iwi to see how that transformation occurs. What we seek in the hearings of the Tribunal is not about money, it is about relationships and respect, it is about acknowledgement of past wrongs, in the hope that we can move forward.

So when you diminish one of the primary mechanisms that allow our people to grieve and to heal, you are also diminishing the memory of our ancestors – and that hurts. That’s what being intergenerational means.

While much of the focus this week has been on the water claims, the sale of mixed ownership model companies and the Tribunal – the real question on my lips is ‘Why, after more than 150 years, are we still having to explain our connection to our lands, waters, language, culture and taonga?’

I think the problem here is much larger than this one case, in this one week. The issue is a wider misunderstanding of what tangata whenua are trying to achieve through Treaty claim processes. I also think that while we have come so far as a nation, there is still a lingering attitude towards Maori rights, consultation, and ultimately Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

This week has been hard on us, and the strength of emotion around our relationship to water, our right to have our grievances heard, and the legacy of our ancestors has put a heavy weight on our shoulders.

But we persevere because we know that we have a duty to the next generation to ensure that their load will be lighter than ours. Our focus should be on addressing the barriers that stand in the way of true partnership, meaningful relationships, and respect between our cultures.

That is why initiatives such as the constitutional review, cultural competency training and Whanau Ora are of critical importance. It is about an investment into building a better future for our next generation. It is also an investment into bridging relationships across Treaty partners. If there is anything that I hope that we can take away from this week, it is the knowledge that tangata whenua do have a deep connection with the taonga around us, that we do value the processes which allows us to grieve and to heal and, ultimately, that we are prepared to stand up for what sits in our heart.

Those of us in the Maori Party cannot divorce ourselves from our identity as tangata whenua. It is an intrinsic part of who we are and it will always be our hearts that guide our work and our voice in parliament.

Dr. Pita R Sharples is Co-Leader of the Maori Party and MP for Tamaki Makaurau

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