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2500 Reasons

by Annabelle Lee

A Māori politician once said to me "our people will march to parliament for the foreshore and seabed, land rights, water rights and whatever else is going, but they never pull on their marching boots for our kids."

We certainly have plenty of reasons to – more than 2500, in fact.

According to the Children's Commissioner's Report State of Care 2015, of the 5000 children currently in CYFS care 58% are Māori, as are 68% of young people in CYFS residences.

Yet when Anne Tolley announced her "expert panel" to review Child Youth and Family last year, not one of the members was a Māori practitioner.

You would think Māori leaders would be incensed about being excluded from such a critically important discussion regarding the future of our most important taonga, our children.

But aside from the Māori Women’s Welfare League, there was barely a murmur from the Māori establishment about this monumental oversight.

By comparison, when Ngapuhi chairman and member of the influential Iwi Leaders Forum Sonny Tau was caught with kereru at the Invercargill airport, Māori leaders from across the political divide took to social media and the airwaves to speak in defense of Tau and his dalliance with the illegal tegel.

During the 2014 election, a poll of the seven Māori electorates asked voters what issue they were most concerned about. In each and every electorate the answer was the same. Family violence.

Since then our leadership has said not a lot about family violence. Not even when Māori mother of one Tara Brown was allegedly killed by her former partner in Queensland last September.

So it was curious to see five influential Māori women, including Whanau Ora architect Dame Tariana Turia, gather a few weeks later to speak out in support of another Brown. Chris, that is. The American R&B singer, infamous for ferociously beating his ex girlfriend entertainer Rhianna, wanted to tour New Zealand but his felony convictions for the attack meant he might not be able to gain a work visa.

Armed with their deep understanding of what’s hip with the kids, the Dames announced they wanted to support Brown’s visa application because they believed he was uniquely qualified to communicate with rangatahi about the damage violence does. Eventually, Brown didn't come to Aotearoa because Australia denied him a visa. Police recently declined to charge Brown after a woman alleged he had assaulted her for trying to take a photograph, but not before Brown posted a video calling her "ugly and old".

All this begs the question; are our leaders picking the right battles?

Are they focusing on the important stuff? Are they using positions of influence for the right causes?

The truth is when ordinary Māori march, like the thousands who showed up in force yesterday to oppose the signing of the TPPA, they are doing so in the belief that they are future-proofing the rights of their tamariki.

They know that without those rights being enshrined we are doomed to suffer the economic and social ills that in turn make Māori the sickest and most incarcerated New Zealanders as well as the most likely to be victims and perpetrators of violence and abuse.

But once the flags and banners have been rolled back up, and the marching boots stored away, our "leaders" emerge to pick over the spoils offered up by government to hush the natives, in the form of "working parties", "consultation rounds", "review panels" and "advisory boards".

The ultimate reason for these marches – trying to preserve something for our kids – is quickly forgotten in the carve-up.

As the TPP demonstrations reach a crescendo and Waitangi Day approaches, our Māori elite would do well to reflect on where our tamariki sit on their priority list. A sense of urgency is required.

There are 2500 good reasons why.

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