Challenging conversations; complicated spaces.

Titiro Whakamuri, kia anga whakamua / Reflecting forward the use of voice

Sexual and domestic violence specialist services reflecting forward, Te Wharewaka o Poneke; 12 September 2019
Keynote speech: Helen Leahy; Pouārahi; Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu

I acknowledge the conference hosts: Te Ohaaki a Hine national network ending sexual violence together; National Collective of Women’s Refuge; Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga – stopping violence.
Nō reira e ngā muka tāngata, tēnā koutou katoa.

Challenging conversations; complicated spaces.

Those four words echoed in the corridors of parliament this week surrounding the Labour Party’s handling of an alleged serious and sustained sexual assault on a 19 year old volunteer.

They reverberated in the public gallery of North Shore District Court as a victim wept while a Marist Brother pleaded guilty to sexual assaults against three children in the 70s.

The words could be uttered in school classrooms, where 35% of secondary principals reported regular acts of intimidation or bullying, more than double the OECD average of 14 per cent; making it the second highest rate in the OECD.

And globally, those words live in the homes of the 137 women a day who are killed by an intimate partner or family member; making home the most dangerous place for women.

Today you’ve heard the facts and figures; you’ve workshopped statistics and scenarios; responded to data around prevalence; colonization; de-genderised violence; debated laws of consent; and designed good practice guidelines; Ngā Kete o Te Wānanga.

My part in today’s programme is to highlight the range of voices to be heard in our conversations; and importantly to focus on drawing stories out of the silence; all of us tātou katoa.

To lift our thinking for all those women who do not speak; for those whose voices remain hidden; to talk with and of takatapui; the stories from whanau who are not present or heard in spaces like today.

And I come here, through the foresight and insight of the nine iwi who hold mana whenua status in Te Waipounamu; who stood up when Whānau Ora was launched; and stated clearly that it was their responsibility and obligation to stand up for whanau; to enable whānau to live up to their best lives.

Self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet  ”Audre Lorde once said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Today then I want to focus on using our voice; to face the fear, to listen to the call from the heart; that fulfils the aspirations of the tupuna.

Champions like Aunty Kiwa Hutchens; upholding the role of kaikaranga passed down through families; each generation teaching the next.

Our kaikaranga weave a continuous spiritual rope that pulls the manuhuri onto the marae; delivering key messages; a ritual of engagement to communicate message and emotion.  It’s a dialogue.   Karanga is about experience; about knowledge and insight; a metaphor to mobilise; to tap into the wairua; to have something to say; to use their voice.

It is about shifting the narrative; that through the integrity and the poetry of performance; we can challenge systemic thinking; taking back control; advocate for interventions and partnerships which work for whānau – rather than simply accepting the contract specifications; the RFPs, the KPIs, the outcome measures; the “authentic” co-design models dreamt up in Lambton Quay.

This is not a new platform for social change.   Tribal history, knowledge and traditions have been beautifully preserved in the waiata and haka composed over two hundred years before now.   Each of them stands as a vital means of transmitting knowledge about genealogy; landmarks; the articulation of anger, hatred, sorrow, love and desire.   We see in ancient waiata the validity of a political voice.  In the lyrics and the actions of waiata-a-ringa; we learn about cultural violence – the traumatic impact when a society is forcibly separated from their roots, their land, their language, their life.

The theme of complicated spaces might also describe multiple and creative spaces to have conversations that matter.    To take a stand; to ask questions whether on the lofty stage of Te Matatini or the front deck of downtown Ohakune; where our family transforms into the Ruapehu Catholic Club Choir; to sing together ; to be together.   An active decision to create safe spaces for conversations; is as necessary and meaningful in the chapel or around the dinner table; as it is in a hushed discussion sorting supplies in the storeroom; or with a tea-towel in your hand.  This is all about whakarite te huarahi – preparing the ground to talk.   Wherever.  Whenever.

Me Too.   We too.  The death of British tourist Grace Millane last year led to unprecedented vigils and national discussions about our dubious record in family and sexual violence.   It sparked a national debate about the fact that a million New Zealanders are directly impacted by violence every year including some 300,000 children.

Then on 15 March this year, we were confronted with the glaring, blaring reality of entrenched racism, of cultural and religious violence; an inability to recognise difference.

And in what was described as one of our darkest hours, we found a reason to come together; to celebrate diversity as a reason for growth rather than the focus of destruction.

While the nation was still shuddering at the brutality of the attacks, a movie called Merata re-told the story of the verbal abuse, state surveillance, and death threats the family of Merata Mita endured while she made Patu! about New Zealand’s civil unrest during the 1981 Springbok rugby Tour.

A clutter of chaos broke out in Hawkes Bay as yet another child was uplifted; giving rise to the Hands off our Tamariki campaign.

The crowds that gathered at Ihumatao to listen and learn from the stories of loss of land and the determination of a passionate young woman called Pania Newton, to preserve and protect the unique cultural heritage of that space.

140 working groups were set up to provoke and promote challenging conversations; to untangle complicated spaces.


We heard through Whakamana Tangata of the essential value of upholding the respect for our collective humanity; a challenge was laid down to allow Māori to be in the driving seat of their own solutions.

In a series of reports, profound in their impact we heard that Māori want to exercise rangatiratanga over funding and that partnerships must be properly resourced.    We were at risk of drowning in the vessel of tears represented by He Waka Roimata.  We sat up and gave due attention to Inaia Tonu nei: Now is the time – we lead; you follow – the Hui Māori boldly told the nation.

In the Mental healtn and addiction space; we received the calle for a wider provision of navigator services, such as Whanau Ora; the demand for an expansion of the Whānau Ora model.

It would appear that all roads turned to Whānau Ora– a year long review gave a stunning endorsement to the fact that whānau could do things best for themselves.

Although the concept of placing faith in families was a constructive one; the mere fact of letting whānau be the architects of their own making, had led to what the review called “difficulties in creating understanding”.

So just to be clear here – the panel found that the voice and vision of whānau was the life line and the sustenance of a culture which enabled the people to believe in themselves; to invest in hope.  

But somehow that message has been lost as advisors and bureaucrats has conveniently played down the harsh criticism of institutional inertia revealed in the review.

The panel found that Whānau Ora was unnecessarily hampered or restricted by what was described as a Terrace culture – including a lack of trust in nnovation and systemic racism; epitomized by the same old five cars down the driveway – a singular sector focus which failed to comprehend the importance of working with the whole whanau about the issues that matter most.

Regardless of Wellington; our over 200 whānau entities have continued to pursue solutions that they know work for them – solutions like Bros for Change in Christchurch; a hīkoi led by Jaye Pukepuke – a former NRL player who after time inside vowed that he would use the adversity of life too transform the lives of other – that instead of facing a life of violence; of crime against self and others; and of addiction; young people would face fears and discover their leadership within – tell me I can’t be the leader I am destined to be.

In all of these complicated spaces there has been one glimmer of hope – a bold, brave defiance from Māori psychologists – He Paiaka Totara – who refused to support a proposal from the Psychology profession to establish psychological wellbeing practitioners.   They argued vehemently, that there were already  some awesome models of champions walking alongside of whānau – and they were called Whānau Ora Navigators.   No need to reinvent the wheel; to compete for resources; why not have the conversation that we can value and appreciate the unique differences we bring to supporting whānau to lead their own lives – we shouldn’t be leading it for them.

So the challenging conversations I believe we need to have include:

  • How do we ensure specialist violence services include a Whānau Ora perspective as the preferred way to work with whanau in this space?

  • When will specialist providers and services acknowledge that Whānau Ora can contribute to solutions we all want?  As one of the workshops asked, is it ‘specialist’ or ‘preciousness’?

  • What will it take for Government to trust whānau to paddle in their own waka; to lead their own destiny?

  • How do we encourage Ministers to look outside their Votes; their portfolios and recognise the opportunity that Whānau Ora can offer?

  • We don’t need government to define kaupapa Māori; to dilute the kupu that we call upon to restore the mauri.

  • ·       Does accreditation enable innovation, to learn from new voices addressing old problems?

  • ·       How do we speak of whānau?  What is the language we use?  If we classify or catergorise whanau as primary victims, as predominant aggressors, if we diagnose their actions as “learned helplessness” then we will never achieve the ownership and the responsibility for change we all want to see.   What words speak to whānau?


So in the conversation I hope we can have together, I want to share some examples from across Te Waipounamu – not of services, not of specialist providers, not of government departments, not of family violence practitioners – but of whānau.   The first is located at Wairau at the top of the South. 

Over the past four years an exhilarating process of change has been spearheaded by iwi leadership; by Māori leadership coming together in Te Waipounamu under the mantle of Tū Pono: Te Mana Kaha o te whānau.  It is literally about whānau standing tall in their solutions.  23 hui have been held; 750 participants helped to put together a strategy and a campaign for calling out family violence.  With the support of Dame Tariana Turia and Tā Mark Solomon whānau have spoken; they want action and essentially they have taken control.   They have built their waka from scratch; despite the challenges from family violence agencies and kaupapa Māori providers ……

Their belief has been about being whānau initiated and endorsed.   All the leadership involved has been endorsed by whānau to lead the response.   They want to stand up for what is tika.  And they know it has to be a collective approach – to challenge systemic thinking – and be refreshed in the framework of whakapapa.

We have funded a Tū Pono Coordinator – but the magic lies in the reach of iwi leadership demanding change.

And it is about promoting key messages – engaging the generations in the change process.   How to make people stop, think and change.   A code of conduct.   An umbrella.   Book covers.   Banners.  Car stickers.   All tools for transformation.

At the very tip of Te Tauihu, in Marahau, a whānau came together to support reconnection and healing for whānau that had endured intergenerational harm and trauma.   The violence operated on multiple levels- and was played out in issues around anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Motivation was sparked off by their young people who wanted to design a new future for heir whānau.  They were tired of the urgency of fresh trauma – making it hard to prioritise aspiration.

They created participatory wānanga and an online forum; to address intergenerational trauma and structural violence; along with the impacts of colonisation in eroding a sense of belonging, cultural identity and resilience.   They created their own wellbeing framework; had a two wek wānanga a Marahau; they re-established trust and improved communication.

We move to Christchurch and I pay homage to the inspiration; the courage and the fierce determination to write a new story that was shared with us by Tania Mataki.  


Tania always spoke with and for whānau – while Te Puna Oranga was also of course a specialist sexual violence service.   I remember in the early days of ISR – Tania and I would have very challenging conversations about whether it was still useful to prop up a western model which was essentially a focus on a perpetrator; a victim or a child – completely overlooking the fact that together they made up a whānau.  

One of the greatest tragedies of Tania’s too short life was just understanding the enormous impact of the demand. We tried to address that through supporting the kaupapa Māori providers through ISR, but we are no longer at the governance table.  But we have through our commissioning been able to support a collective of four kaupapa Māori providers coming together to focus on whānau who want to self-refer.   And we have been thrilled at the initiative that Te Puna Oranga took to help recruirt and mobilies Whānau Pou who can work with our TŪ Pono Connectors to promote and promulgate violence free households.

When I looked at the survey results from Te Puna Oranga, the comments from whānau were powerful.   Whānau recognised that the Whānau Pou initiative inspired them to see life differently:

Don’t be embarrassed and hold on to guilt.

Being aware.   Being real

To be heard – freedom of speech – to be Me.

To restore tapu.

We travel now to Dunedin

One of the key findings of the support we have given to Moana House – a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre – is the process of learning as a type of apprenticeship or what they describe as “legitimate peripheral participation”.   This is about reconnecting through the recovery process – replacing drug and gang culture with new cultures of recovery.

We are particularly conscious of the need for those in the addiction field to reframe their practice – to understand the relationship to social isolation, fear and destruction, the lower of responsiveness of powerful institutions; the structural inequities; the racism.


And it reminds us of the importance of languaging.  In the previous workshop we talked about changing from a fixation on crisis to a state of ‘oho-rere’.


Jackson Katz in a 2013 TED Talk entitled “violence against women: it’s a men’s issue’ described how the passive voice in ‘violence against women’ is deeply problematic as gendered language which renders invisible those who cause the violence.   Katz poses the view “We talk about how many women were raped last year; not about how many men raped women.   We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year; not about how many boys harassed girls”.   The use of the passive voice shifts the focus off men and boys and turns it into a women’s problem.

But most of all it’s about ‘whakamana te whānau’ – as mokopuna, as tāne, as wahine.

It is about learning a new language; re-learning and unlearning.   Understanding the patterns – acknowledging they had served a purpose – of protection as a child – and change the patterns moving forward.

We then move further South to Murihiku where Waihopai marae has declared itself a Tū Pono marae.   Through Whānau Ora they have appointed one full time coordinator to engage kanohi ki te kanohi with whānau; seeking to encourage male mentors ; to look at intergenerational patterns; and to build skills and strategies to care.

They are inviting Ministry of Education, Work and Income; the Police to their table – to help them to work more positively with whānau.   Refocusing the locus of power and accountability.

Finally I want to share a word or two about the heart and face of Whānau Ora – our navigators.

Our navigators are family violence practitioners every day with every whānau.   They walk with whānau on a journey of healing – but always recognizing that it difficult to confront the shadows in your past or present, when you lack money, you are searching for kai, your teeth are aching, you are behind on rent; your children are time-poor.

It takes a holistic, intergenerational, locally driven, strengths based approach to make change happen.  Its about teaching people how to deal with a broken heart, a break up, a fight with a friend, with sibling rivalry.   It’s the need for education around consent; and making healthy decisions.   It’s understanding, as My Father’s Barber, Matt Brown says “she is not your rehab”.   Women are not put on earth to fix men – but equally our challenge is needing to attract more men to the Navigator space.

There are so many cases that it is harrowing. One of our Navigators described family violence as an unnamed cancer destroying wahine and tāne alike. She said it effects the children, the mental health, whānau unit and mana motuhake of those involved and sets the precedent for many generations to come after them.  Hurt people hurt people!! A man who is purposely trying to be put in jail so that his abusive partner can’t get him anymore. Last time he tried to run from her she stabbed his legs up. He has a trespass order, protection order, every order you can think of but he is not safe from her.


These are just some of the many contradictions and complexities.  Our Nav Nation talks of a struggle with the ability to access support for a perpetrator that wants to make change without a court order. They are seeing a high number of wahine perpetrators and very few to no programmes available for them to make change unless they join with the mens’ groups.


It is massive – and the resourcing doesn’t match.

So what is the greatest challenge?  One we believe needs to be talked about is supporting Whānau Ora as a philosophy, an approach, a model which can be integral to the achievement of wellbeing.

I want to particularly acknowledge kaupapa Māori providers for the foundation you have laid over the last two decades and more.  Your leadership, your experience in working with whanau; your detemination to Whakamana te whānau; the use of karakia to de-escalate crisis – all of this teaches us about  connection and the power of whānau to do for themselves.

And we must demonstrate our faith in our families - not by investing in Te Puni Kokiri; or in other government departments; or in providers – we must do that by investing in whānau. 


So that we learn from their example; we become mobilised through their motivation; we are lead by their legacies.   To be reminded of the power of utu – whānau taking responsibility for fixing the harm, healing the hurt.


I want to finish with two thoughts about how to respond to the context of challenging conversations and complicated spaces.


The first is in that notion of titiro whakamuri, kia anga whakamua.


Look back before you lead forward, so that our pathways are stronger; and our strategies reap the benefit of past wisdom.


The wharenui at Takahanga marae, is named after their tupuna some ifteen generations back, Marukaitātea.  He was a Ngāti Kurī leader of Kaikōura – and his whakatauaki – ki te nui pata awha, maku katoa te whenua encourages us to remember, we may be just one tear drop; one raindrop; but collectively our united tears can nourish and feed the whenua back into greatness.


Whānau Ora can and wants to be part of the solution.   We currently receive no funding from the Crown which is tageed for family and sexual violence – and yet every single one of our 58 Navigators are working in this field.


Our 200+ commissioned whānau entities are also making solid and sustained contributions to the Tū Pono approach.


This is not just about restoring providers – as Under-Secretary Jan Logie referred to – this must be about restoring whānau.


All the research tells us that the family home offers the greatest potential for a site of transformation.   Shifting the focus from the complicated spaces of danger and fear to a sanctuary of love and respect will take all of us to step up, to use our voice for change.

I want to be clear.   We have invested significant resource in Tū Pono: Te Mana Kaha o Te Whānau because of two important levers for change.   The first was our recognition of the dire under-resourcing for our kaupapa Māori models, services, responses to meet the demand we all require of them.   The second was our firm belief that we must invest our faith and our funding in whānau: let them lead their own liberation; let them drive their own destiny. 


I am heartened and hopeful by the privilege of speaking in this space, your space.   Whānau Ora wants to work with you, beside you in collaboration not competition.   For us it starts and ends with whānau.

Whānau with Whānau Ora approaches at the fore – can be part of the revolution.   We need to recreate safety; to protect places of belonging; to encourage all our relationships to be mana enhancing.

Our poutama model that came from the whānau of Te Waipounamu is based on seven steps:

1.    Whakarite te huarahi: prepare the ground

2.    Whakatika te tapu, whakatika te mana: acknowledge the hurt

3.    Kei roto ko te kore, ka puta te ao marama: create space for whānau to achieve change

4.    Haerenga whakamua – take action

5.    Tū Rangatira – believe in our potential

6.    Tukunga iho ; put kotahitanga into practice

7.    Kuru Pounamu: treasure our mokopuna.


What will it take for government to appreciate the access that can be made when working with Whānau Ora. 

And finally – it’s about self-care; it’s about keeping your own wairua in check; in monitoring your health literacy; in having sound supervision and whānau and friends who care for you, over and above your mahi.

It’s about our mokopuna.

It’s about finding and sharing joy.

Make the Ordinary Come alive

Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives

Such striving may seem admirable but it is a way of foolishness

Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life

Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears

Show them how to cry when pets and people died

Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

Whakatika te huarahi, haerenga whakamua.

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