Kai hiku, kai upoko, Tribal Economic Wānanga

Saturday 27 February 2016

Helen Leahy, Chief Executive for Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu





I pay my first respects to Ngāi Tahu, the first peoples of this land.   I acknowledge your unique relationship to this whenua, and the authority which surrounds this wānanga today.


I was born into the lands of Te Tai o Poutini, the birthplace of my mother, the home of Poutini Ngāi Tahu, those who hold manawhenua authority in the paradisal playground in which pounamu glistens in the waters of Arahura and Māwhera.  


One of my favourite memories was to swim in the luxury of Punakaiki, where the river meets the sea.  It was the place we returned to when my mother passed in 2002; to reconnect with her in space and place; in the concept of home.


Over the course of my life others rivers have defined and shaped me.


The Motueka River brings a rapid pace to the people of the Moutere Valley, from where my father’s family found a place to be.  The River Lee flows eastwards through Cork in Ireland; the river Clyde flows through my maternal ancestral line in Motherwell Scotland.


And then I fell in love.   And now the course of my life includes other rivers, the river which gives meaning and mana to my partner and children, the rivers of Whanganui.


The concept of te Awa Tupua personifies the indivisible relationship of the river and the iwi since time immemorial. This indivisible relationship has been and continues to be promoted and fostered through countless generations of whakapapa and tikanga.   

It is expressed best in the tribal saying:  ‘E rere kau mai te awa nui mai te Kahui Maunga ki Tangaroa, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.


From the mountains to the sea, I am the river and the river is me.

Today then, in being accorded the privilege of sharing in this vital tribal economic wānanga, kai hiku, kai upoko; I greet all of our rivers that run from the mountains to the sea; I acknowledge the tribal heartbeat that pumps through your veins, the ancient inspiration that is given life through the dreams of Ngāi Tahu;  Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us


The purpose of this tribal wānanga has been to generate conversation around the concept that no-one gets left behind or forgotten, that the collective prosperity is the unflinching aspiration of the iwi.


Over seven generations, Ngāi Tahu has carried its quest for justice, for a brighter tomorrow for your descendants.   Just as Rakaihautu, the captain of the Uruao waka Rakaihautū, carved out lakes across the South Island forming food baskets to sustain his descendants, so too have his children’s children, come together to create the economic conditions to allow their people to flourish.


I want to talk of another dimension to wealth; the wealth of identity, connection and belonging that is epitomised in the notion of Whānau Ora.


For the people of each of the eighteen Papatipu Rūnanga to be economically vibrant and culturally strong, the unit of whānau is the vital common platform for transformation.


The current of change we describe as Whānau is based on the understanding of the rich and varied meanings of ‘ora’ – the essence of wellbeing, the lifespring from which successive generations flow.   It is a concept that we will always acknowledge the founding Minister for Whānau Ora; a leader of Whanganui, Hon Dame Tariana Turia.


In her Valedictory Speech, and in her own story, Crossing the Floor, she spoke of the motivation behind which the government policy Whānau Ora came into being.


“Every journey up our river inevitably faces the churning waters of the rapids, the turmoil and chaos of the riporipo we may find ourselves swirling within.

In this place, I have felt, profoundly, the pain of the entrenched inequities too many Māori and Pasifika families face in terms of the lack of equitable access to health, education, housing, employment and economic opportunity.

I have been devastated by the institutional racism that continues to limit our potential. We should never be silent on the things that matter, the barriers that block our ability to be the best that we can be. We should never be afraid to talk about anything that we know to be true and that we know to be right. It is only when we let fear take over, and when we don’t speak up that we let people down”.


To those who might ask why is the convergence of rivers such an important metaphor for Te Pūtahitanga I would say simply that a river is an indivisible whole, it can not be chopped and divided up; what impacts on the upper reaches inevitably flows into the lower reaches.


In much the same way, whānau grow best when their whole being is valued – not segmented into a sector-silo mentality; a Vote Education, Health, Economic development world view.  We can medicate and treat your illnesses, but not focus on what it is that makes you well.  We can give you blankets not home insulation; beads and trinkets of material distraction, rather than seeds and grains to feed yourself.

The convergence of the rivers is about acknowledging the value of unity through diversity; that there are many pathways to ora; it is not a one-size-fits- all paradigm.


Whānau Ora is therefore shaped by a number of core understandings:

  • That Whānau Ora be defined by whānau
  • That it is collective in its scope and intergenerational in its impact
  • That it is strengths based – it starts from whānau aspirations as a foundation
  • That self-determination, tino rangatiratanga, is central to its force
  • Importantly – it isn’t a programme or a service, it is an approach to life.


    There is a whakatauāki which says, “Kauaka e korero mo to awa, engari me korero ki to awa”


    Don't merely talk about the river; rather speak to and commune with the river.


    And so, rather than talking more about Whānau Ora in action, I have a couple of stories to share that tell their own story.


    Finally, I come back to the title of this session, Making it work.


    One of the challenges from Sir Tipene is that we’ve forgotten how to think, how to explore the courage to follow our dreams.


    Whānau Ora is about giving permission to whānau that they can look to themselves for their own solutions; that they can be entrepreneurial in their approach to their own circumstances; that they can embrace innovation as a way of improving their situation.   Their salvation does not need to lie in a service provider, a government department, a state-sponsored employment scheme.


    Iwi in Te Waipounamu have stepped up to the challenge to provide the buffer; the platform; the safety net for whānau to know that to be self-managing is a realistic proposition.


    The greatest opportunity for all of us is to break through the shackles of risk-aversion; to appreciate that a tribal economy is only as strong as each of its whānau can be.   This is not about doing to and for and behalf of whānau.


    Transformation will come when whānau are leading their own life plan.   When the cultural frameworks that the iwi are creating are able to be drawn on to strengthen whānau participation in a life of their own making.


    Whānau Ora comes from the proud history of exploration and entrepreneurship that is interwoven throughout this landscape.


    Just as the the economies of whaling, sealing and the export of flax and provisions such as potatoes and grains gave Ngāi Tahu a vantage point from which to grow; the tribal economy must invest in the hearts and minds of the people who will make it work.