Maori MP: 'Condemn' suicide victims

By Jamie Morton

A Maori Party MP has suggested that children who take their own lives should be condemned rather than have their life celebrated - a call slammed as "absolutely disgusting" by a mother whose child took his life.

In a controversial column in Rotorua's Daily Post newspaper, Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell suggested a "very hard stand" should be made on suicide.

"If a child commits suicide, let us consider not celebrating their lives on our marae; perhaps bury them at the entrance of the cemetery so their deaths will be condemned by the people," he wrote.

"In doing these things, it demonstrates the depth of disgust the people have with this. Yes it is a hard stance, but what else can we do?"

Mr Flavell's comments have horrified Auckland mum Maria Bradshaw, a co-founder of Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education and Research (Casper), whose teenaged son Toran Henry took his life in 2008.

"In our view that's absolutely disgusting to suggest [suicide victims] and their families should be abused.

"If [Mr Flavell] could witness the suffering that is experienced by families who have not been allowed to perform traditional burial rites ... the pain is absolutely intense."

At a recent talk in Kawerau, which has had a spate of sudden deaths of young people, Ms Bradshaw said one local mother spoke of the pain of having to challenge a kaumatua after she was told her daughter's body could not be brought back to her marae.

"My son's funeral was so important to me and if I was told I couldn't honour him and farewell him in the way that I chose to, I would have been absolutely devastated."

Ms Bradshaw planned to meet Mr Flavell.

The MP said he was only passing on ideas he had been told and they were not new ones.

He said the comments were made out of "frustration over what we can do to stop people taking their own lives".

Michael Naera, who leads a Bay of Plenty group set up to help whanau through the trauma of suicide, set aside the MP's comments as "opinion rather than qualified statements".

"I just think that there's a lot of sensitivity within the community at the moment with suicides and I think with Te Ururoa's, that's part of that hype that's going on as well."

Mana Mental Health Service manager Gavin Pike felt Mr Flavell made his comments out of frustration.

"His addressing this by way of putting our people at the front of the urupa, or on the outside, is not tika [right]. The shame and embarrassment for that whanau will have an impact for many generations to come. If a whanau member committed suicide ... why should the whanau be persecuted by their own?"

It is not the first time controversy has erupted around tangi protocol for young people who commit suicide.

Arai Te Uru Marae in Dunedin has looked at banning tangi in such cases to deter the glorification of suicide, but has since decided on restricting tangi to a single day.

"It's not a tangi as such, it's more like a funeral, because no one stays over or anything - they just bring the body on for their korero and go away," marae chairman Tom Duff said.

"We took the stance that they should have the tangi as they should still have some recognition of their life."

Mr Duff said the move sparked debate which led to more exposure for the issue of suicide, more discussion among health providers "and even the talk of glorification vanished".

But he dismissed Mr Flavell's suggestion as "stupidity" saying those buried in urupa should always lie alongside their relatives.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said that various religions throughout history had not allowed suicide victims to be buried on consecrated ground.

"I'd hope a lot of those practices have been confined to history, but the shame and the stigma can still affect families."

- additional reporting ROTORUA DAILY POST

- NZ Herald

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