Alan Duff

Alan Duff: Maori must help Maori to fly high

Tribal authorities have an important role to play in lifting the lives and aspirations of their people.
Kapa haka instils pride in its participants and supporters, but Maori must embrace education too. Photo / NZME
Kapa haka instils pride in its participants and supporters, but Maori must embrace education too. Photo / NZME

Our youngest celebrated her 25th birthday recently. She lives in Whistler, Canada, and has yet to apply her university degree to any job but at least she has it. My eldest brother was in his grave at the same age, killed in a horrific car crash with five others, including two cousins. He dropped out of varsity, got lost in a fog of drinking, a talent voided by his traumatic growing-up experiences.

Another daughter just turned 38 is an accomplished classical pianist and doing a doctorate in creative writing. At that age I had managed to commit to writing - and finishing - a novel. But a big part of me still raged and little did I know it was waiting to come out in that first published book.

None of our children has known the violence that shaped me. My educated father was anti-violence but "married it". My Pakeha wife can look back at her entire life and recall not one act of violence. My life story is riddled with it on, sadly, the Maori side.

Only one person on both sides of my wife's family died young.

I can say the same about my Pakeha side: can't recall one dying young or tragically or from excesses. On the maternal side are at least a dozen early deaths, virtually all of them preventable. From car crashes (two siblings, two first-cousins), to lung and colon cancer, liver disease, heart attacks. The outcome of not knowing and therefore not seeking a healthier way to live.

I look back at my Maori peer group and too many mates died way too young. Middle-class people of any race don't often have shortened lives. They don't get into fights, are rarely involved in a major car crash, they don't get assaulted, murdered and tend not to be obese. They live healthily and practise moderation.

And because they read, they analyse, study, compare, consider - then take an informed action. Not so the uneducated, who suffer the consequences of being uninformed. The Moko tragedy has us all asking less than polite questions. But I don't think expressing disgust achieves anything.

No question that anger at rotten childhoods, being raised in an environment without intellectual stimulation, denied emotional maturity, brought up thinking that violence is acceptable - all of this explains nearly every gang member and criminal.

But what explains the hard-core 15 per cent or more of Maori who commit these awful crimes or are just drug and booze-addled losers? The other 85 per cent are the positive statistical story of growing numbers getting tertiary education, going into business, joining the middle-class. I've said before, I believe Maori are the most successful indigenous race on earth. But we need to do more.

The Moko tragedy has us all asking less than polite questions. Photo / Supplied
The Moko tragedy has us all asking less than polite questions. Photo / Supplied

More than 20 years ago, a study was done by a Maori researcher to find out the reasons for Maori educational failure. She came back with an unexpected finding: Criticism by Maori peers of any of their own striving to achieve. What happens if you're born into a social outlook that does not encourage aspiration or develop curiosity, gives you no life or social skills? How do you cope? What of a non-reading culture, meaning you know nothing about the world, how it all works and where you might fit and thrive?

It's why our literacy project focused on getting books into the hands of children: to give them the best start in life and embed in young minds the ethos that reading is essential. Keep kapa haka - it surely instils pride in its participants and backers. But Maori must embrace education too.

We must develop an intellectual element in our culture. Not stopped at just the traditional. We should aim higher and further, expand our minds. No reason Maori can't be up in the sky flying a glider, a helicopter, a plane, parachuting as recreational challenges, or making a career in aviation. The Maori helicopter pilots I met were all natural. Even your columnist did 70 hours of learning to fly a chopper.

Maori tribal authorities must take responsibility for producing and distributing books on parenting; books on understanding budgeting, applying for a mortgage, the disciplines required to be able to keep servicing the loans. They should have more regular face-to-face contact with the people, instead of hanging out in Koru Lounges and travelling business class.

We read of the Maori man who was inspired to get a PhD after his 5-year-old son said that his father sat watching TV all day. Career options for Maori should include a vast range of studies. Tribal authorities should have reps visiting intermediate and high schools showing them the vast array of career courses available. The change can only come from within.

- NZ Herald

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