Māori mental health and wellbeing is at crisis levels and every so often an opportunity will present itself to engage in that conversation.
That opportunity presented itself following Kiri Allan’s highly publicised incident in Wellington on Sunday night.
I thought about wading into the debate and instinctively knew that it might be a counterproductive exercise given my appointment to the RNZ Board. I started tapping away on my phone and posted my thoughts on my social media account and the rest as they say is history.
I do not for one moment regret having raised the issue and nor will I lose any sleep over it. We need to grab these opportunities because they encourage public discourse especially among our whanau. We are dying because of the contributing effects that mental health has on diabetes, obesity, and every other whakapapa killer.
The statistics show our people are disproportionately affected by this ngagara than any other demographic. It manifests itself in the 7-year life expectancy gap that has widened since 1900s.
Yes, we live longer but we continue to lag behind pakehas. That is the real crime here and much of it is borne from this ideological premise that we as Maori must conform to a health system that has consistently failed us over decades.
Crown Boards and Entities risk being over-populated by a small pool of people who coalesce in the same pool. If the Crown is serious about transformational change then it must allow a much wider and diverse demographic to inhabit those spaces. Politicians cannot run around grasping a self-imposed immunity idol. This is not Treasure island.
I sit on Te Whakaruruhau o Nga Reo Irirangi o Aotearoa and one of the jobs I am tasked with is challenging the status quo. This would have placed me on a collision course with the political neutrality expectations as set out in the Crown Entities guidelines.
When I was appointed to the RNZ Board, I made it clear that I came with a deep commitment to the Treaty and ensuring that it is embedded it into the fabric and culture of the organisation. The Treaty is by definition a political pact and this required uncomfortable and sometime public conversations.
My presence cannot be a distraction to the transformative mahi ahead of it. It would not be fair on the Chair or the other Board members and it will undoubtedly stymie progress for the entire organisation.
Māori make up 8 per cent of the total workforce at RNZ and I know there is a commitment in the organisation to lift that significantly. It will need to lift dramatically over the next three years and the challenge will be around recruitment and maintaining Māori reporters.
The implementation of the Māori strategy is a priority but I’ll be able to keep an eye on how that is progressing as a member of Kawea Te Rongo (The Maori journalists Association).
So here’s the thing it’s not all gloom and doom. I walk away with my values and principles fully intact.
At some stage I have to grab a tea towel in the wharekai and that’s when the acid test will be applied (you’ll only get this last piece if you’re Māori).
Jason Ake is the General Manager, Engagement and Communications for Waikato Tainui Iwi. He is also an executive member of Māori radio iwi network, Te Whakaruruhau, and a highly experienced and respected Māori journalist and was for a short time a member of the RNZ Board.