A white knight battles for kids

16:00, Feb 11 2013

So Waitangi Day has come and gone with the top story full of endless detail about a stubborn, bullying kuia who held on to the prime minister's arm - and her self-appointed right to welcome him on to the marae.

The once-were-warriors - men of the marae management - muttered among themselves then surrendered.

They had forced the PM to spend the best part of an hour twiddling his thumbs at the marae gate while the kuia scrapped about possession of his left arm.

In the end Titewhai (understandably widely known as "Terrify") won. Later some politician-speak about ownership of water got much less coverage.

Public benefactor and literal white knight Sir Owen Glenn was there figuratively carrying the flag (of Ngati Pakeha) for the endangered children his new multi-million family violence trust aims to save.

Watching long distance by television from my sitting room, I remembered comments on a current problem far more important than either the korero at the gate or the water myth.


One was a classic comment by onetime Herald and later cartoonist for this paper, Malcolm Evans.

Years ago - it seems like many decades - he sketched two views of a fictional marae. The first - crammed with people, standing room only - portrayed a hui on fishing quotas. Now it could as easily be on ownership of God-given water.

The other Evans marae was totally empty. It represented the site of a suggested discussion on Maori children's horrifying death toll through violence and neglect. No takers.

OK, not all Maori duck the issue - but most holding prestigious public and political posts certainly do.

Memorably, two former Maori MPs who had leadership roles during their time in Parliament have since spoken out strongly.

Dover Samuels, a former Labour minister of Maori affairs, once said: "It is a Maori issue. Maori are over-represented in child abuse statistics. Every time we hear of another case everybody starts pointing the finger. It is a cop-out.

"They blame police, Child, Youth and Family and the neighbours for not dobbing them in . . . until we come to terms with the core of the issue and unveil why these people commit these crimes, these crimes will continue.

"Do you think things will be any different in five years' time?

"I doubt it. Twenty thousand Maori marched to Wellington in a hikoi to protest over the seabed and foreshore.

"Nobody dies collecting oysters.

"Yet here we are faced with a very fundamental issue when our mokopuna are being abused and murdered. It's hypocrisy of our Maori values."

John Tamihere, former associate minister of Maori affairs, said about the same time: "Maori 18 and over - 10 per cent of the population - make up 50 per cent of the country's jail inmates. That's a catastrophe.

"We can't go on turning a blind eye to it and blame imperialism or colonisation. That's simply escapism and denial.

"On child violence we're the most tragic indigenous people on the globe, including the Australian Aborigines.

"It is totally unacceptable and we can't seem to stop it.

"Virtually every victim has previously come to the attention of government agencies only the bureaucratic defence policy takes over when that monolithic system fails as it so often does.

"We are into intra-generational beneficiary families, the worst social welfare failure of its kind in the world … we don't need any more money, we should just make better of what we're getting."

In the run-up to bland Waitangi speech-making a terrible indictment of the failures of whanau and system surfaced.

Evidence at the inquest into the death of 2-year-old Tahi Elvis Edwards of Rotorua was that he suffocated when his very drunk mother Ngaire Kura Tukiwaho went to sleep with him in a car outside her sister's house.

She had come home late with little Tahi from her day-long drinking binge and her sister locked her and the baby out.

When Tahi slipped from his sleeping mother's grasp, he suffocated under her arm.

Bad enough but there was more.

His mother had lost another one-month-old baby to "cot death" three years before and had been warned about "safe sleeping practices" then.

The coroner was told that Child, Youth and Family had previously taken two children - her husband's by another woman - from her care and into custody.

The department had no knowledge even that she had since had Tahi and only knew of him as another casualty.

By coincidence, an official report from the Child and Youth Mortality Review released the same day as the coroner's finding revealed facts on the deaths of 48 babies who died in sleep through "unsafe sleeping environments".

Up to 60 New Zealand babies die that way each year - the highest rate in the world of "sudden unexpected deaths".

Maori children are five times more likely than others to die this way.

Yet another fact of life and death which John Tamihere says cannot be blamed on "imperialism or colonisation" as some advocates claim.

Surely he and Dover are not the only Maori critics of national trends needing urgent attention?

Are they the only influential Maori willing to speak and save the children who live a life of pain and fear however long their lives last?

Forget the kuia scrap at the gate and think about little ones in danger in their own whanau.

In the mailbag:

"Your mortgages and memories column brought back a lovely memory of my parents when they reached the end of their 25-year-old 3 per cent mortgage.

"Each week for 25 years my father brought home his pay in a little brown envelope, opened it, took out the coins and handed the rest to my mother.

"She, in turn, had a range of jars which received a weekly allotment for various expenses.

"They knew to the very day when their mortgage would be repaid. A few days before, I recall them saying the next one will be the last one.

"Came that day and with the screw-top jar taken off the shelf and emptied, Mother set off with the little book and with a smile on her face to pay-in as she had regularly done over the years, the last payment.

"When she came home, she announced they could uplift the deeds from the solicitor in two weeks.

"There were no special celebrations, dinner as normal, but somehow something had changed: An air of quiet satisfaction or accomplishment is the nearest I could explain, plus two very happy faces.

"Through hard work, a simple life with little luxury, they had achieved their life's ambition: To own their own home on the proverbial quarter-acre section.

"That memory evokes another one relevant to those times. A ‘wealthy' friend talked Dad into upgrading his little 1939 Ford Prefect and with the friend's assistance, Dad moved into the ‘big-time' with a $3000 overdraft.

"This, however, was too much for Dad to bear: He stayed on working for two years after he reached the then retirement age of 60 to repay that overdraft!

"Only then would he say that the new car, a 1975 Ford Escort was truly his. Using other people's money was an anathema.

"Thank you for the memories." - Elizabeth Pretty, Onehunga

To contact Pat Booth email offpat@snl.co.nz or write care of this newspaper. All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.

Manukau Courier