The high numbers of Maori youth ending up in jail is a "heart-breaking scandal", New Zealander of the Year Dame Anne Salmond says.
"It's an absolute scandal. It's a heartbreaking scandal that the best thing we can think of to do with so many of our young Maori children is to lock them up."
Dame Anne, professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland, made the comments as keynote speaker at the Public Health Association of New Zealand's annual conference in New Plymouth yesterday.
"Somehow it's all right that this is happening to so many people, that so many young people end up in jail, and that people let that happen.
"And I can't understand that and I can't bear it and I don't think any of us should accept it.
"It is folly and there should be widespread consternation," she said.
Many of the country's intelligent and talented Maori children were failing because of a lack of interest, she said.
Their failure in school, which often led on to them joining gangs, was part of the eruption in the growth of income inequality in New Zealand due to "essentially pathological philosophies".
That philosophy centred on short-term gains where people were there to be exploited in order to make a buck, despite it being contradicted by contemporary science and also non-adaptive, yet it continued to exist not only in New Zealand but across the planet, she said. The consequences of such philosophies were inherently destructive and it may well be too late to turn them around.
The statistics of how the income inequality affected health spoke eloquently, she said.
"I think we should be tracking the income inequality against health indicators," she told the more than 200 public health attendees.
"I think people at the top have a sense of entitlement and everyone else should know their place in the cosmic chain," Dame Anne said.
These same people at the top expected anyone who spoke their mind to owe deference to them, she said. "And if you don't do this you are likely to have you head knocked off."
The irrational stance was directly linked with this country's low gross domestic product and low economic productivity - all of which affected national prosperity.
"The tragedy of it is that I think that this involves and affects everyone. It affects all New Zealanders."
Dame Anne suggested that the public health sector could take up a similar stance to what the University of Auckland was undertaking in schools.
The project involved giving collaborative non-judgmental support, getting alongside teachers and students and their parents who wanted their children to learn.
As a result instead of getting a turnout of parents in school of just 13 per cent they were getting between 85-95 per cent because they were getting advice and data about their child.
Everyone worked as a team to get them where they wanted to go and the only thing that mattered was the outcome of the student.
Dame Anne suggested the same methods could be applied to public health.
"I think we have to overcome the silos that divide us. We can become complementary to one another," she said.
Dame Anne and New Zealand's Race Relations commissioner Dame Susan Devoy are among nine keynote speakers addressing the conference, which finishes tomorrow.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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