Over the last few days I have come in for a lot of flack when it comes to my so called “leadership” style and some, not many, but some have questioned the way I work. Fair call. The thing is you must roll with punches in order to get what needs to be done; done. Sometimes it looks all pretty and sometimes it looks quite rough – hopefully you get to a point where it looks somewhere in between. But here is the thing – if we went about life trying to please every single person in positions of power we would not be getting very far. The fact is that not everyone will agree with any one of us and there will always be those who really can’t stand you. So, what do you do about it?
For me I don’t have all the qualifications that a lot of those who criticize me have. Truth is I didn’t finish school; in fact, I didn’t even get School C English. I didn’t go to swanky University – my working life began early.
When I was a teenager, I delivered papers, cleaned the floors of the New World Supermarket in Upper Hutt, took my hand to selling golf balls with my older brother and worked briefly doing stock take at Farmers. I worked hard and worked early.
When I decided to leave for Australia at the end of 2000, I did so to follow a dream – I just knew there was something bigger out there. I knew if I worked hard, I’d get there. There were no airs and graces – each time I saw the opportunity I took it. When people said I couldn’t do something – I proved them wrong and I did it; when people would mock me for having no degree or not succeeding at school at shot back and said “the thing about school is it didn’t like me and I didn’t like it”. The truth is that sure tertiary education is a wonderful thing but for me all it would have done is locked me into a form of conventional thinking and I would strongly say I am not one for convention – I think outside of the box. But learning on the job and moving up the ladder was, and is, my stock and trade. I have learnt, I have read, I have failed and learnt the lessons of that failure and each time I pick myself up, I dust myself off and I get on with it. And by the way those asking these sorts of questions are mostly pakeha!
Before I left for Australia I was as proud of my Maori being as I was when I returned to New Zealand four years ago. Even when I was away, I was always in the company of my culture and was proud of it when my career around the word took off. When I was Australia’s representative to the United Nations Global Compact, I made sure everyone knew I was Maori and damn proud of it. But lately I have been made to feel as if I am a second-class Maori within in the Maori world – one of those Maori’s who has lived overseas and therefore what the hell do I know. “What do you know about the struggle of Maori they say?” Well I sure as hell wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth; my mum and dad struggled to get by just as a lot of our people did – Dad worked any number of jobs in a week from a turner and fitter at Dunlop’s in Upper Hutt to roofing, building and plumbing. Mum was equally as amazing – working at a coffee ship in Maidstone Mall, pouring pints at the RSA and Government work. It was Mum that would take us down to Kapahaka at Orongomai Marae in Upper Hutt.
So, stop with the comments about I don’t struggle; stop with the comments because I stayed a time in Australia that I now don’t qualify to be Maori in my own land – because quite frankly I am sick of it. And as for all those who comment about my style – take a hard-cold look at yourselves and just consider for a moment that for years if not decades not much has changed. Suicide rates are out of control, our babies are being taken and the number of our kids in the care of the State are still exceedingly high. Our people are the highest rates of homelessness and the largest consumers of the mental health system. We have the highest rates of addiction and die more often from preventable disease. We are more likely to be member of the low wage side of the economy and many of our people struggle every day with just trying to pay for the basics; to keep the power on, put kai on the table and to ensure their kids don’t go without.
The truth is I spend much of my day working together with a number of people to resolve issues and to try and find solutions. I work hard and work long days talking with others, working alongside them and listening, most of all, to what the people are saying. But I say this – no one person has all the solutions, nor the ideas. We should all have them and some of the greatest success can be achieved even when we don’t always get along or agree with each other. At the New Zealand Maori Council I work with great people – all just as passionate as me about a number of things and the same with the National Maori Authority – we are all equal and we all strive for the best.
The reality is the Crown has done little for Maori over the many years since the signing of the Treaty and to be where we are must be their liability to endure and our opportunity to change. And If we are to succeed in the challenges we face then the back stabbing, the lateral violence and the hoha needs to stop – in all reality I’d prefer to be an Indian toiling away in the struggle at the flax roots of where our people are than those who call me a “chief” or leader sitting at some other persons definition of a top table at a 21st birthday party.
I may be brash, I may be bold, I may be a firebrand and unorthodox but I’m just trying to do as much as I can to build a better future for all of us- as are we all. Each of us have a mandate to improve the lives of ourselves, each other, our whanau and our people.