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Source: Human Rights Commission

If there were thoughts that the mahi may ease this year after the major projects conducted as Race Relations Commissioner in 2020, they were soon cast away.

Last year I helped promote the high- profile Voice of Racism campaign, the last phase of the Human Rights Commission’s flagship Give Nothing to Racism project. Coupled with the arrival of Covid-19 on our shores, it made for a hectic year. 2021 has been no different, with all of us having to adapt to work under lockdown situations, some of the mahi had to be pushed online rather than kanohi ki te kanohi.

This included work around the national action plan against racism – with the Human Rights Commission’s community consultations taking place in the third quarter of the year. I received guidance and advice from a taskforce made up of highly esteemed and accomplished people representing both Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti. Over 23 hui were held, involving close to 400 people. An online portal was also created, capturing more than 600 submissions regarding a vision for eliminating racism from Aotearoa. The resulting report will be presented to the Ministry of Justice in the new year.

There were also two complementary pieces of original research by the Human Rights Commission looking at local experiences of racism. Both of these prompted public conversation and both will support the Commission’s contributions to the government’s planned development of the national action plan.

One of the pieces of research showed high rates of discrimination experienced by Tangata Whenua and Chinese people in particular. In February ‘Te Kaikiri me te Whakatoihara i Aotearoa i te Urutā COVID-19: He Aro ki ngā Hapori Haina, Āhia Hoki – Racism and Xenophobia Experiences in Aotearoa New Zealand during COVID-19: A Focus on Chinese and Asian Communities’ was published. It provided a deeper understanding of the nature and prevalence of COVID-related racism against Chinese and other Asian people. The report also illustrated the consistent Tangata Whenua experience of racism, and the way it manifested during the pandemic.

In this context, I have met with community leaders who were concerned with the increasing levels of racism they have experienced. As a commission we continued to engage in public conversations and promotions around the need to follow Covid guidelines along with ‘Don’t be racist’.

The second major research project looked into migrant New Zealanders’ experiences of racism and their views on its causes and solutions. ‘Ngā take o ngā wheako o te kaikiri ki ngā manene o Aotearoa: Drivers of migrant New Zealanders’ experiences of racism’, was published in March.

Migrants expressed continued institutional, personally mediated, and internalised experiences of racism with many saying that racism wounded their sense of self-belief resulting in fear, disengagement and loss of culture and identity. Many expressed how racism led to exclusion, colonised thinking and judgement of their own culture. As a result, many migrants said they had to change how they looked, dressed, spoke, or acted to fit into Eurocentric expectations in New Zealand.

Migrants identified numerous opportunities to influence change and strengthen responses to racism including honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, having diverse representation in all levels of leadership, teaching a balanced New Zealand history, education, and strengthening identity among others.

Despite enriching Aotearoa in a positive manner many migrant communities have not had great experiences in the past. This was highlighted by the issues and treatment meted out to Pacific Islanders during the Dawn Raid era of the 1970s. For decades the Polynesian Panthers have been advocating for government action related to the raids, including an official apology and educational initiatives to recognise the discriminatory history. Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt and I met with the social justice movement and backed their calls and decades of activism with a letter of support addressed to the Prime Minister and Minister for Pacific Peoples. Thankfully a government apology was issued in August.

Both the Chief Commissioner and I also advocate for the rights of Māori in Aotearoa as part of our respective roles. You will often hear us cite the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the recognition it provides for Tangata Whenua. UNDRIP’s 46 articles cover human rights as they pertain to indigenous peoples with key areas being self-determination; equality and non-discrimination; participation; culture; and land, territories and resources. This is why we penned an opinion piece outlining our support for the ‘He Puapua’ report and how indigenous rights can be better protected in Aotearoa.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is another key document that provides a basis for indigenous rights in Aotearoa and is something I continually push for in terms of honouring the subsequent relationship between government and Māori. I have written to government on many occasions, including in the wake of the Delta outbreak, to point out Crown obligations under te tiriti. Māori must be involved in areas that concern them, and to provide a space at the decision-making table for such consultation. That space must be empowered.

This year I have also met with both migrant and immigration groups to discuss the importance of te tiriti in the residency and citizenship process and how it needs to be ingrained in that process. In the coming year I will continue to promote the need for immigration reform, including the need to provide greater support for refugees and asylum seekers. It is my hope that arrivals to our shores are welcomed and provided the best opportunity to contribute to society.

As a society we reflect on what we can do better. Lessons were tragically learnt after the March 15 terror attacks that must be implemented if we are to continue on an upward trajectory as a country. This is why I have and will continue to monitor progress into the recommendations which came out of the Royal Commission of Inquiry report into the attacks.

One related project carried out within the commission was a series of hui looking at ‘Islamophobia and the Media’. Due to the pandemic, the meetings were conducted in a hybrid manner which proved challenging but I am pleased members of the Muslim community had an opportunity to meet with movers and shakers from the media industry to discuss the ongoing issue of islamophobia and its impacts.

The impacts of racism are often discussed at the National Unity Speech Hui and Awards and that was no different in 2021, with this year’s theme ‘Kia kotahi te hoe – Paddle as one’. I had the honour of attending this event and witnessing the coming together of youth from across the motu. Special mention must be made of Tawa College’s Lucia-Tui Bernards who gathered a raft of awards including the NZ Police National Champion’s award and the Human Rights Commission’s Award for Impact. Lucia-Tui’s message was to not sit back and wait for the government to fix race relations in Aotearoa. In her speech, Lucia-Tui argued all secondary schools should have a race relations strategy, as well as a race relations youth council to allow ethnic minority voices to be heard.

Perhaps drawing on inspiration from these impressive young people, I made a presentation of my own at July’s Tedx Tauranga where I drew from my experiences with racism and offered simple guidance to address our present race issues through ‘Awareness, Affirmation and Action’.

In terms of action in the marketplace, I have also held discussions and met with groups like Sustainable Business Network, Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions on how diversity and inclusion are principles that need to be incorporated into the backbone of every organisation that wants to grow. The thing to remember is that one without the other is ineffective. Diverse representation needs to be seen and included at the decision-making table. It will grow your organisation by attracting new communities. What’s good for people is good for business.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. People are the driving force behind everything I do. It is also captured in the Human Rights Commission’s purpose statement of ‘Ka Whakamana Tangata – A life of Dignity for All’. This is also the thinking behind the most recent campaign launched for the summer months – ‘Dial it Down’. There are currently many debates around the pandemic, government measures and human rights. Whatever side of these conversations you are on, always put people first.

In 2022 I will continue to stand against racism, prejudice and inequity in Aotearoa while trying to lift up vulnerable communities. I will advocate and promote respect for human rights and encourage the building of a cohesive and inclusive society.

In the meantime, I wish you all the best for the season. May it be both safe and joyous. Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a tātou katoa.