Blog 103 – Being A Ministerial Youth Advocate

My role involved being part of a seven-person panel over 15-months. The young people were all care experienced and all had their own stories. A youth panel was requested by the orders of Minister Tolley, Social Development Minister, and set up by The Office of The Children’s Commissioner.

Our name was Te Whanau Aroha or The Love Family, and we all had incredibly valuable insights into what we want to see in a system that looks after and cares for the most vulnerable youth in New Zealand.

You might ask why the adults needed our voices in the first place, and you’d be right to ask that question. But the why is important because it symbolises a huge shift in authority from the adults back to the people who matter the most in that equation and that is the young people.

Like a school kid catching the school bus. Young people in the care system are users of that system and so they occupy its service. Because they are considered as consumers or users of their care system they are effectively the best people to ask about the process. To help uplift and feedback on how the system operates and where it might be overlooked.

That’s why the voices of young people matter. Not because they’re the last resort, kick it down the street,, token. But because they used the system and are the best people to ask how it’s going and if it works or if it could do better.

What It Was Like Talking With A Minister. 

Normally I would say they’re just another person. That they are just another human being a deserve no more respect or effort than a service station worker or a bus driver. While that’s true, talking with Minister Tolley about the changes that need to occur from a tiny group of six people meant that we had a huge responsibility to ensure that she was informed at an educated level.

We would meet for two day periods bi-monthly and talk to all kinds of people from Judges to Policy Analysts to ensure that the people who are working on the ground and had hands on experience drafting policy or speaking with young people in youth justice facilities. It meant that we were informed about how the system was going and that drawing from our own experiences in the system we could then relay that information back to the minister or help the people working in those areas and point out things that could be easily overlooked.

It was a really nerve racking process talking with a lady who was renowned for being stern and to the point. Somebody who took no hostages and was very forthright at telling you how things were. Then to add that she was a politician really made things interesting and trying to convince a politician that some things she was saying you didn’t really agree on was really nerve racking.

One of the things that I wanted to put into the bill was to prioritise that brothers and sisters be kept together when they were taken from their families. That sometimes kids get split up because of gaps in the system. That these mistakes can sometimes go on to affect their lives all the way up until their late teenage years when in some cases, like mine, they’re reunited again.

But she was a lovely lady. She came to be known as Aunty Anne. Not this scary, wicked, power hungry machine that people call her out for being but this really eye’s open, down to earth figure that took on board everything we were saying.

Because of that, I am happy to announce that we were able to influence change onto the new legislation amendment that was designed to look after and protect young people in the care system.

And that’s pretty amazing.

Thanks for checking in.

Blog 007! The balance talk… 

By Mana Williams.
Today I want to talk about Balance. My experience with fighting for this idea of balance and trying to accomplish it in some form.

Take a seesaw for example. Some crazy optimists out there like to think that balance is a destination when it’s really a way of living.
What we lust is the desire to better ourselves in the hopes that one day we might come out three steps ahead of the next person. It is a form of competing against others when it shouldn’t be. This is a classic example of pushing others down to better yourself.

Jealousy is the end to a civilized humanity. The term civilized is to be civil or to work. Hard work is the access we earn to give us reason and pay us with purpose. Jealousy is the lack of purpose as a currency. It inhibits itself within a person who has lost their balance In some way. The greater the persona, the more significant their imbalance can be.

Take a friend for example, both In a night club on a Saturday. A person walks in with their friends and you notice they get isolated from their group. You quite fancy this person but your friend, at last minute, steps in front and offers them a drink. In that moment, this spike of Jealousy kicks in. This need to have the talking stick rips in and you don’t feel great about yourself. You decide to join in conversation rather than feel weak by showing that you’re hurt.

By fighting for balance, we exert a force. Like physics,  the conservation of energy rule states that “Energy cannot be destroyed, only transferred or transformed.” When we fight against Jealousy, we look to administer the blame on others. Like exhaust fumes from a car, when something isn’t going our way we feel the need to make ripples. These ripples can create ripples with others. By treating other people like shit, makes other people feel like shit. Jealousy is a by product of unfairness. It isn’t a natural emotion.

To put it simply. When we fight for balance we create imbalance elsewhere. We usually step on other people’s feelings when we have to compromise.

Social status is like a hierarchy without stripes or badges. We live in an age where social media is intertwined with our everyday lifestyle. A photo or tag can induce mixed emotions from a person you’ve never met who lives in India. Our acquaintance list has grown to the stage where we could probably only count our real friends on two hands. Yet so many people will fight to earn the honor of an invisible badge. Social status equally breeds people who feel they need to live up to the hype by buying the right clothes and using the right filters and hash tags. In effect we have an invisible hierarchy that informs us that we need to compare amd contrast ourselves to a common medium. If we blur the lines between normal and appear wobbly people say that we are weird or queer. People feel the urge to state their differences with other people by using themselves as being defined as “normal.”

“Being ordinary is a blessing.”

Looking at humbleness and self refuge, you can see that by living large or using energy on silly things like Jealousy and social status we lose out on what matters. When we set the table for dinner at a family reunion with all of our loved ones gathered, in today’s environment isn’t it sad that half of our family members are sitting on their phones, tablets or in some cases in their room playing Playstation? It matters that we can’t experience as many moments that are important when we fight battles that mean nothing long term.

It falls back to you how you respond to unfairness. The battle is not important, so much as the battle of love, compassion and experiencing life in a way that is meaningful without the benevolence of Jealousy and inequality being present. The fight for balance is insignificant when sitting at a dinner table with your family.

And that’s todays thought for you!

I was late to the party though so I’ll likely post a second entry this evening. Thank you for reading!

Blog 004! Treaty Talks

A modern view on Maori. By Mana Williams. 10-15 Minutes 

Historically, there has always been an imbalance of power. In cases where the consideration for the individual is considered less important than the concerns of the many. But when you bring it back to its roots what does the Treaty of Waitangi really stand for?

Waitangi day could be remembered as a justification that Maori people, as a collective, were and still are an advanced and intelligent people. Otherwise, what would have been the point in having a Treaty? James Carroll would not have been the First Maori Prime Minister in 1909-1911 and Sir Apirana Ngata would not have been entrusted by Parliament to create a Maori Battalion in WW1 and WW2.

On February 6th, 1840, a collection of different ethnic groups came together in New Zealand to sign an agreement establishing a mutual relationship between Maori, British, French, American and other settlers. A common mistake is that people believe that only the British and Maori came to an agreement when it was actually a collective between many different walks of life. This entailed that British, French, and American settlers would be able to segregate land masses within New Zealand, owned by Maori chiefs. By gaining their signatures, lands would be purchasable from their respective Iwi land owners. More importantly, a friendship could be reached between the many different walks of life.

Like many social developments around the globe, many indigenous tribal colonizations possessed a lust for progression. Maori people felt that they had reached a climax with the other participating nations before signing the Waitangi Treaty, but not all of the Chiefs agreed with the declaration. Similar to a few different cultures, a few significant leaders believed that they could progress their tribe by participating in the treaty signing.

Hone Heke as an example, was a Maori chief of the Ngapuhi iwi who was a cunning leader and a skilled warrior and tactician. Some of his best-known works were the cutting of the British Flag Staff four times in the first Capital of New Zealand, Russell. A real nuisance, but equally a respected individual who was a great ambassador for Maori people. Out of the belief of progression and the advancement of his people, Hone Heke was the first Maori Chief to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. From his influence over other Maori Chiefs, Heke inspired the thought of other Maori Leaders to follow suit.

Although without the skill and advanced education surrounding Treaty wording, the authors of the agreement intentionally used vague terms and elongated translations to create loopholes within the Treaty so that they could later manipulate land claims and effectively control the majority stake of land in New Zealand.

This natural lean towards self-empowerment leads me to my next train of thought. What struck me this afternoon when looking out of the window on my break at work was actually the significant shift in power that has occurred over time in New Zealand history, particularly in the last four decades where we have seen the restoration of Maori equality within our communities.

However, you can be sure that when a Kaumatua, an elder person of the people, condemns the stately affairs of their own Marae. You can guarantee that there is dysfunction within the iwi. In recent years it has been customary for the Prime Minister of New Zealand to participate in Waitangi Day festivities at Titi marae. However, in the weeks leading up to this year’s Waitangi Day, a total media blackout was enforced by the Iwi of Titi Marae, Ngapuhi. This order was disputed by members of Parliament, such as Winston Peters who condemned the act as, “an abomination,” as well as Labour Party Leader Andrew Little stating that, “I won’t be, in the future, participating in the shutting down of the ability for New Zealanders to participate in this Waitangi Celebration.” Although Little’s claims are politically motivated in the wake of the resignation of Former Prime Minister John Key and the upcoming elections. It is still significant that Labour Party Leader Andrew Little includes All New Zealanders as a collective, because what it does do is it balances the proclamation of the original Treaty. When we look at the Treaty today, it is sad that we say that it is a day for Maori people to celebrate when in reality, French Governors were present on the 6th of February 1840.

When we stand back from politics we begin to respect that the need of a nation to satisfy their quarrels is understandable. But as with power and people of influence, it is more significant to consider the voices of the individual.

Blog 003! A Bitch or An Idiot?

Is it time for more structure? By Mana Williams. 13-16 Minutes 

Here goes…

When Senators and Judges come to a collective agreement on the misappropriated policy enforced by a governing administration, you know something is up. With global leaders rallying to dispute travel bans as ‘questionable’ and in more extreme cases ‘racist.’ You can imagine a democracy to disperse in chaos. So why doesn’t it?

At the end of 2015, the Republican Nominee received a mere 19 percent of the popular vote for office as The President of The United States. On the lead up to the election date, many people were left scratching their heads wondering how this “man” could have made such a dramatic comeback. “He speaks his mind,” and,”He tells things how they are.” Both common phrases when asked why supporters drew breath for the man. As the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was being battered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, about claims of her misplacing of 33 000 emails. Many of us outsiders were left contemplating the severe mistiming of an investigation at such a crucial time in her campaign. Come 9 pm on November the 9th 2016, New Zealand Time, a President was elected. Although there were millions of people around the world wondering how the hell this happened when you put it into layman’s terms it’s quite simple.

A Bitch or An Idiot.

I remember sitting at my cousin’s place on my birthday last year checking my Facebook for posts about the election. People posting, “How the heck did that just happen?” Walking around a small town in New Zealand that evening with people wandering the streets and coming home from restaurants we started to ask people how they felt about the new President-Elect.

One man responded, “He seems like the lesser of the two evils.”
A woman responded, “He is disgusting, he treats women with no respect.”

Fast forward three months and the Inauguration has occurred. One of the first decisions made was that The Secretary of Education would be Betsy DeVos, a multi-billion dollar women with minimal experience in dealing with the many concerns of a growing country. One Senator during the Secretaries Senate preliminary public debate on approval votes of DeVos listed the many concerns that the Secretary has to consider in this role. “Over one hundred thousand appeals have come in from all over the country regarding the disapproval of Secretary DeVos.” After explaining the intricate details of six individual letters sent in from the public, the Senator continued to express the many responsibilities that the new Secretary of Education would have to be accountable for. The Senator stated that “One in Five female students in the United States will or have received some form of sexual harassment while at school.” That The United States Education System is failing their children and that the new administration has a responsibility to control and lead their country by protecting their kids.

This is not dissimilar from the current difficulties New Zealand faces of child abuse and the failures of a system to act on and bring a stop to domestic violence. The difference being is that these afflictions are occurring in American schools BY OTHER STUDENTS!

The Senator continues to explain the responsibilities DeVos would have… Stating that Bullying is a severe concern within the United States. The Senator then continues by talking about the concern for the lives of the LGBTQ community, making mention of the rate of suicides within the United States as appalling. “A student who identifies themselves as being gay is statistically three times more likely to commit suicide in America and twice as likely if they are questioning, based on statistics from 2016.”

Living in a Millennial generation plagued by suicide is a sensitive and tentative situation that requires diligence and understanding from a Senator who is aware of the social isolation and is adjunct to being humane. Buried beneath the fortune and heightened social status that is supplementary to the multi-billion dollar name of DeVos, what humanness does Betsy really contain? This is a subject matter that we can also apply to the  President himself.

What is the most significant difference we see between ‘Him’ and Obama?

Humane-ness, the ability to apply experience to sensitive situations, to show inspirational leadership in cases of difficulty. If Betsy DeVos is appointed the position of Secretary of Education by congressional vote. She needs to install trust within victims of abuse and teachers of knowledge. If The President is going to act like a President, he needs to show every forum that he is willing to be sensitive to any situation out of understanding and Humane-ness.

In 2017, The President of The United States applied a travel ban to seven different countries for ninety days based on the prevention of Terrorism. Thousands of legal green-card-holding migrants were refused entry into The United States. Families and loved ones gathered at large airports, such as JFK International in New York, protesting their family members be let back into their countries. Law firms from the city of New York encouraged their employees to do some pro-Bono work… So they did… Some of whom were pleading for their own family members through legislative means. Others took more significant action…

I was amazed to learn that Judge James Robart, a federally life-appointed congressional judge by former President Bush, took action against the new policy enforcing that essentially the policy was racist. I was more amazed to learn that this particular judge also made headlines when he presided over a case of excessive force of a police officer against a black person. Stating that “Police shootings (in the USA) resulting in deaths involved 41% black people, despite being only 20% of the population,” and that, “Black lives Matter.” The significance of this is not the controversy of the issue but that this man has shown, to a certain degree,  a level of human compassion that does matter.

The President later tweeting, with his tiny fingers, “Blame Judges and Courts if America is attacked.”

So to what degree does a dog get to bite the hands of its people? If the President was elected by the people how is it a functional relationship if he neglects the very people he was placed in that position to defend? If a system collapses because you have a President overruling a democratically operating country’s Justice Department, then how can you be sure that he is acting in the best interests of The Secretary of Education when they are dealing with the protection of at-risk kids or one in five female students who are being sexually harassed at school?

I remember a time of disillusionment when I would build a tower and break it down without any larger scale implications that maybe just maybe philosophically everybody has those same desires. Until he was elected on my birthday.

Put simply, the United States is responsible for putting him there, dispute that how you want, he is there. It is now your job to make sure the tower, your Federal Governing body and all of its Departments, do not collapse. By showing humility in the face of appalling atrocities. It’s the small acts of humane-ness that support a nation, not the legislatures and policies placed there to force structure.

“You see, freedom has a way of destroying things.”
Scott Westerfeld