Justice summit and “unless we’re willing to decolonise”

Green MP continues to attract attention on Twitter. On Tuesday she said “We can’t fix our justice system unless we’re willing to decolonise. That begins with handing the mic over to tangata whenua.”

Someone else asked the obvious question: What does willingness to decolonise mean?

Ghahraman:

It means acknowledging this prison industrial syndrome existed before colonisation.

I have no idea what she means by that.

It means prioritising Māori tikanga at every level so tangata whenua have the outcomes they deserve in health, education, employment…Mostly, that they get to say what those systems looks like.

Certainly Māori should have a say in what health, education, employment systems should look like, but those systems have to cater for all New Zealanders – better for Māori for sure, but for everyone else too.

Ghahraman wasn’t the only person referring to colonisation.

Sio is an Labour MP (who migrated to New Zealand from Samoa when he was eight years old).

Sure, the effects of colonisation need to be considered amongst all other factors in which (some) Māori are adversely affected.

But decolonisation?

This was mentioned by two speakers at the justice summit. Newsroom: Systemic concerns outlined at justice summit

Former police officer and Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis…

…spoke about “the big brown elephant in the room” which had in the past been ignored but was now front and centre.

“I have to say I’m extremely encouraged by the language that you’re using, the audacious position that you’ve put yourselves in, and the direction – tena koutou.”

Dennis said one of his concerns was the lack of a consistent strategy by and for Māori across the entire justice system, setting “terms of engagement”.

“We’re talking about a 30-year system focused on punitive and colonial attitudes and now we’re saying we need to change that – this is not going to happen overnight, it will take time.”

Laura O’Connell Rapira, the co-director of ActionStation…

… said the campaign group had carried out a survey on Māori perspectives of the justice system, with 90 percent agreeing that structural racism, colonisation and intergenerational trauma were the reasons for their over-representation in the prison population.

“It speaks to the need for systemic change, really transformative change, and my hope is that is what comes out of this hui because it’s been called for pretty much my whole life from Māori communities.”

Associate Justice Minister Aupito William Sio agreed that colonisation was an issue that could not be ignored, but warned there was no quick fix.

“We’re talking about a 30-year system focused on punitive and colonial attitudes and now we’re saying we need to change that – this is not going to happen overnight, it will take time.”

Justice and prison systems largely based on British systems certainly have flaws and need to be improved, as do outcomes for Māori – not just involving crime, but their whole family and social systems, including education, employment and health.

But the current system can’t just be replaced. It somehow has to be improved, and Māori  need to play a significant role in how that is done.

Talking about the effects of colonisation is important, but  I don’t think that throwing potentially divisive terms like decolonisation into the discussion help. We all have to work together on this, an us and them attitude is unlikely to fix anything.

However as Māori   are a big part of the justice problems, they need to take prominent roles in looking for solutions.

Learning from the past is fine, just blaming the past is unlikely to lead to positive change,.