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‘Anti-racism journey’

Council embracing issue at individual, collective and systemic level.

Gisborne district councillors yesterday formally committed to an “anti-racism journey” policy in the aftermath of the Endeavour models controversy.

The ”journey” will result in plans, resources, research and actions to deliver on the council's commitment to tangata whenua.

In other major decisions, councillors voted unanimously to engage with the public on the introduction of Maori wards during long-term plan engagement scheduled for September; and supported introducing single transferable voting for the 2022 local body election.

The public has the right to demand a poll on the electoral system and will be notified of that right by September 19.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz said she was proud of the council for making the anti-racism commitment that would allow staff and elected members to embrace anti-racism at an individual, collective and systemic level.

“I believe it is crucial we learn this at a local government context to shine a light on the issues and ensure bias doesn't creep in at any level.”

Mrs Stoltz said Tairawhiti Piritahi was the council's framework for fostering Maori participation in council decision-making.

“Elements in this framework support anti-racism through encouraging respect, understanding and participation.

“There is still much more to be done in this area.

“I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to build a broader understand of racism at an institutional, societal, casual, intended or unconscious level.”

District council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said the anti-racism work should include historical and contextual understanding, with research into the council's policies and practices from the past and present.

The council intended to look for practical outcomes such as satisfaction with engagement.

It was an important piece of work, she said.

The debate on the anti-racism “journey was preceded by a presentation by indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata.

She had previously asked for the “anti-racism journey” policy after the council's decision to reinstate the Endeavour models at sites on Gladstone Road without consultation.

Ms Ngata, speaking via Zoom, said the Endeavour controversy was not the first time racism had been raised within council. There needed to be an investigation into “the thread that is running through these issues”.

It was inexcusable if a councillor made a racist remark on a personal level but greater harm was caused when racism continued unchecked by powers that shaped population-based outcomes.

Unexplored and unchecked racism could leverage into population-based outcomes such as Ngati Porou being six times more likely “to die before their time” compared to others.

The bulk of racism was not overt, extreme and unapologetic.

The bulk was subtle and interwoven into institutions and interactions “by virtue of its ubiquity and the systemic nature it has with power”.

If councillors felt uncomfortable they needed to know unchecked racism cost lives. That was worth investigating.

“That is what we are asking of you today — to check racism, to investigate the racism.

“There is no more powerful act we can do to combat racism than to change policy. An anti-racist future is possible and it starts with recognising it and addressing it.”

Cr Meredith Akuhata-Brown said as someone who had experienced ongoing racism and gone through a code of conduct investigation after an allegation of a racist remark by another councillor, she was grateful for the policy before councillors.

In standing up to racism, she had experienced further racist emails and angry phone calls while recently a councillor had yelled at her “do you think I am a racist?”

The council had an opportunity to show leadership in a district where Maori were 50 percent of the population, she said. Young people needed leadership with a more inclusive and restorative approach to race relations.

Tuia 250 commemorations gave insight into Maori and non-Maori navigations, which led some people to believe in “levelling the stories of our past”.

But it was evident more conversations were needed, said Mrs Akuhata-Brown.

The Endeavour models had “shone a spotlight” while there was ongoing hurt from colonisation suffered by Maori inter-generationally.

“We have leaders to challenge ongoing institution racism. Policies and structures had to be examined. Let's keep building and create a Tairawhiti we can all be proud of”.

Cr Shannon Dowsing said adopting the anti-racism policy would significantly reduce the council's reputational risk.

The council was making huge steps forward and taking a role which was unique nationally.

Cr Josh Wharehinga said he supported the policy. It was not an exaggeration to say systemic racism led to loss of life.

Cr Bill Burdett said the policy was “the way forward” — where the council had legal obligations with iwi in a district in which 50 percent of the population were Maori.

After Ms Ngata finished her presentation, Cr Burdett asked her about an incident at a consultation session last week at Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae where he said Mayor Stoltz and councillors were verbally abused.

Racism cut both ways, he said. They deserved respect because of their roles and manuhiri (visitor) status. They were highly offended. He asked Ms Ngata why the offender had not been stopped.

Ms Ngata said the matter was one for mana whenua who presided over the process while councillors who felt offended needed to voice what happened and be specific about what offending comments were made.

It would be uncomfortable when people spoke about their racialised experiences, she said.

  1. Tim Marshall says:

    Kia ora, I just want to congratulate the Gisborne District councillors on their courage to take on a journey of anti-racism. A couple of months ago, I was compelled to express my disappointment in their decision not to consult with mana whenua, on the Endeavour replicas, so it was great to see the council reconsider that decision. This latest decision, that I understand is a first for local bodies, is a positive sign for the future and hopefully a model for other organisations to follow. I would like to acknowledge councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown for her ongoing commitment to the kaupapa, despite backlash that has included the very type of behaviour this journey will try to address. Watching the meeting itself it was great to see the leadership and expertise of Mayor Rehette Stoltz and CEO Nedine Thatcher-Swann combining to galvanise support, while the eloquent way Tina Ngata provided context and responded to the questions was an inspiration. As she said, talking about racism can be uncomfortable, particularly if we feel personally challenged, but being prepared to take on a journey of this nature, especially for us as Treaty partners, can only be beneficial for us all. Ngā mihi ki a koutou katoa.