Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon has given a courageous lead today by urging Maori to confront domestic violence in their whanau. In an interview with Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand, ahead of his keynote address to a conference on family violence, Solomon said: “If we all start speaking out, there will be change.”
This is an encouraging departure from the customary silence of iwi leaders whenever killings and bashings in Maori households make the headlines.
Solomon may have been prodded into action by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who recently gave tribal leaders lists of abused children from each of their iwi and challenged tribal organisations to pay for their care, rather than expect the state to go on picking up the tab. Or he may have taken his cue from the gutsy Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, the former head of Women’s Refuge, who spoke at the recent inquest into the death of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie and challenged Maori leaders to “get out of the Koru Lounge” and do more about child abuse within Maoridom.
On the other hand, Solomon may well have been thinking about this issue long before those prompts. Though not among the biggest tribes numerically (Ngapuhi, Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungunu are among those that substantially outnumber it), Ngai Tahu has a reputation as being forward-thinking, economically resourceful and well-organised – and less inclined to blame Pakeha for Maori problems.
Solomon made the point on Ryan’s programme that domestic violence is not exclusively a Maori problem. Of course it’s not. Yet the worst cases, the ones that cause the most public horror and revulsion (Nia Glassie, the Kahui twins, Delcelia Witika, Craig Manukau, Hinewaoriki Karaitiana-Matiaha, James Whakaruru), tend to be.
Solomon is one of the most influential of the new generation of Maori leaders. Let’s hope his speech to today’s Jigsaw conference in Christchurch resounds throughout Maoridom.