GRINCHING ON CHRISTMAS

By Ellipsister, Co-Editor.

When negative life events occur around Christmas, does that make them somehow more worthy of our sympathy or is this just reinforcing Christian privilege?

You may well think that I’m just grinching. Maybe there’s a little bit of that. So I appreciate that for some of you reading this – whether you’re an absolute fanatic or a passive observer of Christmas – that my opinions here might elicit an eyeroll or two. Possibly some huffing and puffing on the internet.

Last night I posted this tweet:

For those unfamiliar with the story, it concerns two wāhine that were sacked from their jobs at Talley’s a few days before Christmas, apparently for carrying out their Union delegate duties.

As reported by Māori TV’s online news team, the NZ Meat Workers Union claimed that:

The delegates were dismissed because they went to work to calm union members upset about unfair treatment and tempers were getting short

One of the women dismissed explained that she was told by AFFCO that:

[her] visit to the Rangiuru branch breached Health and Safety policies

I don’t know the full facts of this case but I absolutely support the karanga to stand up for the rights of all workers. The Union alleged that the reasons for their dismissals were spurious. My gripe arises when we are invited by the Union to emote on the fact that their dismissals occurred three days before Christmas.

We know that employers have contractual obligations to follow through on disciplinary procedures, and that instant dismissals are reserved for the most serious breaches of an employment contract. That threshold, in my experience is very high and in all my working life, the only sacking I’ve seen followed a long procedure – where the person was put on leave, following allegations of fraud and then later sacked. Presumably, the evidence stacked up. I’ve also known many people who had seriously questionable work practices and ethics yet the only disciplinary action taken was a verbal and sometimes a written warning.

Although the full facts are not available we do know that NZ Meatworker’s are constantly battling for fairer treatment in their workplaces. And this is certainly not the first time AFFCO Talley’s has been in the spotlight for questionable treatment of their workers. I’m not in a position to say whether or not these workers rights have been breached. I do appreciate that low morale in the workplace can sometimes spill into the whānau home – in forms such as depression, substance abuse, lashing out and/or feelings of whakamomori, and given that these workers were upset and tempers were reportedly short, the delegates appeared to have been doing exactly the job their colleagues had elected them to do.

This post isn’t so much about this particular case, and it is most definitely not a criticism of the women who have been dismissed in what appears to be an incredibly unfair process.

It is the narrative that implies somehow it is less acceptable to be fired three days before Christmas, than at any other time during the year that I am grappling with. Equally important, the implied message that employers who conduct themselves in this way at Christmas, are somehow worse than those who conduct themselves that way at any other time of the year. I mean, isn’t it undesirable employer conduct no matter when it happens? And if Unions are about the rights of all workers, why then should Christmas play a role in when it is and isn’t acceptable to be dismissed from employment?

Losing your job at anytime undoubtedly places a heavy burden on both individuals and whānau. And yes, I get that Christmas is built around certain expectations. I’m not immune to the messages drummed into us that Christmas is ‘the season for giving’. I’m aware that losing your job and not being able to meet those giving expectations during this time presents certain challenges. But I’m uncomfortable with the argument that because of the expectations of Christmas, that more consideration should be given to workers who practice giving at Christmas, while the same narrative is not advanced during the significant events of other religions or cultures.  I remain unconvinced that people fired around Christmas are in a worse position, than those who are sacked at any other time during the year.

Lets reflect for a moment. Imagine if there were a law that prohibited businesses from dismissing people within a specified timeframe relative to Christmas, because of the religiously pushed, socially constructed and centrally planned and propagated season of giving?

This would absolutely reinforce the already existing Christian privilege that exists in all Western countries, including New Zealand. To explain, we are required to take certain paid days off over what we commonly call the Christmas period and over Easter. Our social spaces are littered with imagery of Christmas, baby Jesus, and old jolly white men.

And consider small businesses in this scenario, who are dealing with an employee who is in serious breach of their employment contract, but not being allowed to dismiss the person because its Christmas! We’d edge closer and closer to an impenetrable Statism.

Being under financial strain hurts no matter what time of the year it is. Dealing with the stigma and finding work after being dismissed is as hard for those during the year as it is for people who experience this at Christmas. Just because many of us are inclined to emote around Christmas because the messages of it being a time for giving and family are so embedded in our society, we need to remain steadfast that the situation hurts individuals and families equally whenever it happens. So yes, maybe I am grinching a bit but please be clear that I’m definitely not criticising the women dismissed by Talley’s. I’m incredibly dubious of the implied messages sent by the spokesperson for the Meatworkers Union, that in my opinion:

  1. Trivialised the lived experiences of those people who were fired for ‘spurious reasons’ at other times during the year – perhaps around times that were religiously or culturally significant to them; and that
  2. Reinforces the already existing Christian privilege thereby signalling that workers of a particular religious denomination should have a certain set of rights that workers of other religions or cultures do not.

I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem particularly union-y to me, or maybe it does.

Recounting why I left school

By Ellipsister, Co-Editor

Aaron Smale at Mana Magazine wrote a conversation starting article on the PPTA and what he argues is its failure to date to lift achievement of Māori students. As a Māori school leaver, I sympathise with his argument.

I left school exactly the day I turned 16 and was therefore legally allowed to drop out. My Dad was livid and I could tell he was also deeply disappointed. I enrolled in a couple of tech courses in art and design. Turns out, I wasn’t particularly talented – nor committed. My attendance rate was appalling. Eventually I completed a hairdressing course (and worked as a hairdresser for a few years). It seemed the thing to do – and I was obsessed with creating my own identity.

On reflection that speaks to the struggle I endured throughout my life – was I Māori or Pākehā (Mum is Māori, Dad is Pākehā)? For years I refused to identify as Māori because of all the negative stereotypes that were thrust on me. And also my schooling experience taught me it was better to identify with my Pākehā heritage, than with my Māori heritage. Although, that was a tight rope to walk given I was so obviously brown. It has taken me my entire adult life to disentangle those colonising notions.

Why did I leave school?

When I was 11, I had wanted to be a Lawyer or a Cardiac Surgeon. I was a pretty good student and believed that I could do it. Before you think I had a sweet as home environment – I didn’t. I’m not going to divulge details. Those dreams of becoming a Lawyer or Surgeon were my escape from the poverty trap. I also had supportive teachers that invested time in my learning.

Life changed just as I started High School. I had stability at home for the first time in a long time – but sadly that came with some drawbacks, that one day I may open up about here, but not yet.

I struggled in my first year – I did ok, but not great. I remember feeling like a massive failure. The next year my grades got progressively worse and I started acting out and got into trouble a few times. By the time I got to School C, I was completely lost. I couldn’t actually comprehend what was being asked of me. I didn’t understand how to think. I didn’t dare ask for help, for fear of being told I was dumb – and actually, I’d never been taught how to ask for help. During my time at High School not once did any of my teachers take me aside to see how I was doing and if I needed help with any of my work. I was simply ignored. I wasn’t one of those boisterous students. I was a nobody with nothing constructive or insightful to offer. I was mediocre and lost sight of all my aspirations. A piece of paper with a few letter grades, and a brief comment about me being ‘a quiet student’ was the extent of their feedback. As if somehow I wasn’t self-aware of my quietness. It is in fact, crippling shyness – a trait that I struggle with daily.

So I left school because in my mind, I was too hopeless to achieve the grades I needed to get into University. When some of my friends left (to pursue hairdressing apprenticeships) or dropped out to do a tech course, I followed suit.  I had lost complete faith and confidence in my ability to achieve in that environment.  Sure, I had gotten through School C but barely. I did half of sixth form and on my 16th birthday cleared out my locker and left. Also, I had become increasingly truant – hiding out at a friend’s house, so I imagine I was getting pretty close to suspension or expulsion.

Now, I get that the system failed me. And while I can appreciate that in many cases teachers are under-resourced and overworked – my experience was not just about that. There was no effort by teachers at my High School to try to understand the lived experiences of urban Māori in the small white provincial town I grew up in. Not once, did a High School teacher give me some hope that I was capable of achieving my aspirations. Instead, I sat in class feeling like the walking talking stereotype that I was labelled as in the primary school playground and harassed with on the street by the local skinheads.

It absolutely was my choice to leave. But that choice was complex. I had been ground down to a point where I had zero confidence. I felt my choices were leave and save my dignity or subject myself to the utter humiliation of total failure proving right all those who had ridiculed or ignored my existence. I know now how wrong that all sounds. But those were my thoughts. Turns out, my giving up and leaving had pretty much the same effect.

So the point I see Smale make is that despite the long history of involvement of the PPTA in the education system, a disproportionate number of Māori schooling and education experiences are not positive and this has an effect on our mana. I don’t blame the PPTA for the outcomes of Māori, but I certainly question the monopolising of teaching (gatekeeping) and the ‘qualification requirement’ for a function or role that our tīpuna and many others throughout history have performed ‘unqualified’.

My view on this will likely infuriate those with a vested interest in the ‘qualification’ aspect of teaching. Do I think just anyone can teach? Absolutely not. I would certainly encourage safety checking to ensure students aren’t put at risk. I would also think employers of ‘unqualified’ teachers would ensure that those applying to teach were recognised as competent to do so by their peers. Noting, there are some subjects in which I consider it is inappropriate to require a formal qualification, especially with regard to Te Reo me ōna Tikanga Māori. Many of our kuia, koroua and rangatira have years of experience transferring that knowledge – and in a culturally appropriate way. I also think someone who has worked in a particular field, who has a strong practical understanding of a subject and has demonstrated strong leadership and mentoring in their roles could also make good teachers.

Yes, I get that a teaching qualification sets a professional standard that teachers are expected to comply with and there are absolutely benefits in that, in particular accountability. I disagree however that only teachers with a qualification will adhere to those professional standards. Sure there is a risk of rogue unqualified teachers, but the same is true of qualified teachers.

I said this on Twitter and will repeat here: I have no interest in pursuing a socialist versus capitalist narrative. My interest is in finding ways that will enable Māori to be designers of our own solutions – no matter what system we have because in my mind, this is one of the key ways we can exercise our tino rangatiratanga to improve outcomes for all our whānau.

When we can build alternative social institutions that are not reliant on the State (our oppressor) and not susceptible to the corruptive practices of corporatisation (our exploiter), then we can begin to dismantle the disparity. Dismantling began with the Kura Kaupapa and Kohanga Reo movement. It’s about time the State and gatekeepers recognise the legitimacy of our epistemologies and pedagogies and stop perpetuating the myth that mainstream approaches are superior to our indigenous practices. Its time for Māori to advance that movement further.

 

Note: 

I went to University at 23 when my first baby was 18 months old. The first year was really hard. I didn’t even know how to write an introduction for an essay. Since then, I have completed a conjoint BA/LLB, my law Profs and an LLM with First Class Honours. LOL at those teachers and all those people who didn’t believe in me.

 

Homelessness

By Carrie Stoddart-Smith

VIdeo: Homeless By Streets of Laredo

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A recent project to gain an insight into the experiences of rough sleeping found that while many homeless individuals considered it their choice to sleep rough, the concept of choice was itself much more complex. Often the circumstances that triggered people onto the streets were such that there was no choice. Rather, there were no other options.

At the beginning of the month, I spent two days at a Matariki wananga for the Homeless. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered how many people would show up and didn’t know if their needs would be met. But being part of the wananga provided me with a much needed personal perspective. It reminded me of how comfortable I had become in my educated middle class way of life. The creature comforts I’ve now come to enjoy had all but erased my connection to and memory of growing up with very little, as well as struggling with my identity as a wahine Māori in Te Ao Pākehā.

Upon arrival at the Marae, many appeared visibly anxious and understandably so. But after some kai (food) and korero (discussion), like lifting a veil, the wairua (spirit) of the room changed completely. This moment reinforced for me why being Māori and living by Māori values is so important for addressing the shortcomings of modern society.  Tikanga Māori works to bring people together by restoring balance. The simple notion of sharing a meal is the means by which we are reminded that we are equals and we should all value ourselves and others as such.

The process of whakawhanaungatanga brought cheer to people’s faces as they played a board game, joined in on waiata, or simply enjoyed a conversation – as an equal. I watched as people achieved spiritual relief from the Kaumatua and Kuia who were able to help them with their whakapapa and the glow from realising we are all connected. The value of cultural identity. Observing the principle of manaakitanga in action, through the multitude of volunteers who showed generosity and care for our homeless whānau through the provision of food, health services, and haircuts and treating our homeless whānau with the dignity they deserved. As people and not parasites. However, the heart break as each day came to an end and the cold wintry hands of homelessness were waiting to greet our whānau each evening as I prepared to return to my own safe, secure haven is etched very deeply into my mind.

I left wondering how many times have I walked past a homeless person on the street and avoided eye contact so I didn’t have to acknowledge that person’s existence?

Shamefully, I have done this more times than I can count. I am reminded in this moment of the many privileges I possess. More importantly, I’m reminded that identifying as Māori comes with much responsibility – the duty to ensure that I am actively practicing my values and not simply talking about them on a blog. Because in watching those moments of joy on the faces of people I’d cast adrift as faceless and nameless in the past, I was forced to confront my own inhumanity.

Homelessness is complex and will require a cross-sectoral approach that is steered by homeless persons to identify their needs and aspirations. There are people doing great work already with our the homeless, and there are initiatives in place that are giving some hope and providing opportunity to our whānau who find themselves on the street. But please remember, that choice is complex. People are on the streets for a variety of reasons, some of those reasons more horrid than you could possibly imagine.

My plea is simple: next time you see a homeless person on the street, try say Kia ora or Hello. Perhaps try strike up a conversation. Acknowledge their existence in a positive form. Of course not all people will want to speak with you and some may react with a great deal of apprehension. Be mindful, that reaction is a result of being treated like a parasite day in and day out. Your gesture won’t solve homelessness, but a small measure of goodwill may perhaps bring a moment of joy to a person’s day.