I‘m sorry I can’t join you online but the time difference is too great.
I wanted to congratulate the World Human Rights Cities Forum and UNESCO for inviting us to look at our experiences of COVID-19 through the lens of racism and discrimination.
As part of any conversation about racism and discrimination, and as a nation that was colonised by the British in the 19th century, we cannot ignore the impacts of systemic racism and structural discrimination that are an integral part of the institutions of state either.
As many of you will know, for more than a decade Ōtautahi Christchurch has had to confront a range of challenges – from the devastating earthquakes of 2010/2011, through floods and fires, to the atrocity of the terrorist attack on the city’s mosques on March 15, 2019 – the year before COVID-19 hit the world.
It was the attack on the mosques that saw 51 men, women and children killed and many more traumatised by injuries and all that they saw, that laid bare where this all ends.
What kind of society have we become that enables such hatred and such fear to fester and for radicalisation to occur?
What are the solutions?
At the national remembrance service, the Prime Minister said:
“…we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other.
We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.
And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combatting hate to the government alone.
We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March. To be the nation we believe ourselves to be.”
This was the challenge we wanted to take on as a city, and I guess my main message is that the leadership for this has to be shared with the community.
Community-led initiatives have considerable power.
A significant community initiative was to be announced just after the first anniversary of March 15, however, as we know that turned out to be the time that saw the country preparing for the first COVID lockdown.
Our experience of COVID as a city and nation has mirrored others.
COVID reinforces the socio-economic divide.
Māori and Pasifika are far more exposed to the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, both in terms of health effects and employment.
And in terms of racism and discrimination, social media platforms are at once great disseminators of information – going viral can be good in this context – but also disseminators of misinformation and hate.
Proactive campaigns to resolve inequity with targeted vaccination campaigns for Maori and Pasifika receives some negative commentary on social media about getting preferential treatment.
It is easy to tap into the sentiment that someone is getting more than they should, by implying that you are missing out.
The fact that Maori and Pasifika are much more likely to die if they get the virus than someone like me, is lost.
And in the same vein, the origin of the COVID-19 virus being China, gave another overlay for many members of our Asian communities, who felt that they were being blamed for the virus.
This was called out by government, city leaders and the Human Rights Commission.
Anti-hate marches were held in the main centres, including our city, to reinforce support for our Asian communities.
However, these are reactive to a moment in time. We need a sustained commitment to end racism and discrimination.
After each of the crises we have confronted, the images that come to mind are not cities falling apart but people coming together.
We always come together in times of crisis, so why not every day.
The city has taken a leadership role in this regard.
The Christchurch Multicultural Strategy Te Rautaki Mātāwaka Rau Our Future Together was released in 2017.
It had four goals, the first three focussed on the Council as an organisation and how communities can engage in an equitable way and participate in decision-making.
- Christchurch City Council is an inclusive and diverse organisation
- All communities have equitable access to Council services and resources
- All residents are able to participate in Council decision-making
We set targets and measure them, so we can see the progress we are making.
Goal 4 is not so easy to measure as it relies on active and connected communities:
Christchurch is a city of cultural vibrancy, diversity, inclusion and connection.
The community outcomes we are seeking to achieve are:
- A safe place that people are welcomed into
- A commitment to welcoming all & a commitment to reciprocity
- A place where we can achieve common goals, working together
The role of the council shifts to an enabler, facilitator and partner:
- Building resilience and community responsiveness
- Investment in social infrastructure and capacity building
- Nurturing enduring and trusted relationships – deep in community
- Long term solutions rather than short-termism driven by political cycles
- Championing “permission-less” leadership
- Supporting and resourcing community led responses
- Amplifying the voices of the community
It is here that we see the essence of community-led initiatives, focused on building resilience and community responsiveness.
There have been many community initiatives that I could talk about, however I wanted to focus on The Christchurch Invitation Mahia te Aroha – Maori words that reflect action and compassion.
You may recall the incredible response to the mosque attacks - it was the power of that response, which had led a small group of Muslims to come together to explore how we could use that to make real change.
They wanted the flood of support, the unity and compassion they experienced to be built into something lasting; something that we could all contribute to for the benefit of all.
The Christchurch Invitation, Mahia te Aroha, invites us all to take some simple actions in our everyday lives and make them part of who we are each and every day.
We spread peace, we share food, we reconnect with each other, and we spend time in reflection, so as to replenish our wairua, spirit, the essence of who we are as people.
Although developed from within our Muslim community this invitation is inclusive of people of all faiths or none.
At its essence is humanity – and the invitation is to us all.
I was so proud as the Mayor to see members of our community who had been through so much take the lead to offer these simple but deeply profound sentiments grounded in humanity that invite us all to a better way of being.
And the challenge we take with us, as I’m sure you all do is;
How do we keep the unity real; to be a community that stands up for and celebrates diversity, where unity is the norm, where all are treated with decency and respect no matter our gender, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Where there is no room for intolerance, prejudice and racism.
Where we take on the reality of the unconscious bias that undermines our capacity to connect with all people.
Where we demolish the structural barriers that prevent people being the best that they can be.
And when we have courageous conversations about those things that stand in our way of being an inclusive community that values the true worth of diversity.
It is customary to end a contribution such as this with a whakatauki, which is a traditional Maori proverb.
Kia kotahi te hoe. Paddle as one.
Ko te wā whakawhiti. It is time for change.
I wish you well as you continue this very important discussion.
Kia ora koutou katoa.