May Peace Prevail

It’s Friday, a weekend out from Christmas, and I’m still on the road: Auckland for a multi-gang meeting, Taiwhakaia in the Bay of Plenty for a Black Power hui, over to Hiruharama on the Wanganui for a tangi, back down to Wellytown for a meeting with the brothers here. OK, it’s all in a comfy fast FPV Typhoon but it stuffs me still the same. I’m too old for this sort of living. The puku is back again – out there where I can keep an eye on it – and my booze-o-meter is set on a near perpetual high. Beyond the threat of imminent violence gang life can be erosive of the liver and threatening to the heart. I justify my excesses saying that socialising with the brotherhood has all been necessary in the short term, but, in reality I think my part of the change mission is nearly done and I should get back to being a granddaddy. A new change workforce is coming down the tracks. God Bless ’em! We are living in interesting times.

Image courtesy of Nigel Marple

A week or so back a lady named Pip Desmond came to see me, with another old friend, Horiana. These two women were members of the Aroha Women’s Trust circa 1978, one of the gutsiest, feisty, courageous and generally unknown expressions of women’s liberation that this country has seen. These were the women who challenged the Black Power over our attitudes to rape, and, who, at the end of the day were responsible for a change in gang behaviour, nationally. Gang rape is seldom heard of these days. Anyway Pip is writing a book about the Aroha Women’s Trust and wanted to probe my memory, shot as it is with substance abuse. I was hopeless recalling events but the korero triggered something and I went shuffling through the boxes of stuff I’ve gathered over the years. It seems I was old-school blogging way back then, by way of reports and little papers, notes to myself in very much the same form as I write for you today. There are some jewels and I was warmed by reminders of a certain consistency of purpose and recurrent values. Not so warming is the realisation that the responses by the State are still devoid of insight and are often counter-productive. The 2006-7 Report on Maori Education reveals that nearly half of all Maori kids leave school without gaining even the most basic level one qualifications. Forty percent of year 11 Maori pupils cannot pass basic literacy tests, and Maori have the highest suspension and exclusion rates in schools.

I heard Graham Bell from Police Ten 7 on Jim Mora’s programme on National Radio the other day. Sadly, for such a witty and lively presenter as Jim this programme sometimes becomes a right wing talkfest amongst mainly Pakeha curmudgeons of both sexes. Moreover the personalities invited onto the programme tend to be the same as the people who constantly appear on TV in all sorts of forms and fancies and as a consequence the critical analysis is only makeup deep. The Sensible Sentencing Trust seems to have a near permanent spot and there are regular lamentations about crime and criminals. Jansenism abounds.

What the hell is Jansenism? Exactly. You’ve probably got to be Catholic to have run into the word although as a Kiwi you’ll regularly encounter the philosophy. It’s the Calvinism of the Doolans. Basically, in Jansenist thought human beings are born sinful and need divine intervention to become good. Jansenists dwell on original sin and human depravity and believe we need to be saved from ourselves. Am I ringing a bell here?

Anyway Graham – who seems to have managed to pass through his time serving as a Policeman in Rotorua in the 1980’s apparently oblivious to all that was happening around him – was opining about the growth in the numbers of handwringing public servants under THIS LABOUR GOVERNMENT. Ahem! The stats show that the biggest growth in the membership of the public service is amongst the criminal justice sector: more Corrections Officers and more Policemen and related service roles in the war against crime and international criminal gangs.

Remove your patch... Image courtesy of Nigel Marple

The crack down on domestic gangs has had a perverse effect. You might have thought that in the light of the fierce invective delivered at them during the year gang people would be battening down shutters and finding caves to hide in preparation for a metaphoric force five criminal justice hurricane bearing down. But, no, Gang numbers are higher in New Zealand than they have been for a decade and gang presence is wider across the country than we have seen for some time. On a population basis, as a result of the personal achievements of the mayor, Wanganui is now the nation’s gang capital. There is a growing provincial gang profile and that has been illustrated with an outbreak of trouble with Maori gangs in Timaru of all places. There’s fresh activity everywhere. Some of the activity is good stuff, some not so. Amongst the good is the fantastic job that the Te Ara Tika team in Auckland is doing to break the cycle of revenge killings in South Auckland. Led by Mongrel Mob Notorious leader Roy Dunne and supported by fellow mobster Edge Te Whaiti and Black Power legend Wiremu ‘Knockers’ Allen this team has been bringing groups together to solve the problems that lead to violence.

Last month I attended a fantastic meeting the team called at Mangere with a wide range of gang members and leaders as well as community leaders, elders, a Policeman and the Government’s “Gang Commissioner” Mr Carl Crafar. Scanning the event I saw various chapters of the Mongrel Mob, a similar range of representation from the Black Power, the Tribesmen, King Cobras, Stormtroopers, Hells Angels, and a range of alphabet gangs including the SPI’s (South Pacific Islanders). These guys were at the centre of the tit-for-tat hits that went on two years ago. Their colours are brown (for Polynesia) and they look natty in lavalava and contemporary urban wear. They reject the gang label, calling themselves an aiga, a whanau, and their korero is positive and progressive. Roy has a certain charismatic quality and he’s been able to rally this broad street constituency into a pro-social frame of mind. The resources to support his effort are however scarce. The big players in the sector are the Ministry Of Social Development who, through a function led by Mr Crafar, have been given the task of working on resolving the gang issue. However they are risk averse, and, it is alleged, there is an unofficial policy that they won’t fund projects with gang members, which, if true, seems to defeat the overall purpose. In any case MSD are hard work to deal with. As an example: there are a new wave of ‘young bloods’ on the streets of central Wellington. They are coming to the attention of the local coppers. It was suggested by the Police that CART wind them into the successful programme we have running. I disagreed. We are at maximum load already. Such a project needs fresh resources, and, in any case, this crew needs to chart their own course in their own way. Our process is to ask them what they want first. If we assume we know and just fold them into the current offering we are acting counter to our approach. So, a meeting was called with interested parties including the Police. Carl Crafar flew down from Auckland and it all looked good. Not so. Nothing occurred. The advice was that MSD did not have any remaining funding. What? They have a huge under-spend. Do we have to wait till these young New Zealanders create some trouble before we can rally resources? Take another example. At the beginning of this year we decided that we needed a labour hire company so we had work placement for the graduates. We applied for an MSD programme called “Enterprising Communities”. We attended a meeting at the Wellington District MSD offices. There were a bevy of bureaucrats, people from head office, policy analysts, about seven in all. We proposed that we could get about 6 unemployed and ‘difficult to place’ people into work in the short term. It was agreed that we seemed to qualify for funding for a key worker to help us set the thing up. A man named Alan was assigned to help us expedite our application. We wrote a business plan good enough for an honoury MBA in my view. It was huge, exhaustive, and we jumped through every hoop, dotted i’s and crossed t’s. Alan received it for analysis in about April. He contemplated in May. He reviewed in June. He went on holiday in July. He took time off sick in August. He prevaricated in September. He procrastinated in October. He became inundated with other issues in November so a young woman took over. She thought the proposal looked good. All we had to do was change this, adapt that, establish another Trust, walk like a duck…..in the meantime we have ten guys working on a regular basis and I wonder just what the hell the bevy of MSD bureaucrats supposedly working on Enterprising Communities actually do.

The Jubilation Choir at the old St Mary's Catholic Church

A couple of Sundays back my friend Nick Rosenberg came down from Auckland as part of Rick Bryant’s “Jubilation Choir”. I’d heard some of them sing at Nick’s wedding but this time it was the whole crew in the old St Mary’s Catholic Church at Meanee. They are a tour de force and they give rise to most pleasing harmonies. The church acoustics were great. The place has been converted into a restaurant – two hosts, semi-rare, and a chalice of wine please. The architect has done a great job but the décor is a bit naff, apparently it follows an American style ­ must be Louisiana bordello styles from my pick. Anyway, décor aside, Rick and the choir had the place rocking or whatever it is that one does when listening to multi-part gospel. It makes you feel good, and from what I saw the choir was feeling pretty good too. If you get a chance to hear Jubilation live don’t miss out.

Time’s up. I’ve just received my academic supervisor’s review of my dissertation and if I thought I was going to have time off until mid-January I was wrong. A short break beckons but its back to mahi soon thereafter.
Looking back it seems to have been another tough year punctuated by tragedy. Last week we buried our Black Power bro Sam McLeod at Hiruharama on the Wanganui and I say farewell to him as I do to the dead giants that have left our midst. I pay my respects too to the living treasures still with us, Bill Maungmaung, Pat Magill, Helen Mason, Ian Prior, my elders and the kaumatua of our tribe Ngati Pakeha. I thank all the people who have supported me and the work I try to undertake.

Otatara from my back yard Image courtesy of Jono Rotoman

Now I’m going to pick some fresh garlic. The rain has encouraged a last few asparagus to shoot and I’ll see if I can bandicoot some Maori spuds, enough at least for a feed on Christmas Day. I’ve heard that Mikey the Journeyman might be coming down and we’ll gather under the old walnut tree, family and friends, to celebrate life and our love of it and each other.

Blessings to you and your whanau and may peace prevail.


Tags: Christmas  Denis O'Reilly  society  workforce