Maoris Bring Perspectives on Youth Issues, Gangs

Media Appearances, Poverty, Frontier Centre

Here is coverage of event sponsored by the Frontier Centre – unfortunately the paper ommitted who the sponsor was.

Online reviews of novelist and newspaper columnist Alan Duff’s work point out that his “somewhat simplistic message has proved highly controversial.”

Duff admits he’s never been invited to speak at universities in his home country of New Zealand, because his message is too “politically incorrect.”

Listening to the award-winning author speak in Regina on Wednesday, it didn’t take long to realize he does indeed lean toward the controversial.

Duff is currently on a cross-country tour with “fellow Maori personality” Henare O’Keefe. (Maori refers to their ancestry as indigenous people of New Zealand.)

Duff — who penned the novel Once Were Warriors, which was later adapted into a movie — and O’Keefe are billed as addressing “the obvious parallels between the experience of Canada’s aboriginals and New Zealand’s Maoris” and “solutions based on revitalization, affirmative action to move aboriginals away from dependency and poverty.”

In New Zealand, Duff founded a literacy program, and both he and O’Keefe have worked against gangs and violence against women. O’Keefe has also been a foster parent to more than 200 children.

Although Duff made it clear he didn’t come to tell people here what to do, both he and O’Keefe pointed to problems shared by Canadian aboriginals and the Maori people, including issues with violence, gangs and poverty.

Priding himself on his “forthright” style, Duff took general shots at lawyers, consultants, experts and all “people who are on the gravy train.” Governments bore the brunt of his vitriol.

“Governments don’t solve anything,” he said.

“Governments can’t run anything. I don’t believe that anybody, whether they’re indigenous or not, should be depending on governments to somehow fix their problems.”

Duff tossed out a number of “solutions,” including compulsory teaching of parenting skills in high school, tax breaks for marriages that stay together, government encouragement for home ownership, and not rewarding those who “continue to be failures and losers.”

“In our system, you can be a member of a gang, and you go to the bank every week, and you find you’ve got a sum of money put in there by the government,” he said. “So they’re rewarding you for being a gang member.”

O’Keefe’s message was slightly tempered by a self-professed Christian evangelicalism.

“I totally and absolutely believe in unconditional love,” he said. “I totally and absolutely believe in forgiveness and compassion. I totally and absolutely believe in this guy called Jesus Christ.”

Nonetheless, his next statements offered an interesting paradox.

“I’m so looking forward to meeting the teenagers and the children today, because they are the ones that our heart really goes out to,” he said. “I guess this may be a cruel thing to say, but perhaps we may have to write off a generation, just put them aside and focus on those ones that are coming through. Perhaps we may have to do that, and create the leaders of tomorrow.”