In the third part of Newsroom’s spotlight on election perspectives, Paige Janssen speaks to four young Māori voters about the issues they’ll prioritise at September’s election

JJ Cootes, 23, Tainui, Taranaki, Ngāti Toa Rangatira ki Poneke, Ngāi Tahu

When JJ Cootes left Ngaruawahia high school in 2011, she went to university to study business. However, after two years, she dropped out, deciding the university pathway wasn’t for her. Since then she worked for two years as a peer educator at a youth group and is now an insurance intern with Chubb and AMP.

Because of this, Cootes believes faults in the education system need to be addressed, including making support available for youths who aren’t engaging with traditional career paths, and addressing the stigma surrounding young people.

“Within the education system, a lot of our young Māori and Pacific Island people are looked at like ‘OK you’re too dumb to make it in the world, we’ll do what we can with you, maybe get you to sixth form if you make it that far and don’t get pregnant’.”

“It’s almost like the teachers are institutionalised. The education system is archaic. It doesn’t work for our young people anymore,” she said.

The Education Ministry forecast in 2016 that universities and other tertiary institutions were facing the loss of 10,000 students over the next three years. So, while some students work well in the current schooling environment and traditional career pathways, Cootes says it isn’t the case for everyone.

“You can already tell by the number of alternative education courses that have been brought out to engage with young people, that sitting behind a desk and listening to a teacher is not working for a majority of people these days. When that system doesn’t work for you, our kids are getting lost on the wayside.”

“The education system is archaic. It doesn’t work for our young people anymore.”

She believes the Ministry of Education needs to offer better educations alternatives to capture young people getting lost in the system.

Cootes also wants to see changes to governance.

“If any great changes are going to be made in this country that are to affect not only those living on our soil now but those living 50 years, 100 years to come, our government system really needs a revamp.”

She says that the lack of action on implementing ideas that politicians have put forward in the past has caused frustration and disheartened communities. Cootes believes this is reflected in the low engagement rates.

“You see all these weird and wonderful ideas that get promoted and put up in front of people. Some of them are really good changes with a cause but it is years before you see anything come of any of these ideas.”

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, 25, Kāi Tahu

At 25 years old, Kera holds a BA in Political Science and Anthropology from the University of Auckland, completed a Certificate of Health Science in Māori Health, and is now working towards a degree in medicine.

While she feels strongly about health after being exposed to Māori health inequities every day at her job at Māori public health organisation Hāpai Te Hauora, there are other issues that have become prominent for her – climate change and immigration.

“As a Māori person, growing up we learn about … our role as kaitiaki (guardian) of the whenua (land) and the world, making sure we are looking after our natural environment and after each other.”

For Sherwood-O’Regan, climate change is becoming more and more of a reality, with health implications, and people being displaced in Kiribati a growing concern.

She also sees our inaction on climate change as something that affects the integrity of New Zealand as a nation.

“We are selling to the world the 100 percent clean green New Zealand image but I don’t think we are really living up to it,” she says.

“We are just standing back and saying ‘Oh, it’s a future issue we don’t really need to worry about it too much’ and ‘other countries aren’t doing that much so we won’t do that much either’,” she says.

“Aside from the fact we have refugees and immigrants who are contributing a huge amount and have a lot to offer to our country, we need to think about how this can actually bring us together and contribute to our own mana as a country, to be able to provide that support,”

Born in Dunedin and growing up in Auckland from the age of 11, her father instilled in Sherwood-O’Regan the importance of looking after manuhiri, often speaking to her in Māori.

“It means to look after your guests. Every time you have a friend over or any time you have anyone over, whether it is distant whānau or anybody, that means they get first picking at dinner and if there aren’t enough treats to go around you can bet they have first dibs on that last bit of chocolate,” Kera said.

However, giving up the last piece of chocolate wasn’t a win-lose situation but an important way to ensure guests were looked after, giving her family a sense of pride and fulfilment.

This influenced her thoughts on immigration and her belief Aoteoroa is in a unique position to be able to offer support to refugees.

“Aside from the fact we have refugees and immigrants who are contributing a huge amount and have a lot to offer to our country, we need to think about how this can actually bring us together and contribute to our own mana as a country, to be able to provide that support,” she said.

Petera Hakiwai, 25, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata, Kāi Tahu

Petera Hakiwai’s vote is determined by the future of his two children and what is important to them.

For Hakiwai and his family, culture plays a particularly important role and is something they have grown up in. When looking at various parties and candidates, he is looking for those that best represent the cultural side of him and his family.

He kanohi kitea is a Māori saying that is translated to “somebody who is seen often” and Hakiwai believes politicians need to be those people in local communities, seen within various cultures and particularly at cultural events like recent Matariki celebrations.

“It’s not just about turning up and pitching a tent and selling your party. It’s being there, mingling, and even volunteering it goes a long way in the Māori world. You don’t even have to be heard. But being seen goes a long way,” he said.

Hakiwai believes politicians aren’t seen enough within communities and need to do more.

The late Parekura Horomia was the perfect example of a politician representing the people, says Petera Hakiwai. Photo: Getty Images

“I think there a lot of politicians that I’ve only ever seen on TV. When you do go to a Māori event and those politicians show up, you can hear whispers, “Who is that? I don’t really know who that is”. But if you are going all the time, people don’t ask those questions,” he said.

“A lot of MPs may argue that you can’t do much on the ground, you have to be in Parliament moving and shaking things. I think that will come in time. Representing your people and being engaged with them counts for a lot.”

A perfect example to him is the late Labour MP Parekura Horomia who passed away in 2013. “Everything I went to, he was there. He was at everything. Everyone knew him and everyone loved him. When he passed away, his funeral was crazy, I think even the Māori King showed up which was a sign of his mana and his prestige,” he said.

Living in Hawke’s Bay as a lecturer in Te Reo Māori at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), Hakiwai focuses significantly on the revitalisation of Māori language. While he may be on the fence on making Te Reo compulsory in schools and understanding both sides of the story, for him it is ultimately all about the education opportunities provided to his children.

“I don’t want there to be any reason for them not to be able to succeed in school, especially in Kura Kaupapa. Whoever supports Kura Kaupapa Māori goes a long way for me,” he said.

Danielle Gibson, 22, Tainui

Currently flatting in Wellington as she manages a café, Danielle Gibson one day would like to own her own home but fears the current housing climate will make it impossible.

To her, the housing crisis within New Zealand has reached a national level.

“It is incredibly hard to find a house within the budget you set out with to get a house. Especially living in Wellington, we see so many people on the streets that are homeless and basically they’ve got no job, no money, they can’t afford to buy a house. It’s not just happening in big cities like Auckland and Wellington, it’s happening in smaller towns, with stores closing down, people losing their jobs, and people losing their houses,” she said.

While Gibson is currently happy where she is, owning a house in the future may be out of reach.

“Financially, and with housing prices going up and up, that’s definitely something I wouldn’t be able to achieve.”

She wants to see more focus on state housing.

“Getting those running, warm, heated, well-insulated for families that cannot afford these flash houses. Something that gives them a place to call home. Taking something that is run down and making it well enough to live in. It’s about focusing on that, rather than building all those massive flash houses that only a certain amount of New Zealanders can afford to live in,” she said.

Immigration is also an important issue.

While Gibson thinks it is wonderful that many people want to come here and call New Zealand home, she believes there need to be more incentives to keep Kiwis in New Zealand. With permanent departures rising a further 4 percent this year. Gibson wants to see improved affordable access to tertiary education and more grants for everyday people as an incentive to stay.

Read the first part of the series: Pasifika youth perspectives

Read the second part of the series: Undecided voters draw their bottom lines 

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