Where Is The Love of My People?
He Aroha Ranei To Taku Iwi?
The writer of this article was recently an inmate at Waikune Prison.
hospitality and generosity are two well-known traits of the Maori people. That is why I feel it is so strange and sad that very few of our Maori leaders and people appear to take an active interest in the welfare and rehabilitation of Maori prison inmates. In nearly all the prisons and institutions the people who take an active and personal interest are Europeans, yet whether we like it or not, the number of Maoris who are inmates in these places is higher, proportionately, than the number of Pakehas.
We must face the fact that unless we find an effective way of curbing the increasing number of young Maori offenders, the proportion of Maoris in prison is going to become even higher. This is especially the case as the biggest percentage of the Maori population is in the teenage and primary school age group.
Most Are Not Well Educated
Most of the Maori inmates in prisons and such places belong to the labouring class. Now don't get me wrong on that subject, for there is nothing to be ashamed of in being a labourer. It is a well-known fact that many such people earn very high wages doing manual tasks. Also, they form an important part of our country's employment structure. But the fact remains—very few Maoris with a good education end up in prison. Is education to a higher level the answer? That, and a broader and wider outlook which takes into consideration the years ahead—not just a matter of living for the present and forgetting tomorrow.
Some Drastic Changes Needed
There will have to be some drastic changes if—and without, I emphatically state, losing our identity and Maoritanga—we are to do anything about these problems. Is that possible? Of course it is. Other countries and races have done it, so why can't we? Pride is very important to us Maoris, and until we learn to equal the skills and capabilities of the Europeans in our present-day society, that pride will continue to suffer.
The Forgotten Men
Can it be this thing we call pride that makes so many of our own people, even the members of social and community-minded groups, neglect these forgotten men? Those people who are in prison, whatever their crimes, are paying their debts to society. Surely what matters most is that they should become better citizens, and find a new, honourable place for themselves in society?
It is not easy for any inmate to manage this on his own. The long months of isolation from his people and his loved ones tend to make him see life in a bitter way. Often, his folks and friends have neglected, or forgotten, to keep in contact with him. Many of those readers who saw service overseas during the two World Wars, and also those who have spent long periods in hospital without visits and news from home, will know what it is to be forgotten.
Many Organisations Could Help
In most districts throughout New Zealand there are Maori religious leaders, Maori Women's Welfare Leagues, and branches of the New Zealand Maori Council. I am sure that amongst them there are some mothers, sisters and fathers who would be willing to correspond with inmates—or who, if they live near any of these prisons, would open their hearts and perhaps pay some of these Maori inmates a visit. Some of these Groups and Branches might find the time to send along used magazines and old unwanted books, or even to adopt one of the Maori cultural groups (most institutions have such a group). I am sure that this would be ever so much appreciated, especially by the inmates of inland prison farms, which are situated far from the main centres. If the superintendents of these
places were approached I'm sure satisfactory arrangements could be made for selected Maori inmates to make contact with interested people.
A Signpost At Raetihi
At Raetihi, the Maori members of the Wainuiarua Maori Pastorate have taken the inmates of Waikune Prison, National Park, to their hearts, and made them feel like members of their own families. This was through the good and understanding work of the Rev. Keith Elliott, V.C., and his charming wife Margaret, and the superintendent of Waikune Prison. This good work is now carried on by the Rev. Brown since the Rev. Elliott has now been transferred to Putiki. This act of kindness and goodness has been kindled, perhaps as no more than a vague glow like the first hint of a new dawn. But it is an unmistakable signpost for some of these inmates.
So Many Who Need Help
But there are so many others, all over the country, who so much need help. At night, when all is quiet and the hours seem long and drawn-out, I hear outside the muted voices of the darkness, and often the sound of the wind singing on its way to ‘te whare kura o Mangareia’. I see the Maori inmate who never receives a letter standing with a haunting look of sadness, and another with no Christmas greeting or parcel, who sits alone in his cell—or who gazes wistfully at someone else's children. And what of the chaps who have no home or friends to go to on their day of release? Then in my loneliness I cry out silently, ‘Where is the love of my people?’.
Te Ao Hou would welcome letters from readers on this subject.