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The need to keep questioning: Aupito William Sio comments on youth, media and new opportunities in relation to Pacific peoples.

I am a Pacific person of Samoan heritage whose home is Aotearoa-New Zealand. I wear the marks of my culture on my body--the pe'a--which reminds me of sacred relationships--Le Va--between myself and the spiritual world, first and foremost. And though I am a mere speck in that universe, I am still a part of that universe and I have a responsibility to shine my own light by serving others.

The tatau I wear on my body remind me that my second sacred relationship is with my fellow human beings. First my roles and responsibility as a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a matai. Not only in my immediate circles, but also extending out to the wider community, my country, and the world--with the roles and the responsibilities that I hold. This sacred relationship reminds me that we each have a mutual responsibility to support one another and to maintain peaceful and harmonious relationships. That whatever role we have, we must perform it well. As my mother reminded me, 'whatever thou art, act well thy part'.

My pe'a reminds me that my third sacred relationship is with my environment--the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the forests, the oceans, the rain, the winds, the sun, the moon and the stars, the birds, the fish and all living things therein. We each have a responsibility to be guardians and to leave a legacy for the benefit of future generations. We are all connected in the Pacific, whether it be through genealogy, through the colonial past of strife and war, or through trade or sport. We are in and of and will always be of the Pacific.

Academics have called us Polynesians, Melanesians or Micronesians. We are simply peoples of the Pacific. The youth of Aotearoa refer to us as Pacific Nesians. Maori refer to us as Moana Niu a kiwa: peoples of the vast Pacific ocean. Maui's canoe is the South Island, its anchor is Steward Island and the North Island was the fish Maui caught with his hook. Therefore, New Zealand is a nation that is firmly anchored in the vast Blue Pacific region.

I am also a minister of the government of AotearoaNew Zealand. I am the first to take my ministerial oath in my first language, my heritage language--the language of the angels, and I will not be the last. I am called Aupito--of the extended Aiga Salevalasi. I am also called Toesulusulu --of the extended Aiga Sa Tuala. I am called Tofae--of the extended Aiga Sa Fenu'unu'uivao. And I am also called Su'a--of the extended family Aiga Sa Su'a of Samoa.

I belong to these families, and these families belong to me. These families originate in Samoa, but their members now reside throughout Aotearoa as well as other parts of the world. I am one of five ministers of the government of New Zealand who are of Pacific heritage. Combined with ministers of Maori or indigenous heritage, we make up 45 per cent of the government of New Zealand.

Similar worldviews

Pacific peoples share similar cultural worldviews with Maori--for example, the principle of Kaitiakitanga--the role of being guardians of our environment, and leaving a positive legacy for future generations. Pacific and Maori have a shared history, shared challenges and shared aspirations for the future. We Maori and Pacific ministers want Maori and Pacific-led solutions to tackle the many challenges our people face, and it is our cultural values that inform our decision-making.

As the minister for Pacific peoples, my day-to-day interactions with our wider Pacific family in both Aotearoa and within the Pacific region have informed the clarity that I hold in how I work and the policy direction I am driving. The interests of Pacific peoples of Aotearoa, and the challenges we face as Pacific peoples, are not confined to the borders of Aotearoa. And neither can we continue to work within our own borders. We belong to the Pacific. We are members of the Pacific family.

When we leave New Zealand to travel overseas we are leaving our home of Aotearoa. When we arrive in our ancestral island homes in the Pacific region, we are arriving home. The Pacific region, therefore, matters deeply to New Zealand. Our well-being, prosperity and security are intertwined. Our engagement in the region is non-discretionary.

Our government has made this clear through its lift in ambition and investment under the Pacific reset as led by the Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters. The Reset is centred on our commitment to building deeper partnerships with our Pacific neighbours. Our approach in building these deeper partnerships is to be open, free and frank in our conversations --where our yes means yes, and our noes means no.

Like a true Pacific family, we need to operate on a level where we can argue, debate and disagree, yet still maintain trusting and harmonious working relationships, with a focus on lifting everyone's well-being. As a region we are too small to be divided. Our strength is working together, our collectivism, co-operating at all levels, speaking with one loud voice. This is especially true in the case of climate change--our story is different.

Passionate voice

Our youth provide a passionate and authentic voice expressing our lived experiences in the Pacific that the rest of the world are unfamiliar with. When others talk of climate change, they speak of polar bears and melting ice sheet. Pacific youth speak of rising sea levels, contaminated water supplies, storms and cyclones, destruction of seafood sources, displaced populations, hotter, wetter, drier weather conditions, with the spirit of self-determination--we are not drowning, we are fighting.

At the recent UN General Assembly Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted for the world that seven out of the fifteen most climate affected nations sit within the Pacific region and that Pacific countries produce the least greenhouse gas emissions but are in the forefront of the climate change battle that we are currently facing.

Our vast Blue Pacific region must find ways to better work together to ensure that we speak with one strong and powerful voice on behalf of all the peoples of the Blue Pacific continent, so that those powerful wealthy nations, who see only dots on the world map when they look at us, will take us seriously and heed our call on climate change.

In Aotearoa, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples that I lead reflects New Zealand's strong connection to the Pacific and the significant Pacific communities in New Zealand. Auckland is home to over two-thirds of the New Zealand Pacific population. Auckland is a Pacific city, but our Pacific population has now expanded throughout all the regions of New Zealand.

We are the fastest growing population and a youthful population. By 2026, Pacific peoples will make up 30 per cent of the labour market. In October's local government elections, New Zealanders elected Pacific people to city councils across the country.

Rising population

This is a rising population that I refer affectionately to as Generation 6 Bs--people who are brown, beautiful, brainy, bilingual, bicultural and bold. This rising Pacific population of Aotearoa are interested in what is happening throughout the Pacific region. They want to know what our politicians are doing to protect and safeguard their beloved Pacific home and its resources.

I am committed to ensuring that Pacific peoples lead the discussion and drive the narrative in Aotearoa on who we are, our strengths, our resilience and our aspirations for ourselves, our families, our communities and Aotearoa. Last year, my ministry published a report, the Pacific Aotearoa Lalanga Fou Report, which captured what Pacific peoples saw as important to them in becoming a thriving, confident, prosperous and resilient Pacific community in Aotearoa--New Zealand. Lalanga Fou includes four key goals that Pacific peoples identified to focus on as being essential to achieve success.

I deliberately targeted feedback from our Pacific young people. They are innovative and strongly solutions based. They have a natural tendency to fuse the past and the present, not only in arts, music or fashion but also in business, technology, community, academia and the public service.

I am keen to increase the numbers of Pacific young people participating in the STEM subject areas as they will become the modern-day explorers, navigators, creators and innovators in the expanding digital and green economy. Young Pacific peoples are leading innovations not just in their communities, but beyond their borders, in Aotearoa, the Pacific region and in the world.

In addition, Treasury released in collaboration with my ministry, the New Zealand Pacific Economy report, the first of its kind, which outlines that:

* Pacific peoples of Aotearoa contribute $8 billion to New Zealand's economy

* Pacific peoples volunteer 27,000 hours per week.

This report highlights that Pacific well-being is more than the usual GDP stats. For us, it means the freedom to provide for one's family, maintain cultural knowledge and links, serve one's community/church and experience the joy of seeing children succeed in their educational or employment pursuits.

Important investments

The investments that this government will be making over the next four years will give more Pacific people the opportunity to lead in innovation, connect to their language, culture and identity, take on meaningful work, access affordable healthcare, enjoy quality education, become thriving and resilient and achieve prosperity for themselves and their families.

Let me share some reflections on my attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting in Tuvalu, and supporting the prime minister's delegation to the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York. Like the new vision we have captured for Pacific peoples of Aotearoa, young Pacific people collectively share a similar vision for our Blue Pacific region--they want a thriving, safe, peaceful, resilient, prosperous, proud and empowered Blue Pacific continent.

At the General Assembly I felt that despite those powerful nations seeing dots in the Pacific on the world map, our Pacific youth have an authentic voice of lived experiences that should still be shared and spoken out loud for them to hear, especially in the area of climate change.

I am proud of the leadership of the Pacific Island Forum and our regional structures, and how well co-ordinated they were in promoting Pacific issues and climate change. We need to find better ways of working together to ensure we have a strong and powerful collective voice that is respected and listened to at all levels by the global community.

While tourism, fisheries and agriculture are still important resources for Pacific economic development, there is another vital asset that our region should focus more on to develop. We have an abundance of a rising youthful Pacific population that requires tertiary qualifications in order to become a mobile workforce generating remittances.

Labour demand

Our Just Transition, and the green and digital economies, will require an increasing workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians not just for the needs of New Zealand, but also the needs of the Pacific region. We should establish a STEM Workforce Pipeline where graduates can access internships in the regional and UN levels.

The Pasifika TV which I launched a few months ago with MFAT is sending content from New Zealand to the Pacific. At some stage we need to support Pacific content being shared in New Zealand. Additionally, we need to ensure that Pacific journalism thrives as an open and free media. That will enhance democracy. An informed public will enhance their full participation in the decision-making of the Pacific region.

Finally, we must not forget gender issues. It is not just about increasing women leadership and participation at all governance levels. It is also about finding ways to address family violence, sexual violence and all the difficult issues that come with it. We all know what those issues are. Evidence tells us that we must shine light on these issues, and provide a safe environment for us to discuss and find solutions. We cannot move forward and realise our fullest potential until we address these issues.

I reiterate again that the aspirations of young Pacific peoples in Aotearoa are the same for Pacific peoples of the region. They are leading in innovation, confident in all their endeavours and seeking to thrive. The resilient and prosperous Pacific peoples of our region must 'Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning' (Albert Einstein).

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples reflects New Zealand's strong connection to the Pacific and the significant Pacific communities in New Zealand. By 2026, Pacific peoples will make up 30 per cent of the labour market. But the interests of Pacific peoples of Aotearoa, and the challenges they face as Pacific peoples, are not confined to the borders of Aotearoa. The Pacific region matters deeply to New Zealand, for our well-being, prosperity and security are intertwined. Under the Pacific reset, which is centred on building deeper partnerships with our Pacific neighbours, the government has made this clear through its lift in ambition and investment.

Hon Aupito William Sio is minister for Pacific peoples. This article is the edited text of the address which he gave to the NZIIA's 'Pacific Futures' conference in Auckland on 18 October 2019.

Caption: Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sia is welcomed to the Pacific Futures conference by NZIIA Executive Director Melanie Thornton (Michael Morris)
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Author:Sio, Aupito William
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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