Director's Update - March 2019

As-salamu alaykum

It’s a phrase I have heard a lot in the past 14 days, as I’ve met so many of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Christchurch. It feels like this experience has been going for longer than two weeks. The depth of the different stages of grief, and the awareness that this poses some hard questions for New Zealand to face, is so much to take in.

But through this, I also saw much inspiration. The devotion to Allah and how to accept one’s self through life and in death was soothing and gracious. The love and support we have shown to each other, regardless of our own faith or ethnicity, shows that the barriers between us are easily broken. And I am encouraged that we are willing to confront and grow stronger by better understanding how to break down the motivation behind the attacks.

The Office of Ethnic Communities plays a central role in our recovery. Our Muslim communities were directly affected by this and need our support. But the reality is that all ethnic communities were directly affected by this in different ways – sadness and fear being common emotions I’ve heard this week. New Zealand’s ethnic communities will be at the forefront of our next phase of work, as we understand and articulate what we as a country need to do in order to truly embrace different cultures, faiths and ethnicities. As a country, we need to genuinely listen to what is an uncomfortable reality for some.

I am encouraged by a sense that New Zealanders are open and keen for this discussion, and for tangible and lasting change to happen.

As we develop the next phase of work, there will need to be a collaborative approach across agencies in government, to use our combined resources and expertise to be responsive to ethnic communities. For action to be enduring, the work will need to be driven by the voices of communities and those organisations working with them. By working constructively together, we will identify the best opportunities to strengthen communities, whether this be products, services, projects or celebratory events.

We need to understand the underlying issues that led to this tragic event. We also need to understand where our conscious or unconscious bias impacts on others, and the effect of this impact. I am saddened that it might have taken this tragedy to deepen our understanding and love for each other, but I also recognise that there are positive outcomes from this.

There’s only so much that government can do. Change should come from us as individuals, as part of the wider community. A change in mindsets. A change in attitudes and behaviours.

I want to keep the dialogue going, and see tangible change for our ethnic communities. New Zealand is your home.

Ngā mihi nui,

Anita