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Robyn Baker's speech


E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

(To all authorities, all voices, to the many chiefs gathered here Greetings, greetings, greetings to everyone)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has actively participated in the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day for many years now, and our commitment to this important day remains as strong as ever. We are also active supporters of the Human Rights Commission’s work. In 2016 we sponsored the Commission’s ‘That’s Us’ campaign. And we are extremely proud and highly supportive of the Human Rights Commission’s ‘Give Nothing to Racism’ campaign. We are delighted that the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand is focusing its theme this year around this campaign’s powerful message. Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day to pay tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. For UNESCO it also a day to reaffirm our commitment to countering antisemitism, racism and all other forms of intolerance that may lead to group targeted violence. Teaching the lessons of the Holocaust is fundamental to establishing respect for human rights, basic freedoms and the values of tolerance and mutual respect. By looking back and learning from the past we are able to create the future we want and need. Because racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are so often the causes of war in the minds of men and women, UNESCO has always placed the struggle against racism at the heart of its action.

As early as 1949, UNESCO launched a major global programme to combat racism, established in collaboration with leading intellectuals of the time. UNESCO has

implemented human rights education in school curricula globally – in particular highlighting slavery, the slave trade, the Holocaust and other genocides.

Over the years, we have set standards, encouraged dialogue and mutual understanding, made courageous policy statements calling for the liquidation of racist and colonialist policies, and conducted research in the social and human sciences. In our work, we have been strongly supported by a wide range of human rights defenders, non-governmental organisations and grass-roots associations at local, national and international levels.

We have enjoyed some remarkable success along the way. In 1966, UNESCO officially recognised Apartheid as a “crime against humanity”. The victory in the long fight against apartheid in South Africa – to which UNESCO greatly contributed – reminds us that, with joint commitment, we can overcome attitudes that may seem entrenched and impassable.

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO’s vision is ‘Toitū te māramatanga, toitū te ora, toitū te whenua’. Through sharing and building knowledge and being purposeful in our actions we aim to sustain the health and wellbeing of our land and who we are in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The actions we take include supporting community initiatives that we believe will further this goal. A good example of this was our support of the Big Girls project last year, led by Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre Trust. This involved bringing immigrant women together to make giant puppet representatives of their culture to parade at events. The workshops and these women’s presence at community events served to break down barriers and stereotypes. Not only were the women able to share knowledge, they taught others in the community about their cultures and reminded them of the rich diversity that exists in this country. The more we are able to build mutual understanding, the more tolerance we will encourage in our communities.

The catch phrase ‘give nothing to racism’ is clever and very apt, and it’s heartening to hear how many New Zealanders have been exposed to this message already. It is heartening too that so many voices are calling for us all to never be silent about racism. However, if we are really to reframe our own minds and actions, and the minds

of actions of others, we need to encourage collective action and a learning mind set, not one that is judgemental.

I want to illustrate with two personal stories. As a teacher of science and biology I worked with groups of Pacific Island students. In general they quietly completed the classwork but contributed little to the class conversation and their achievement was limited. I knew that I wasn’t engaging their minds but it wasn’t until I read of the research undertaken by Alison Jones at an Auckland secondary school—recorded in the book At school I have got a chance, published in 1991—that I recognised that I had failed to engage with their lives, their knowledge and their experiences. I remember feeling devastated that I had unthinkingly not worked with these students to anchor the learning of school within the context of their lives. That I had employed practice that we would now call casual racism. The lesson I learnt had a significant impact on my subsequent work as a science educator, curriculum developer, teacher educator, researcher and leader. Along with many others in the educator sector I undertook and supported research into new practices designed to engage all students in learning. I am still undertaking this work. As a result of the ongoing collective effort today there is a great deal of research and practice that informs culturally responsive pedagogy.

It has been collective action—of teachers, leaders, whanau, parents, researchers, and community groups—that is making the different to educational practices. Changing our mind set and our practices—personal and professional—requires community effort and individual courage.

My second story was to me just as devastating. Again as a teacher of science I knew I was not capturing the hearts and minds of a lively group of Year 10 boys who shared the same ethnic background. I sought advice from a respected authority figure whose feedback is imprinted on my mind: “Robyn, you can’t do anything for those kids; they are like lobsters in a lobster pot, when one tries to climb out the others pull them back”. This comment is terrible enough but just as sad is that at the time I didn’t know where else to turn for advice. While individual action is important without relevant knowledge, a supportive context, and courageous leadership from educators and the wider community it is not sufficient.

As I look back on these past events, and reflect on what has been learnt within my profession—education—and the individual and collective action of organisations across New Zealand, I feel heartened and hopeful for our future. Although we have a great deal more to do, I have witnessed considerable progress over recent years. It is very encouraging that many of us in New Zealand—including the National Commission—are taking strong collective action to shape the future we want and need. The Human Rights Commission’s ‘That’s Us’ campaign, which involved sharing personal experiences to encourage collective understanding, is just one outstanding example.

Let us stand together, learn together, work together and support each other to share our stories and to speak up about any negative actions we see. Together we can foster a culture that refuses to tolerate racism, in any shape or form. Thank you.


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