Acceptance, respect key to connections

(From left) Office of Ethnic Communities regional manager Shane Whitfield, diversity and engagement adviser Ana Mapusua and executive director Anusha Guler visited Invercargill last week to discuss with community leaders the office's role in supporting ethnic communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

IT is not about forcing diversity on to communities, it is about “respect, acceptance and common decency”.

Those were the words of Office of Ethnic Communities (OEC) executive director Anusha Guler who, among other office representatives, visited Invercargill last week to host a set of hui with various local government and ethnic group leaders.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss the office’s role in supporting ethnic communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

OEC representatives explained what the new Ministry for Ethnic Communities, which launches on July 1, would look like and how the community could be involved in its establishment.

Mrs Guler said the ministry, which came out of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15, 2019, Mosque Attacks, needed to be community led.

“It’s important for us to learn what the community wants rather than assuming what we’re doing is the right thing.”

Other discussions included the outcomes and recommendations from the inquiry, and the ways in which the ministry could stay connected with the Southland community to highlight its strengths and barriers to ethnic inclusion.

“One of the key objectives is how do we create social inclusion because we think that could’ve avoided the mosque attacks – if we created more awareness around respect in a more inclusive New Zealand.”

OEC regional manager Shane Whitfield said there was a commitment from representatives to work with Southlanders to support and enhance what was already happening in the region.

“What we have seen work well in other parts of the country, and I’m sure it’ll be no different here, is around participation, recognition and inclusion.

“That can be everything from the celebration of diversity, through to recognition of the skills and vibrancy that diversity brings to your region.”

Mrs Guler said the OEC provided information and resources on its website, including a database which provided statistics on the ethnic groups in each community.

Information could be used to assist councils in making decisions about how to better include, accommodate and support those groups living in the region.

During the hui with Invercargill City Council leaders, it was acknowledged how dependant the city was on the Southern Institute of Technology’s students, many of whom had come from throughout the world to live and study in Southland.

“New Zealand’s population has changed over the last 10 years, there’s been a 45 to almost 50% increase in ethnic communities.

“So it’s about, how are we transforming to become aware that the face of our communities is changing?”

The last thing the OEC wanted was for New Zealand to become “another America”, where after so many years, people were still fighting for democracy, she said.

“How do we give them visas to come into the country so what are we doing to make them feel welcome?

“We want people coming to New Zealand to feel safe to practise their cultural norms and practices.”

Southlanders were not being asked to do what other people do but to instead respect all ethnic groups’ values and ways of living, she said.

The diversity within the Government was an accurate reflection of the “new New Zealand”, a place where everyone had a voice.

However, it was about having the same diversity of representation reflected across all communities.