3 Apr 2017

Human Rights Commission told it lacks 'cultural awareness'

7:51 am on 3 April 2017

The Human Rights Commission is being accused of being ignorant and offensive in its attempts to get more Pacific Island people to complain about racial discrimination.

This year's 25th Pasifika Festival in Auckland.

This year's 25th Pasifika Festival in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

The commission received 1500 complaints last year, mainly from people saying they did not get a job because of a disability or the colour of their skin.

However, only 40 were from Pacific people and the commission was convinced that was too low.

In response, it organised two workshops in Auckland last week and will hold a final workshop in Wellington tomorrow evening - hoping it could get a better idea of how to raise awareness of its organisation and its functions among Pasifika communities.

Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer Melvin Apulu said the commission's first mistake was setting up a workshop in central Auckland, which just 12 people turned up to.

The commission quickly got the message from frustrated comments on social media that if it wanted to talk to the Pacific community it should head out to south Auckland, Mr Apulu said.

A second meeting was organised in Manukau, but more mistakes followed, Mr Apulu said.

Wednesday night kicked off with the commission's staff introducing themselves. They gave a short presentation and asked if there were any questions.

"That was when the crowd was obviously not quite happy," Mr Apulu said.

"Because first and foremost in any Pacific gathering there's an opportunity for people to introduce themselves and let people know who they are. And that's just a respectful thing to do."

He described the commission's approach as culturally incompetent.

"It's 2017 - Pacific people have been here since the early 1950s and 1960s. Surely a commission like HRC would have proper cultural advisors to inform them of how to engage with Pacific families."

Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board member Lotu Fuli also attended and agreed the commission handled things badly and offended people.

She had some sympathy for the staff involved though, she said.

"The whole reason why we were even having these talks is because they recognise that they lack that cultural competence. They lack that cultural relevance and cultural awareness and I think this is an attempt to reach out to try and see what they can do. And you know, you don't know what you don't know."

Human Rights Commission chief mediator Pele Walker said the commision had a lot to learn.

"We are right at the start of the exercise. If we got it wrong then that's really the point. It just illuminates to us how far we've got to go.

"If it was uncomfortable for people, and certainly for us to hear this feedback, that's what it's all about... We're keen to get it right, we're keen to be engaging and you know, we've got a lot of work to do."

Ms Walker said the commission's research showed Pacific communities did not know much about the Human Rights Commission and that was a concern.

Raising awareness was not necessarily to get more Pacific people to make complaints, but to let them know they could if they wanted to, she said.

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