28 Jul 2021

Abuse in care: 'In our culture, we do not talk about abuse'

10:49 am on 28 July 2021

The shame of having been abused while in care and the consequences it has on a survivor's family has been outlined to the inquiry into abuse in care.

Royal Commission Abuse in Care inquiry.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The Royal Commission is this week focusing on how abuse affected Pacific people living in this country.

While some are willing to be named, others feel the need to tell their story anonymously.

Sixty-year-old T-Y went before the inquiry anonymously. He went into care at the age of 12, after running away from home.

He said it took a lot of convincing to come forward.

''I'm not using my real name for many reasons. One of them is because I want to protect my family. I do not want them to feel any shame or hurt because I am speaking out today. I am a Samoan and in our culture, we do not talk about abuse. We would rather suffer in silence.''

He said there are many cultural barriers to coming forward.

''Knowing my name and my face has consequences for my family too. I am here today because we still have brown kids in the system and I hope that history will not repeat itself.''

T-Y lived with his grandparents from an early age. He describes them as very traditional Samoans.

''My grandparents use to give us hidings. My grandmother was lethal. She would usually ask me to go and get a stick so she could give one of my other siblings a hiding. If I brought her something too small I was the one that got the hiding.''

T-Y said the church plays an important part in Samoan culture, but its message telling people not to spare the stick is wrong and it has a lot to answer for.

''Because of my grandparents involvement with the church, everything looked good from the outside, but within the walls of our home it was very different. Things weren't as good as they should have been.''

He has been married 45 years to a Māori woman and decided to bring up his children as Māori because he believes they will have an easier life.

''If I raised my children as Samoans, they would have had a hard life like I did. I don't speak Samoan to my kids. They know that they are Samoan and they know they have Samoan relatives, but I have done my best to protect them from the life that I had.''

He said coming forward to the Commission should not be seen as putting his people on trial.

''Being Samoan is not a bad thing. Our culture is not bad. My kids do ask me about the Samoan culture and if you were to ask any of my kids what they know about my aiga or my culture you won't ever here bad stories because I haven't told them that it's bad. I always try and let them know that Samoans are good people. We just have a different way of being raised.''

He said there are a lot of rules when you are Samoan, especially when the church is involved.

''This is why I give my kids a lot of freedom too. I let them do what they want to. I want to stop the cycle and I want our people to know that there's a better was of dealing with things, other than using the jandal.''

T-Y spent time in Owairaka Boys' Home where he experienced racism and both physical and sexual abuse.

He reflected on his experience in state care and redress for survivors saying, while apologies are good, they are meaningless without action.

''It is easy to come out and apologise but, if the system is still wrecked, then they need to fix the system. We always had a saying back in the day, if you are born white then you have got a leg in the door. Us Islanders we didn't even have a key.''

''In care, they should have things for Māori and Pacific kids to show that they care about them. In our day there was nothing for us Pacific or Māori. We always had to do everything the palagi way.''

T-Y said he is still haunted by his experiences in state care.

''I think my life would have been better spiritually and emotionally if I never went into care. That is what has bothered me in my life. A lot of wrongs were done there and I was a part of bad things that happened there.''

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