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New Zealand Drug Foundation civil society statement to the plenary of the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem

Delivered by Mr Tuari Potiki (Ngai Tahu), Chairperson of the Board of Trustees
21 April 2016

Tena ra koutou katoa (I greet you all)
Ko Aoraki te Mauka (Aoraki is my Mountain)
Waitaki te awa (Waitaki is my river)
Kai Tahu te Iwi (Kai Tahu is my tribe)
Otakou te marae (Otakou is my home place)

He mihi tenei ki a koutou aku rangatira (I greet you all as Chiefs)
He mihi hoki ki te mana whenua o tenei rohe (I greet the First Nations people of this place)
Tena ra koutou (greetings)

Sometimes, when we are threatened, we go to war.

And sometimes, we go to war against the wrong people.

If we decide to wage a war against cancer. Would we do that by bombing the people who have cancer?

Many nations have joined up to wage a war against drugs. And have ended up attacking and harming people who really need our help and support.

I started using drugs when I was 13 years old. When I was 28 years old, A judge gave me a choice: To get help for my drug problem or go to jail.

That was 27 years ago.

I had a judge who could see past my charge sheet, and could see that the reason I was standing in front of him was, ultimately – my drug use.

He could see that I needed a health intervention, rather than a criminal justice one - and sent me to treatment for my drug problem.

And because treatment works, I stand here today as Chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, as the Director of Maori Development at the University of Otago and as having not used drugs for 27 years.

My journey was supported by essential harm reduction services, including opioid substitution therapy with methadone. It has also included screening and then treatment for Hepatitis C.

You are here to discuss the world drug problem, but many of you directly contribute to that problem. You deny your citizens access to vital support such as harm reduction, the support that saved my life.

You are actively blocking progress towards providing help to those who most need it.

I believe that if you are not a part of the solution then you are a part of the problem, and that the major part of the world drug problem is those countries that continue to block progress towards compassionate, proportionate and health focused responses to drug use and drug users.

So the first thing I call for in standing before you today – is to stop punishing people who are in need of our help. We must stop criminalising people who are in need of our help and support.

I am Kai Tahu, Maori, from Ōtākou, Te Waipounamu/Aotearoa, New Zealand.

We are the first people of that land. We have a history of colonisation, dispossession and deprivation and deprivation has had consequences.

When you grow up poor, you may develop glue ear and start school half deaf - as I did. Then when I was 7, I had an accident and lost most of the sight in one eye. I couldn't see well and could barely hear. So I took no part, I grew bored, and got into trouble.

That was my school life.

I left school at 13 and got a labouring job and started spending all of my pay on drugs. I eventually graduated to hard drugs and using intravenously.

When we focus only on peoples drug use, on the problems they present, when we don't ask questions about the wider, broader picture, the why we can miss so much.

My problems didn't begin the day I picked up a needle.

They went much further back.

And this is a story you will hear many, many times and particularly from indigenous people.

In New Zealand, Maori make up 15% of the population but are 51% of our prison population, and 40% of Maori in prison are in there for drug offences.

You see the same pattern in Australian Aboriginals, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaskans and indigenous people all over the world - high levels of drug use and drug related harm.

It's no accident.

You can look at a person and their problems and stop there, or you can pull at the thread.

That's when you find so much more: underlying political and historical factors, connected and complex questions.

And when you follow that thread to its end, you gather new understandings, new insights and you find yourself seeing things in a new light.

As indigenous people we have the solutions to our problems including our drug problems.

In your outcomes document you rightfully acknowledge the importance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But that puts obligations on you to include us in discussions and policy decisions that affect us.

And so I ask, that from this UNGASS forward, the unique perspectives and views of indigenous and first nation's peoples are sought and are included.

If there is a war to be fought, and I believe that there is, it should be a war on poverty, on disparity, on dispossession, on the multitude of political and historical factors that have left, and continue to leave, so many people vulnerable and in jeopardy.

We also need to acknowledge that the people we are here talking about are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, and our sisters.

And if you think about how you would want your son or daughter treated if they developed a problem with drugs then the way forward becomes very clear.

No reira, tena ra koutou katoa (therefore I thank you all)

Tuari Potiki UNGASS 2016 address

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