National | Meng Foon

Be the change in race relations in Aotearoa

Lucia-Tui Bernards has a message: Don't sit back and wait for the government to fix race relations in Aotearoa.

That speech saw the Year 12 student from Tawa College win this year's Race Unity Speech Awards, held at Ngā Kete Wānanga Marae at the Manukau Institute of Technology's Ōtara campus at the weekend.

Introducing the national champion of the 2021 Race Unity Speech Awards - Lucia-Tui Bernards!!! 👏🏻👏🏾👏🏼 The year 12 Tawa...

Posted by Race Unity Aotearoa on Saturday, May 8, 2021
Lucia-Tui becomes the national champion! Credit: Facebook/Race Unity Aotearoa

In her speech, Bernards argued all secondary schools should have a race relations strategy, as well as a race relations youth council to have ethnic minorities heard.

The chief judge, NZ Police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha, says he was inspired by her words.

“If people understand diversity, then they understand what unity means.

Having been involved in the Race Relations Awards since 2008, Haumaha says, “There is now more understanding of the hopes and the aspirations of young people. I am totally inspired by what I’ve heard over the years. It gives me confidence that our country is in good hands.

Valuing diversity

Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan says all six finalists spoke with eloquence and confidence about their experiences, and “about where we are today, and where we need to get to.”

“The speeches we heard highlighted the importance of truly valuing the diversity that exists across Aotearoa and working out what unites us – as people and as New Zealanders,” she says.

“With more than 213 ethnic communities in Aotearoa who speak over 160 languages, we all have a role to play making sure everyone feels like they belong.”

The event is in its 20th year and organised by the New Zealand Bahá’í community. Bernards spoke alongside five other Year 11 to 13 students in the national final.

Bahá’í community spokesperson Huti Watson says this year’s theme ‘Kia kotahi te hoe – Paddle as one’ reflects that everyone has a role to play in eradicating racism and building unity.

“By working together, we can find practical ways to shift the culture of our schools, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces and our online spaces. Empathy and compassion for others is essential for building relationships across cultural, racial and ideological divides.

Different but not superior

“We may look different based on what part of the world our ancestors came from, but we should never imagine ourselves to be superior because of our inherited physical appearance, language or culture.

“It is also important we always respect Māori as tangata whenua and the unique status they have under Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” Watson says.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says the March 15 mosque attack in 2019 and recent events overseas have shown that racism remains a powerful force, but admires what these young students are doing in standing up against it.

“Racism is not only hurtful, it prevents people from reaching their potential, or from living their lives feeling welcome and secure. That’s why it’s so good to see these passionate young people, who are already standing up to racism and the colonisation of Māori; and will continue to have a positive effect on their schools and their communities,” Foon says.

Bernards is also the first student to win a national category award two years in a row after last year winning the Tohu Aumangea - the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust award for advocacy. She also won the Tohu Eke Panuku – Human Rights Commission award for impact and the Tohu Whetumatarau – Office of Ethnic Communities award for vision.