Ngāti Kahungunu student Jess Jenkins is urging New Zealanders to consider Māori, Pākehā and all citizens, no matter their ethnicity, as equals.
It’s one of her main messages in a speech that won her the Raukura ā-Motu award, the champion award at the Race Unity Speech Awards.
The Year 13 student at Tawa College won the nationwide competition using her own identity as a metaphor for the past and future of race relations in New Zealand.
“There are many messages in my speech actually but I do focus on the conflict that I face within myself, being Māori, being Pākehā, obviously being a Māori with white skin. It’s very tough in Aotearoa society today to have this conflict," she says.
One of the lines in her speech was, “We are all immigrants sharing one whenua, we must reach a place of true unity.”
She says, “We must reach a place where we are all considered equals that we are all, in the end, we are all immigrants here. We started out as Māori and then came the Europeans and then came everybody else and so we are all together as one people and we must realise this we must address this and this is a very important issue.”
Kahungunu student wins national competition with speech on NZ’s divided past, united future - Video / Te Ao
She says the key to unity is “acceptance”.
“We must first actually realise that this is a part of us, this is who we are. In Aotearoa, we come from a place of diversion. We are not actually in a unified society as a nation. We must first realise that this is us, this is an issue that is real, it is here and it’s not going to go away.”
She says the issue must be addressed before looking into the future.
“Titiro whakamuri kia anga whakamua, to face the future we must look to the past. So we must address the blatant separation occurring in society today and in our past in order to cure that ideal tomorrow.”
Jenkins’ speech also won her the NZ Baha’i Community Award for Insight, which this year recognised a speaker who helps us understand the oneness of humanity.