When the Namibia team arrived at Gisborne; Te Kura o Manutuke kapa haka group were there to greet them at the airport before a full scale official powhiri at Te Poho o Rawiri marae.† Rugby World Cup director, OíRegan Hoskins described it as a wonderful cultural experience that had given him ‘goosebumps’, and one he would remember for the rest of his life.

Right across the country, as the 19 visiting teams have landed in Aotearoa, reports of the welcome received have been consistently positive Ė spine-thrilling; passionate; joyous; remarkable.

It makes me so proud, that when the world is watching, the call of tangata whenua is the first voice heard.

And it has been great to see the generosity of the welcome to all our manuhiri as expressed in the opening ceremony and the hosting of the teams has been embraced by the whole country.

We all shared a collective heartbeat, as we watched the incredible sight of the fleet of waka opening the official celebrations; the passion of the multiple haka knew no bounds.†† The opening ceremony at Eden Park was an incredible celebration of Maori but also the Pacific spirit with the beating of the drums; the tivaevae patterns, and the coming together of many peoples culminating in the spectacular firework finish.

The exhilaration of the opening has been infectious.†† As Iíve travelled around Iíve been excited to see such expressions of cultural identity with flags on every second car; houses decorated with their national colours; the pride of our Tongan whanaunga has been second to none.†† And the flash mob ‘haka’ phenomenon springing up in Queen St, Lambton Quay or even downtown Whanganui has added to the sense of moment.

It has made our nation aware, in the most exuberant way, that culture counts.

And I canít help but compare this carnival atmosphere with a simple statement made in a report by the PMís chief science advisor, Professor Gluckman, a couple of months back.†† That report, Improving the Transition, focused on addressing the many challenges facing our young people today.†† The statement read ďIn a society that protects against racism by law, there may be a high level of denial that ethnicity is important or indeed that racism existsĒ.

It was a pretty challenging statement† – to raise the possibility of institutional racism being evident; and unsurprisingly it hasn’t received much attention.† We have to ask why when there appears so much concern about all that is wrong that we aren’t looking for every solution!

In the past week, the Warehouse has sold more than 100,000 flags alone.† My hope is that as we look at all the different flags flying across our highways over these next two months, we start thinking about how we can be proud of the role that culture plays in our lives.†† What can we do as health workers, as teachers, as inlaws, as police officers, as friends, to really demonstrate our respect for the cultural authenticity of all those we come into contact with?

We know that culture counts.†† Try telling Ngati Kahungunu that it doesnít matter where Israel Dagg or Zac Guildford hail from!†† It matters where we come from, who we connect to, who we are.

Pride.† Confidence.†† Connection.†† Collective ownership.† These are all positive characteristics that help us succeed on the field and off.†† Letís keep waving those flags in every aspect of our lives.† Stand tall.†† Stand Proud.

Authorised by Tariana Turia, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

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