Activism, with Lillian Tahuri

October 23, 2019 Kim Forrester Season 4 Episode 1
Activism, with Lillian Tahuri
Activism, with Lillian Tahuri
Oct 23, 2019 Season 4 Episode 1
Kim Forrester

Lillian Tahuri has a background in central and local government, activism and social advocacy. She has successfully represented her tribe to settle historical claims against the New Zealand government, and she is passionate about the environment, human rights, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. On this episode, Kim Forrester and Lillian discuss the power of advocacy and activism, and why standing up for something greater than ourselves is a vital element of a fulfilling life. 

Show Notes Transcript

Lillian Tahuri has a background in central and local government, activism and social advocacy. She has successfully represented her tribe to settle historical claims against the New Zealand government, and she is passionate about the environment, human rights, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. On this episode, Kim Forrester and Lillian discuss the power of advocacy and activism, and why standing up for something greater than ourselves is a vital element of a fulfilling life. 

Intro:   0:02

Intro:   0:02
Welcome to Eudaemonia, the podcast that is all about flourishing. Plug in, relax and get ready for the goodness as we explore the traits and practices that can help you thrive in life ... with your host, Kim Forrester.  

Kim Forrester:   0:22
Lillian Tahuri has a background in central and local government, working across strategy, policy, planning, compliance and the implementation of legislation. She's also a personal development and transformational coach, and NLP practitioner. Lillian is currently a board member of the United Nations Women National Committee of Aotearoa New Zealand, and she represents the board on the Women's Empowerment Principals Committee. She successfully represented her tribe to settle historical claims against the New Zealand government, and she is passionate about the environment, human rights, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. Now, it's my honour to be connecting with Lillian today, to discuss the power of activism and to learn why standing up for what's right is a vital element in a fulfilling life. Lillian Tahuri, it's an absolute delight to be connecting with you. How are things there in Auckland today? 

Lillian Tahuri:   1:20
Well, it's great. It's early evening. It's pouring down with rain and the wind is really blowing hard, but it's still great. 

Kim Forrester:   1:29
Well, we had a great thunderstorm here in Singapore as well, today, so it seems that rain is in the air. Now, in your chapter for the book Liberate Your Struggles, you explain that caring for the welfare of others is an important and inherent part of Maori culture. To begin our discussion, can you explain the concept of manaakitanga to my listeners?

Lillian Tahuri:   1:48
Okay, manaakitanga is part of our culture, our Maori culture, here in New Zealand.  And, for us, it means caring for the people that are with us; our hospitality, and generosity, and support of people that are in our presence at the time. 

Kim Forrester:   2:03
So it kind of extends your sense of caring and compassion beyond your immediate family. Is that what happens in Maori culture?

Lillian Tahuri:   2:11
Yes, it is. It's actually anywhere we are. And if you work with Maori people, you'll probably see it. and it's wherever they are in the world. They'll welcome you into their home, they'll show generosity, hospitality, probably cook too much food. Just generally make sure you're okay. 

Kim Forrester:   2:28
The reason I asked that question is, in the book - in the chapter that you write - you state that you sort of grew up with an inherent understanding that we must stand up for, and care for, one another because of this concept. Do you think that there is a way that we can all tap into the sense of care for each other, beyond our traditional family boundaries?

Lillian Tahuri:   2:50
Yeah, I think that, if we just make it a priority to care for others, it's showing manaakitanga; it's showing hospitality, kindness, generosity, supporting other people. Manaakitanga, even though it's in our culture, it's also in other cultures as well, so people should just go ahead and practise it.

Kim Forrester:   3:08
Lillian, there are so many challenges today that it can feel a bit overwhelming trying to decide where to focus your energy. What compels you, in particular, to choose a specific cause or campaign over something else that you could fight for?

Lillian Tahuri:   3:23
Yeah, there are a lot of challenges. It's not only just challenges of what's going on around the world, it's also competing priorities for our personal selves; our relationships, family, work, and personal interests. Anything I do, has to align with my values, my personal interests, or my passions, and it has to be something where I can make a contribution. And really, it has to feel right inside, from me. It's a sort of intuition - something I want to do and I'm passionate about, and I'm being driven to do.

Kim Forrester:   3:52
So you mentioned your values there and your ideals. Are they things that you are very clear about and your life? Do you know what you stand for?

Lillian Tahuri:   4:00
Generally, yeah. I generally do know what I want to do and what aligns with my values. My top value is family values. So anything I do, I will take account of my family. Even though I've got other pursuits and interests, my family will always be a priority.

Kim Forrester:   4:17
So you also mentioned there, you will only pursue something if you know you can make a contribution. Does that mean there are things that are perhaps just too big that you feel you can't touch because you can't add any value to that kind of campaign?

Lillian Tahuri:   4:32
Well, I can see in some causes, there are some really brillliant, amazing people in that cause and it's like, they've got this. And for me, my contribution may be to support those people. I don't always have to lead anything. I can support, either by showing up for those people or even making a donation. So if there's already a cause in play that I'm interested, that's got it sorted, you know, I can support in other ways. And it also has to align with me. If it's a cause that has no interest or passion for me, I won't pursue it because there are people in the world that are interested in it; that actually would probably be leading it better than I would, with the passion.

Kim Forrester:   5:12
So when you say making a contribution, it's not necessarily that you turn away from causes because they seem like they're too hard or too big. You are saying that you contribute your skills, and talents, and experience in ways where you feel it is needed most.

Lillian Tahuri:   5:28
Yes, that's right. Yeah.

Kim Forrester:   5:30
So tell me, how do you stay motivated? You have fought for many campaigns and many causes in your life. Surely you've had those days where you feel like throwing your hands up in the air and just sort of giving up. If and when that happens, what do you do to step forward into the next day and keep fighting?

Lillian Tahuri:   5:50
Well, yes, I have fought things for many years, one topic - our treaty settlement - and that was really challenging at times. And I never actually felt like giving up but there was times when it was hard to keep motivated. But you have to understand that some of these things that you're following can take years to come to fruition. It's a long game, and it's knowing when you need to be patient, and taking the opportunities when you can push beyond where it's currently at.

Kim Forrester:   6:23
So I think we live in a 'instant gratification society' at the moment. We are fairly impatient people. Is that advice that you would give to most people who have a passionate cause that they would like to get behind, to take a step back and be a little patient in terms of the outcomes of their campaign?

Lillian Tahuri:   6:40
Yeah, I think it's being realistic about how far you can push something at a particular moment in time. It could be a political, it could be you need more finances, it could be, you know, a number of things, you haven't got the right people in place to do the advocacy or the activism. Once those are lined up, then you will be able to push harder. But it's knowing, at times, you have to go through things to get the result.

Kim Forrester:   7:07
And how much does social change and social momentum count? The Treaty of Waitangi, you negotiated on behalf of your iwi, your tribe, for many years. How many years did you work on that particular negotiation?  

Lillian Tahuri:   7:20
Seventeen years.

Kim Forrester:   7:21
Seventeen years. In that time, you were obviously still fighting the same cause. Did you notice a change in the community or society that, as you were saying, that you found the time became riper for you to push this cause forward? 

Lillian Tahuri:   7:37
Yeah, we knew and were fully aware of the political situation and where they were at. And when to take opportunities and when to just wait time out, because the policy might have been slowing down or government might be pursuing other tribal interests, other than our own. And it's knowing when to get ourselves back on the radar with the politicians. And it's also social change. The way we were doing negotiations was very different from the first negotiations of the big tribes, like Ngai Tahu and Tainui.

Kim Forrester:   8:08
You say that, while you were negotiating with the New Zealand government, you were supported and encouraged by a group of wise Maori elders. So I imagine when you saying we knew when to push and when to pull back, it was because of the wisdom of the people that surrounded you. Would you say that was true?

Lillian Tahuri:   8:23
It was the other negotiators that were part of the team with the knowledge, plus our people back home, our Maori elders. But they actually were also a different type of support as well. Their support was about knowledge that they brought to the table from the late 1860s. And also, I could talk to them and have free and frank discussions, and they could actually give advice, being wiser and older . And also personal support.

Kim Forrester:   8:52
I think activism by its very nature is a group project. You obviously want people to sign onto your cause and walk along beside you. But how important do you feel it is not to, not just surround ourselves with people, but with the right kind of people.

Lillian Tahuri:   9:08
Yeah, you definitely need the right type of people, and it's hard to get one skills set in everybody. So it's knowing the skills that people are bringing with them, whether it's strategy, whether it's policy, whether it's political, or whether it's advocacy. And it's just bringing out the strengths of those individuals around you. But I think the team around you, you also have to have trust, so that you can have those free and frank moments and know that everything's in a safe place. 

Kim Forrester:   9:40
For the listeners who aren't necessarily interested in creating their own campaign or leading their own cause, but are looking for something that they would like to be involved in, what do you think are the qualities that my listeners should look for in terms of a campaign or a group of people that would say, you know, 'This is a great cause who are actually doing good work, or have the right kind of support within the group.' What is it that we should be looking for? 

Lillian Tahuri:   10:08
I think if listeners start with some of the bigger causes. I mean, my favourite is Sea Shepherd. They have done so much around the world. They started with anti-whaling down here, in Antarctica and other places. But they're actually such a large organisation now, that they are doing sharks, they're doing dolphins, they're doing anything that's in the sea, knowing that water is one of the most important resources in the world. An established organisation that they're passionate about, whether it's saving whales or environmental, whether it's Greenpeace. 

Kim Forrester:   10:42
In order for us to be an effective part of any cause or campaign, do you think we have to give our all? You mentioned that you always balance everything with the priority of your own family. Is it okay if, at times, all we can do is sign petitions or donate money? Or do you feel that we should all reach in and dig a bit deeper and, perhaps, give a little bit more of our time and ourselves to the causes we're passionate about? 

Lillian Tahuri:   11:10
I think it's actually a privilege to be able to follow a passion or a cause, or advocate, or have activism, because not everybody in the world ... they're fighting to live; they're fighting to find food for their families. You know, they're just fighting to survive. So I wouldn't expect those people to spend all their time on a cause when they're just looking to survive. But some of us are privileged enough to have time, and even a little bit of money, to actually pursue an interest to make the world a better place. So, I believe that you look after yourself and then you give beyond that when you can.

Kim Forrester:   11:50
Let's talk about privilege, then. That's a really important part of advocacy and activism, in my mind. As a Maori woman in New Zealand, you've been subject to your own injustice and inequality, certainly in our country. And yet, after working in Afghanistan for some time, you began to fight for the rights of women and children in oppressive societies all over the world. So you just mentioned that, becoming aware of our privilege and using that to fight for those who can't speak up, is a privilege. Do you feel it's more important that we become more aware of our privilege, particularly the rights and positions that we actually take for granted?

Lillian Tahuri:   12:29
I think a lot of us in our privileged state don't realise we're privileged enough to be able to do more, to make the world a better place. And so we're just living our privileged lives. What I do think is, we do need more awareness, you know, that you can contribute to something bigger than yourself.

Kim Forrester:   12:48
So the Eudaemonia podcast is all about flourishing. You have spent much of your life contributing to something greater than yourself. How has that activism and that advocacy enhanced your life, personally? 

Lillian Tahuri:   13:03
Well, that's a hard one. I sort of don't think backwards enough to answer that because I'm a person that moves forward, rather than look back. But having looked back, I suppose I've met so many people from different parts of the world, in different environments. I've actually had the opportunity to see that not everybody can contribute, and understand that, and accept that. Originally, I was of the opinion, everybody should be trying to make the world a better place. Actually, the reality is it's a privilege. So, personally, I think its acceptance of where people are at and being okay with it, but also encouraging other people, if they're passionate about something, do it. Do it, just do it.

Kim Forrester:   13:50
And to see it as a privilege to be able to do so, rather than a responsibility or a chore.

Lillian Tahuri:   13:57
Yeah, I've never seen it is a responsibility or a chore. I just think it's me, from the inside out, what I want to do with my life, and I want to make the world a better place. And that's why I like what you're doing, spreading the joy around the world through your podcasts and sharing it with people. And I think we need to do more of that.

Kim Forrester:   14:17
Thank you. You say in particular, Lillian, that you don't do things for attention. You don't do many interviews. You don't generally step out and talk about all that you do that. But you say you do it with intention. What do you mean by that? And why does it make a difference?

Lillian Tahuri:   14:34
What I mean by as, I pursue with intention, it means I have made a deliberate decision or taken a deliberate set of actions to achieve something. So, it may happen that I am drawing attention to myself, but that's more of a byproduct. So I will activate myself by decision making, or by a deliberate set of actions. Where I think, if I'm sitting here and I want attention - and I'm doing it for that reason - that's advocating for myself, not for others. You know, and I'm not interested in advocating for myself. I'm fine. I have enough energy, time that I can help others. And it also can be unhelpful and distract in the aim of the cause or the activation. I also think that celebrity attention is different to that. I think they draw attention to themselves for a particular purpose, and I like that, because they highlight causes.

Kim Forrester:   15:28
That's a great delineation. So you're saying it's not a bad thing to have celebrity and to use that for a cause, but you personally don't go out fighting causes in order to become a celebrity.

Lillian Tahuri:   15:41
No, or drawing attention to myself in our social media world. 

Kim Forrester:   15:47
Now, many of my listeners will have a cause they feel very passionate about, and they may like to know how they can make a real impact in that regard. So you've done all sorts of negotiations and fought all sorts of causes. What has been the most effective course of action for you?

Lillian Tahuri:   16:04
First, have a go at something you're passionate about so that you've got something that keeps you motivated and keeps you interested. And if you don't get that right, that's okay, get something that does. It's okay to stop doing something and doing another one. But what also helps is, knowing the system you're working in. Know what the social context is of the cause you're trying to push. Know the political landscape. Know the people that support and the people that don't. Know the triggers that need to move, to make the change - whether it's legislation, whether it's a social impact - and have knowledge on your topic. You won't know everything. You'll gain it over time. Don't worry about it. Just gain it over time because passion is what drives you. And be strategic and be courageous. And look after your health and well-being, and be patient.

Kim Forrester:   16:57
Now, it's often said, though, that the greatest change is affected when you get inside the system. You have actually worked inside government, both national level and a local level. Do you believe that it's true you have to get inside the system to effect change or can it be just as powerful to be standing on the outside and pushing away the change from there.

Lillian Tahuri:   17:17
Yes, I have worked inside and outside the system, at local and national level. What I have seen in my lifetime, and I believe, that we can make a change from anywhere we are. And I believe that pressure groups or activists are necessary to push from the outside, for the change to happen on the inside - unless it's a political interest that it started with. A lot of social change comes from activists. So, I think that it doesn't matter where you are in the system. I mean, the Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1975 was triggered by the land protests, which laid the path for the treaty settlements that we still have today. And all the activism that took place in 1984 - anti-nuclear protests - led to the legislation being passed which banned nuclear armed and powered ships coming into New Zealand. And we can see in Hong Kong, what's going on now, because of the sheer numbers, and the support, and the continuous struggle of the Hong Kong people. 

Kim Forrester:   18:19
So that raises two questions in my mind. Firstly, can we affect change across long distances? So you currently fight for women and for children around the world. Can we really make a difference when we're sitting halfway around the world?

Lillian Tahuri:   18:30
Well, you know what ... I think we can. And one of my stories is - and I'd like to share is that - you know my woman's meeting point page? I have women contact me from all around the world through that page. They message me privately. And whether it's someone needing advice on being in an abusive relationship or marriage, I have been able to - from my privileged part of the world, with internet access and time - been able to help people out with social services in their country. So that is amazing. It even amazes myself - that these woman will reach out and I can actually help them. 

Kim Forrester:   19:13
Well, that kind of leans into my second question, which was: can we, as an individual, actually make a difference? Do you feel that we, as one person, can help create positive change in the world?

Lillian Tahuri:   19:26
I think, even if one person shows up to support a protest and marches, it's adding to the power of those people wanting to make change. So even if that's all you do - send a petition in or stand in a protest - I do think we can. Or communicate with women from around the world to lend support, lend advice, be there to just listen - that is still supporting worldwide. With our social networks online, it's limitless. 

Kim Forrester:   19:58
I guess, immediately, Greta Thunberg comes to mind. She started her climate strike on her own, every Friday, and now millions of people are supporting her. So perhaps we need to tap into the idea that we do have the power to ignite something.

Lillian Tahuri:   20:16
Yeah, we do. A lot of us just haven't recognised the power of that. We think that Greta's overseas, she's doing it all over there. But actually, we've seen that here in Auckland, with all the students out on street. And we're getting them again this Friday, all along the streets. But now we've got the adults who are intending to come out and support them as well.

Kim Forrester:   20:36
And it all started with one human being. I also see an awful lot of comments online. 'Why doesn't someone do something?' How do you feel about that, when someone writes, 'Why doesn't someone do something?'

Lillian Tahuri:   20:49
Well, if you can do something, do it yourself. Yeah, people point to other people to do it. Actually, I like to say, 'what can you do?' and, if you can contribute, do it. But if you're reading that, can you do something? Is it your thing? Do you feel passionate about it? Do something about it. Even if it's a tweet, even if it's a Facebook post, because you never know who you're influencing.  

Kim Forrester:   21:12
And I guess that's the point right there, Lillian, is that we are all someone and we can all do something, even if it is as small as a tweet or a phone call to our local member of parliament.  

Kim Forrester:   21:23
Yeah, definitely.

Kim Forrester:   21:24
The other thing that I realise we can all do is that, a lot of activism can actually occur within our own families and within our own homes. Do you have any advice on how we can change the viewpoints of those who are closest to us? 

Lillian Tahuri:   21:40
Now that's a hard one, especially when it's politics and religion. But what I think that needs to happen, if you're trying to influence someone is, understand the reasons why they hold their view and then provide a different viewpoint. But people are different. Some may need evidence before they change their minds or see your side of the coin. But it's also, they may need to imagine what the future would look like with the change, and see the benefits off those changes, before they make a change. Because people find change hard. And that's part of the problem why people won't move or won't support a cause, because change is hard. They don't want to do it. But with friends and family and people close to us, generally speaking, we can have free and frank discussions and have no fallout from it. Because we don't want to have fallouts with our closest people around us. So it's having grown-up free and frank discussions.

Kim Forrester:   22:38
Now another thing I want to touch on is online advocacy and activism. I am a recovering people pleaser, so I am always second guessing the comments that I'm about to put online because I think, 'Oh, who am I going to offend and who is going to come back and say something nasty?' Or 'Who are the trolls that are going to come online and start attacking me?' What's your advice regarding social media comments and reactions?

Lillian Tahuri:   23:06
Be brave. Because way actually do not know what's going to come back in us and it can be really hard, and you have to have a bit of a thick skin. But what I do is, anything I put out in the in the universe or in the world - whether it's social media, whether it's on a podcast - I'm pretty sure and confident what I say is what I mean, and I will stand by myself and back myself on my comments, regardless of alternative opinions. So it's having the self confidence also to know that, 'No, I still believe in that comment I tweeted.'

Kim Forrester:   23:47
That's really powerful, Lililian. And so what you're saying is, be able to put out words into the world that you will be able to defend because you truly mean them.

Lillian Tahuri:   23:57
Yeah, that's right.  

Kim Forrester:   23:58
That is awesome advice. Lillian, my final question. It's one that I ask every guest on the Eudaemonia podcast. Can you recommend a morning reminder for my listeners - now this might be a daily ritual, a practice, an affirmation - that can inspire my listeners to, let's say, activate their activism, even in the smallest way? 

Lillian Tahuri:   24:17
Well, I would just like to say - and it's something I do when I'm not feeling empowered - is imagine a moment in the past when you have feel empowered, and you're feeling onto it, and you've got this kind of moment, feeling valued and proud of yourself about something have done. And think about that moment and look around at what you are seeing in that moment, and what people are saying around you, and what they're saying to you, and what you are hearing and what you're feeling in that moment. And then, take that moment and take it with you throughout the day. Put it inside you and live it throughout the day - feeling proud, feeling empowered, feeling 'I've got this' - and just go ahead and do it, whatever you need to do. 

Kim Forrester:   25:04
I love that, because not every moment is going to be pleasant and not everyone is going to be supportive. But if we can just hold on to those moments where we know we've achieved what we set out to do, then it will carry us through. Lillian, it's just been a delight chatting with you. If people want to find out more about you and what you do, and perhaps the Facebook group that you have, where can people find you? 

Lillian Tahuri:   25:25
I think the best place is Womens Meeting Point on Facebook, is where people generally contact me privately, but then you can also follow my page as well. 

Kim Forrester:   25:36
that's great. And you're also on Twitter. What's your twitter handle, Lillian? 

Lillian Tahuri:   25:39
I think it's @lilytahuri and I'm on Instagram as well. So they can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin. 

Kim Forrester:   25:48
Well, I want to thank you very much for your time. Really eye opening. I love the idea ofthe us, not just understanding and seeing where we're privileged, but using that privilege as the fuel to drive us to speak up for those who don't have the same privilege. So thank you so much for your time, Lillian, and take care. 

Lillian Tahuri:   26:04
Thanks for having me, Kim. 

Kim Forrester:   26:06
Winston Churchill once said, 'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' You have been listening to the Eudaemonia podcast. If you'd like to learn more about how to live a truly flourishing life, please subscribe and check out for more inspiring episodes. I'm Kim Forrester. Until next time, be well, be kind to yourself, and activate your voice to change the world.