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Toitu te Wahine - Tariana Turia Speech

Hon Tariana Turia
18 June 2002 Speech Notes

Toitu te Wahine

E nga iwi o nga hau e wha, tena koutou katoa.

[Poroporoaki ki a Miria Simpson]

I am a descendant of te awa o Whanganui.

The whakapapa, traditions and history of the many whanau and hapu, up and down the river, are so closely intertwined that we are known as ‘te Taura Whiri a Hinengakau’.

This is the starting point of my korero tonight – my tupuna Hinengakau, and mana wahine.

Maori history is full of stories of mana wahine. Papatuanuku is the mother of our atua, and through them, all of creation. Hine Ahu One is the female element, found in the earth, from whom all human beings were born.

Western feminist thinkers might think that women have less influence in the whanau or the hapu because they do not whaikorero.

I do not agree. If we look a little deeper into our tikanga, we might conclude that women are the foundation of tangata whenua communities.

The connections between people and land are strongly female. Hapu, whanau and whenua, pregnancy, birth and after-birth, are the building blocks of our society and culture.

On the marae it is the tangata whenua who determine what takes place.

Communities are recognised as tangata whenua by their whakapapa to the land. They are the fixed, permanent, established communities.

In the pohiri, the tangata whenua and their house play a female role, in relation to the manuhiri, who come and go.

The saying: “Whatungarongaro he tangata, toitu he whenua” applies to the mortality of people in relation to the enduring land. Could it also relate to visitors coming and going in relation to settled communities, or to the changeable nature of men in relation to the constancy of women?

Perhaps this is why you have called this gathering ‘Toitu te Wahine’.

I put forward these ideas to stimulate thought and discussion.

I do think that our tikanga, and our taonga tuku iho in the form of traditional knowledge and wisdom, are relevant to us today as tangata whenua.

They are a source of power, if we can understand them, and use them properly.

I look to our korero tupuna and purakau for inspiration, and for guidance in contemporary situations.

For example, an understanding of our tikanga might explain why efforts to promote te reo Maori seem to be most successful when they are led by women. The kohanga reo movement is the prime example.

Why is this so when, on the face of it, our tikanga allocates to men the main speaking role?

We need to think about these things.

The reality is that many women have become outstanding leaders and spokespeople. I hesitate to name the few, because there are so many others – but I think of Nganeko Minhinnick, and the late Eva Rickard, standing fast on their lands.

I think of our women MPs, like Iriaka Ratana, and Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, the first to become a Cabinet Minister.

At this point I would like to pay tribute to my colleague, Sandra Lee, the current Minister of Conservation, Local Government and Associate Maori Affairs Minister, who is retiring at this election.

I want to pay tribute to her vision and determination that our people should be able to take charge of their own development. She has fought hard to ensure tangata whenua play a proper role in local government and conservation through ordinary processes of government.

As a representative of Aotearoa in international forums, Sandra has been the face of tangata whenua on the world stage. I will miss her, and I hope she will continue to work for the changes she has pursued so vigorously in Parliament.

Looking around tonight, it’s also noticeable how well our women do in business.

Is this a new role for women, or is it that our tikanga are finding new expression under changing circumstances?

Let’s think about a traditional female art, weaving. The technical skills of weavers were highly valued in the old days. Thanks to the late Dame Rangimarie Hetet and her whanau, they are very much alive today.

Weaving has always been seen as a metaphor for building human relationships. This is also a female art. The proper way to cut flax, dyeing, weaving patterns, the pa harakeke itself – all have strong female and family connotations.

This brings me back to my tupuna, Hinengakau, and her taura whiri. The plaited rope is of muka tangata – the many threads of whakapapa, carefully interwoven to maximise the strength of the people as a whole.

This female skill, networking and building relationships, is our theme for this evening. It’s obviously vital to business development.

What might Hinengakau, as a weaver, have to say about business development?

Well, she might have pointed out that weaving begins with the pa harakeke, the whanau. You must be able to recognise its special potential.

Each different type of harakeke had its uses. Some produced strong, coarse fibre, other varieties were softer. Whanau, too, have their own strengths.

Second, you must harvest the harakeke in a way that promotes regrowth. So you must look after and develop the whanau as a resource for the future.

The next step, processing the muka, is like workforce development. It requires skill, training, practice, and perhaps innovation to bring out the inner strength. Your investment at this stage is what determines the quality of the finished product.

Finally, the weaving is perhaps the management of the business. You draw together the prepared fibre to create something useful and valuable, whether a beautiful korowai, or an indispensable kete kumara.

In this way, I think our tikanga and korero tupuna can offer insights into how to get the best results from our efforts to develop as tangata whenua.

The lesson may be that our businesspeople, women and men, have a competitive advantage when they harness the traditional strengths of women and tangata whenua – promoting individual and whanau development, and hosting and looking after others.

It’s no surprise that tangata whenua feature in people-oriented businesses - education and training, tourism, and service industries that rely on networking and relationship building.

I’m told that Maori businesswomen’s enterprises already contribute more than one billion dollars a year to the national economy.

I celebrate this success as an example of the enduring value of our tikanga tuku iho.


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