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Turia: Speech Flaxmere, Hastings Mon 15 Nov 2004

Speech To Aotearoa World Indigenous Women And Wellness Gathering, Te Aranga Marae, Flaxmere, Hastings Monday 15 November 2004

Tariana Turia, Co-Leader, Maori Party

There is a waiata here in Ngati Kahungunu written by one of the organisers of this gathering, Ngatai Huata:

Ka Ora te wahine Puapua Ka ora te Whânau – Pûâwai Ka ora te Hapû – Pûâwânanga Ka ora te Hapû - Pûâwânanga

If the woman is cherished Then the family will have wellness In turn the communities will be strong Thus the beauty of the tribe will be seen.

I come here today to celebrate our indigenous sisters from thirty-two nations. In doing so, I commend your leadership in your families, your communities and your tribes. Leadership borne of your traditions, leadership which embraces the very essence of who you are.

As I look around at you all, I am reminded of our great kuia who have gone before us; who influenced our lives and who helped shape our destinies.

You in turn are shaping the destinies of your own whanau, hapu and iwi; and nations. And like our kuia, you will be remembered for the impressions and actions you leave for posterity. Each of us, and collectively, are shaping whakapapa for the future.

I pay tribute to all of you on your journey - as we realise and discover our true potential –valuing the essence of our being.

And it is about the essence of who we are that I want to focus on today.

Our greatest challenge in front of us, as indigenous women, is in restoring to ourselves the practices and thinking that distinguish us as tangata whenua – people of the land.

I believe that every day, tangata whenua are involved in a proud revolution, an affirmation of our unique existence. Day in, day out, in many immeasurable ways, we are participants in a dance of defiance, which distinguishes us as unique.

What is unique to us as indigenous women is grounded in the sacredness of te whare tangata : the concept of the nurturing place of future generations.

It was this concept which had prominence at the International Indian Treaty Council meeting held in Ajumawi Territory, Northern California, earlier this year. One of the declarations made at that forum promotes our reverence for te whare tangata;

‘Whereas the women’s body is a sacred place and in protection of sacred places, the women’s body, the woman’s womb and the birthing places of all the female nations, must also be protected, and this is the first step to protect the child, to protect the future’ . In the waiata, the purakau, the whakatauaki o Aotearoa, we are familiar with the notion that ‘Ko te wahine te kaitiaki o te whare tangata’ (women are the guardians of the house of humanity).

Women are therefore imbued with a status which requires care, protection and respect in honour of the expectation that in protecting the child, we are indeed protecting the future.

Our special status as women is also represented through the use of the word ‘whenua’ to describe both land and afterbirth, and the use of the word ‘hapu’ to mean both pregnant and our social organisation as a large kinship group.

We have many different varieties of whakatauki, of proverbs, which speak of the nourishing roles that both women and land fulfil, without which humanity would be lost. A common one is the saying:

‘He wahine, he whenua, e ngaro ai te tangata’ – meaning by women and land men are lost.

In this we recognise, one of the principle ancestors of all Maori, Papatuanuku, the earth, is of the female element – and is cherished in our daily rituals and blessings.

The sacred connection between te whare tangata and Papatuanuku is a concept which resonates with indigenous women across the globe. The native Hawaiian leader, Mililani Trask, puts it clearly:

‘All indigenous women know that we're placed here to be guardians of the sacred Earth, our mother. We are her daughters; that is our calling, that is our place. We know this from the time of our birth, and even before, in our mother's womb ’.

It is this calling which inspires us to uphold a collective responsibility to protect the principle of the sanctity of Te Whare Tangata.

We can do this in many ways.

For those who are working at the level of bureaucracies, we can enshrine these values in our thinking on policy matters which apply to health, to indigenous women, to areas such as domestic violence.

For how can we say on one hand that women hold the precious status of te whare tangata and yet turn a blind eye to the fact that women are being beaten up, and with that, her genealogy and her past violated, her present abused, her future threatened.

In Aotearoa, a good example of how such thinking can apply in policy is the Cervical Screening Regulations. The Regulations contain an explicit provision which requires the Kaitiaki Group to have regard to the principle of the sanctity of Te Whare Tangata .

At the level of practice, of service delivery, we can accord status to this principle by seeing advocates of te whare tangata as having specialist knowledge.

In our health services we could ensure a kuia is on hand when critical decisions about sexual and reproductive health are being made. So in effect, we will be acknowledging that the advice of the medical practitioners is one input; the specialist knowledge of our kuia about the value of our womb, the sanctity of te whare tangata, is also able to be influential.

I have been thinking about this model a lot in the context of recent legislation passed in New Zealand, in which MPs voted to retain the current abortion laws. The Care of Children Bill was passed overwhelmingly, retaining the status quo in which parental notification is not required for under-16-year-olds seeking an abortion.

The Maori Party promotes the concept of whanau support, particularly our kuia, to guide young people in making such a significant decision. In an area so sacred as that of conception and child-birth, the factors weighing heavy are more than just medical or clinical alone.

Being a Party of One, our opposition was not sufficient to overturn the vote, but we will continue to promote the concept of whanau support in any discussions about reproductive health. Finally, in our every day lives, the respect for this concept comes through in clearly explaining and describing how it influences practices such as sitting on tables or walking over people. We can talk about how such practices contravene the tapu, the sacred and nurtured status of te whare tangata, our role as guardians of life.

I know too, of many women who are weavers, who at critical points in their lives have found their well-ness through their connection with Papatuanuku, with her resources, and particularly the gift of harakeke, flax.

Such women have become kaitiaki of the flax, guardians of the flax bushes around their marae and around their family homes, respecting the healing properties of working with their environment. I have talked today about just one aspect of the many philosophies and values which guide our ways of being in the world. Being indigenous brings with it a complex and intimate world where our landscape, our relationships and kinship with our rivers, our mountains, Papatuanuku, the experience, values, knowledge and worldview is encompassed within our own iwitanga, our own ways of being.

The spirit of tangata whenua has manifest itself in this country in the support for a Movement that carries our name – Maori. It is the name of our party, an affirmation of tangata whenua – but also a basis for our country, the values and aspirations we believe could benefit not only Maori, but all those people who lay claim to this country as their homeland.

If our foundations are strengthened and remain strong, beginning with te whare tangata, the cherishing of woman, then our cultures, practices, our kaupapa tuku iho, is unshakeable. Strengthening who we are, the very essence of us, we believe will be for the benefit of all people of this land. It is for this reason that our policies and practices derive from kaupapa tuku iho, values that will provide for the well-being of all. Values which are also in a constant state of enrichment and refinement as new insights are gathered from new experiences and discoveries.

It may be that the learning you have shared together as indigenous women of the world, in these last few days, may also be insights you want to leave with us in our vision for the future. We have a vision for the future which promotes a revolution in our daily lives. A revolution in our minds. A revolution in our thinking. A revolution which will work to achieve the dreams and aspirations of the waiata I shared at the start of this talk: for the family to have wellness, the communities to be strong, and the beauty of the tribe to be seen for ever.


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