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Tariana Turia: ‘Being a Maori Woman in Politics’

Mana Wahine Course; School of Maori Business Studies
Canterbury University; Christchurch
Friday 22 September 2006

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

‘Being a Maori Woman in Politics’

E nga mana, e nga reo, Ngai Tahu - tena koutou katoa.
E hari koa taku ngakau ki te mihi atu i a koutou mahi i te kura nei, i te kura whanui o Aotahi me Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha, no reira kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou.

My pathway to politics was determined by those who went before me.
It was a destiny that was laid out for me by my grandfather, Hamiora Uru Te Angina; my father Tariuha Manawaroa Te AweAwe, and my mother’s two sisters, Ripeka and Mihiterina, who all travelled with Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana to England, not just once, but twice, to have Te Tiriti o Waitangi ratified.

It was determined also by the influence of Tokouru and Matiu Ratana from Ngati Apa, and Iriaka Ratana of Whanganui descent; all whom have served as Members of Parliament; and all with whom I share a common whakapapa.

It was consolidated by my grandmother, Hoki Waewae; my Mum Dawsy, and my aunts, Waiharakeke and Paeroa, who recognised in me, a spark that they believed could be nurtured for the good of our people.

When I think of the challenges, the trials, the tests of fortitude I was exposed to, in living up to the high ideals of all those who have since passed on, the process of being nominated and selected as a parliamentary candidate many years ago was a mere technicality.

And to this day, their lessons are retained; their words ring in my head, and reverberate in my heart, as I try to carry out my duties in a way which honours them.

I have been thinking particularly of these tupuna over this last week, as we celebrate the first year in Parliament of my colleagues Dr Pita Sharples, Hone Harawira and Te Ururoa Flavell; and we recognise also, the fast and fierce progress of the Maori Party since it was first launched on 10 July 2004.

The invitation for me to speak about being a Maori woman in the political sphere, referred to my role in the establishment of the Maori Party as a role model for other Maori women, and as a significant achievement.
I want to say today, that our success is the success of many. Ehara taku toa i te toa taki tahi, engari he toa taki tini taku toa.

For although one person crossed the floor, and indeed one Maori woman at that, I carried with me the hopes and aspirations of those tupuna I have mentioned, as well as the thousands of Maori and non-Maori who believe in the importance of walking the talk.
Thousands who literally joined us in our walk, with the unprecedented outpouring of anger and grief which culminated in the Hikoi of 5 May 2004.
I believe, in all sincerity, that the success of the Maori Party is due to the mighty momentum of the Maori Party - and the whanau, hapu and iwi that believe in the right for an independent Maori voice to be heard in Parliament.

One the proudest moments for me on election night was that our tiny kuia, Nanny Nui Pauro, was there to celebrate the success. This delicate and fearless kuia, fast approaching the century of age, inspires me to know that our survival and our future, lies in safeguarding the rights and aspirations of people.

Nanny Nui, up until a few years ago, would each year make the sacred river journey, Te Tira Hoe Waka, to recreate and reconnect the links with our tupuna, our ancestral sites. No matter the state of physical health, her spiritual inspiration always drove her onwards, to keep the whakapapa alive.

It is that sense of drive and commitment to make our future as strong as our past, that motivates our future as the Maori Party.

We are a movement of some 21,000 members - our people are truly our greatest wealth. While we have four Members of Parliament at this time - a role I hold as the greatest privilege - I am always conscious that this Party is about far more than as Joan Armatrading puts it, Me, Myself and I.

Being a Maori woman in politics to me, is essentially about being Maori.

It is my greatest responsibility to do what I can, to reflect the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whänau, hapü and iwi within our own land.

It is our commitment that we four MPs will speak with a strong, independent and united voice; to defend Maori rights, to uphold Maori aspirations, for the benefit of all who live in Aotearoa.

We are greatly guided by our decision to live, give voice to, and act, according to kaupapa handed down by our ancestors. We look to our tikanga and our kaupapa, our customs and traditions to influence our behaviour both within our offices and within the House. The mud-raking, character assassinations and personal attacks that other parties indulge in, only serves to belittle individuals and create an environment of distrust and hostility.

So what part, does being female play, in my dedication to the Maori Party?

I want here, to refer to this concept of ‘mana wahine’ - a concept which has only in recent years been introduced into our vocabulary.
I prefer to refer to ‘te mana o te wahine’ alongside the concept of ‘te mana o te tane’, but I suppose it is really about te mana o te tangata: the mana associated with atua, with whenua, with mokopuna, with tupuna, indeed with whanau.
If we recognise, and indeed we should, te mana o te wahine, that does not mean we elevate the status of women above men. Everything has mana, how often do we hear people refer to te mana o te korero?
It is about complementary, co-operative respectful relationships.
I am always sceptical about the move to enforce binary opposites -that assumption if you value women you must be devaluing men; or if you promote Maori you must be belittling another culture.
Our histories, our experiences as tangata whenua demonstrate the value of whanaungatanga; rights and reciprocal obligations consistent with being part of a collective. It is not an either/or situation. We can have it all.
It is why I am uncomfortable when I hear references to kaumatua and kuia, kaumatua referring to men and kuia referring to women. I always thought the term kaumatua was gender neutral, not male specific.
We can acknowledge that, alongside our menfolk, our women have also been leaders, have been visionaries, and have been prophets. Our women have been treasured as wahine tohunga, as wahine ariki, as women of rank.
And in today’s times, we celebrate that Maori women have the world's third highest opportunity entrepreneurship rate (spotting and filling gaps in the market place).
I think it appropriate to recall the advice of the late Irihapeti Ramsden, who said:“there are three kinds of people; those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who never knew what hit them”. It seems to me that Maori women fall into that first category, we make things happen.
Gillian Chaplin and Judith Binney in their book, Nga Morehu, the Survivors, which tells the life histories of eight remarkable Maori women, describes the various strengths women bring, saying:
“Warfare and oratory may have been primarily male activities, but even in those women participated.
Women could instigate war by their speeches, women could take part in haka as a pökeka, or statement of unity, and women even fought in war - certainly in the nineteenth century.
Women also mediated for peace. Many of the economic activities were shared”.
Our women also transmit the histories, the stories, and the values to their children, as the bearers of whanaungatanga.
One of our leaders of the Ratana and Maramatanga movements, Mere Rikiriki, had a saying‘E ringa kaha, E Ringa Poto, Kaore e whakahoa’.
In this she always reminded us to hold true to ourselves, to be self-controlled without friend or favour. It is messages such as this, passed down through the generations, which give us those values which we can take into any arena, including the political realm.
Being self-controlled is all about respect for humility, making the effort to ensure all parties are elevated, expressing manaakitanga towards others.
There has been much talk of late, of the lack of discipline that characterises the debating chamber, a place our people refer to as te whare o nga raiona; literally the den of the lions.
Our kaupapa, our values remind us that it is of the utmost importance in all that we do, that we take the care not to trample on the mana of others; to act in ways which are mana-enhancing.
This is a value that has been passed on to me by the keepers of the faith in our culture, and this is what I think of when I hear the concept, te mana o te wahine.
But in saying this, I want to make it clear that our men also share in the responsibilities, the obligations, the procedures of creating mutual respect and harmonious relationships.
When I look at the other wahine Maori in the House today - Georgina te Heuheu, Metiria Turei, Nanaia Mahuta, Jill Pettis, Moana Mackey, Georgina Beyer, Paula Bennett - I know, intuitively, that there is more that connects us, than divides us.
I know too, when I think of the first Maori woman in this house, my aunty Iriaka Ratana; the first Maori woman to win a seat in a general electorate Sandra Lee, of Poutini Ngai Tahu Waitaha; the first Maori woman cabinet Minister, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan - and all of the other Maori women who have occupied seats in the House, that the connections we have transcend party boundaries.
And indeed, when I have explored your course outline - and looked at the names there - Meterina Kinihe-Kuruwaka; Linda Ngata, Ranui Ngarimu, Dr Jo Diamond, amongst others - I know that the shared experiences we have as tangata whenua will also resonate with other indigenous women.
The difficulty I think for wahine Maori in other parties, however, is that the operating instructions come under the party banner - the political brand - more than the exceptional qualities and values we practice as tangata whenua. So the method of negotiation is through the lens of ‘other’ world views, than the perspectives we bring as Whanganui, as Ngapuhi, as Ngai Tahu, as Tuhoe.
There is much that I could say on this topic. But another salient value my aunts left me with, is to remember that some things are best left unsaid, best left for our own reflections, about how we can make things happen.
I am looking forward, also, to your insights, to hear the fresh and challenging perspectives that will lead Ngai Tahu, will lead Te Tai Tonga, will lead tangata whenua forward. Oh, and by the way, we are always on the look out for candidates for the Maori Party.
We must believe we have the ability to determine and control our future and the future of our genealogies. To ensure te mana o te wahine carries us onwards, upwards and forwards.
Kia kaha koutou ki te whai o koutou moemoea, mau ki to tino rangatiratanga. Kia kaha koutou, ki te tu, kia kaha, kia kaha.

Ends

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