Turia: Wahine Purotu Evening 2008 Maori Women
Wahine Purotu Evening 2008 Maori Women –
Reflecting on the Past and Looking to the Future
Legislative Council Chamber; Wednesday 31 September 2008
Hon Tariana Turia; Co-leader of the Maori Party
I am indeed honoured by Nga Rangahau tira and Nga Tauru Umanga, to be part of this exciting night.
And as we sit on the cusp of election 2008, what an incredible opportunity to reflect on our past and look to our future.
Next month we celebrate 115 years since Maori women gained the right to vote.
And if you’re wondering, didn’t we just commemorate Women’s Suffrage Day two weeks ago – you’re right.
Our franchise came a month after that of European women. That’s a whole other story in itself – which curiously, every Women’s Suffrage Day, remains invisible; untold.
But tonight is the night to honour and mark the successful impact of so many wahine purotu – those who have paved the way for all our journeys to follow.
So we think of Meri Te Tai Mangakahia – who presented a motion to Parliament in May 1893 to enable Maori women to both vote and sit in Parliament, based on the experience of Maori women in owning and managing our own land.
Apparently such was the force of the presentation from wahine Maori, that when the House of Representatives were asked if voting rights should be extended to them, there was a roar of approval.
We think of the thirteen Maori women – at least – who have been identified as signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, while in Britain at the same time women were not able to vote.
Every day in Parliament I walk outside my office, and I look into the eyes of my aunt, Iriaka Matiu Ratana, who in 1949 became the first Maori woman to be elected a Member of Parliament.
And I think of her courage to stand and be heard throughout the motu, often in difficult male-dominated circumstances and how difficult it must have been for her to even be heard, let alone understood, at that time in parliament.
On the opposite wall, is a photograph of the Hon Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, who in 1970, became the first Maori woman to serve as a Cabinet Minister.
There’s a photograph missing from this wall of honour. That one belongs to Hon Sandra Rose Te Hakamatua Lee-Vercoe, who just fifteen years ago, became the first Maori woman elected to a general electorate seat and also was a Cabinet Minister during her parliamentary term.
Another missing photograph is that of Georgina Beyer, the insightful, colourful Maori woman who won the Wairarapa seat for Labour in a conservative National seat. Georgina was a great speaker in the house, unafraid to tell it as it was.
These walls of photographs, the precious memories we have of those who have walked the pathways before us, come with us in our journey for rangatiratanga. The power to make decisions for ourselves as tangata whenua.
I remember in the months leading up to my decision to leave Labour, in opposition to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, that I hardly slept. My nights were always full of vivid dreams, dreams in which I felt I was being guided by my tupuna, to make the right decision.
It was the most traumatic of times, but also the most fulfilling. Fulfilling in terms of reinforcing to me the importance of trusting in our own inner voice; believing in te hunga wairua; trusting in our whänau, hapü and iwi; knowing that our tupuna walk with us in our journey.
It meant a great deal to me, too, that on 27 July 2004 when I returned to Parliament under the authority of the Maori Party, that when I approached the formal swearing in, I was accompanied by Georgina Beyer, Metiria Turei and Georgina te Heuheu.
A connection which transgressed party lines.
I am related to each of them through our respective maunga of Taranaki, Ruapehu and Tongariro- but it was a reminder to the House, of the power of Maori women – albeit perhaps without the roar of approval that our predecessors enjoyed in 1893!
All of these women have shaped my experience of politics; they have guided me in the way in which I have approached every challenge that Parliament presents.
But there are others too, whose influence is profound.
I remember when I was growing up, my kuia, Hokiwaewae who along with my mother’s sister Mihiterina and her husband Tariuha Manawaroa Te AweAwe raised me until I was eight years old.
Both these wonderful women gave me the love and stability and taught me the values of manaakitanga.
My Nan had a huge mara, a succulent, flourishing garden.
The kai in our garden was always divided into three grades. The best quality, the top grade veges, were reserved for our manuhiri. The second grade were for our extended whanau, and the rest were kept for us.
There was always plenty. We were able to care for our own, but also extend manaakitanga, to demonstrate care for others.
It is lessons like this which guide me in our approach to how we strengthen whanau ora. The legacy of my grandmother and my aunt’s teachings was to nurture in me a sense of social justice and generosity going hand in hand.
The gardens are if you like just another context for political action.
They stand as reminders of the value in actively taking up the sense of responsibility that comes with whakapapa; they encourage us to reflect on the strength of kotahitanga; to be motivated by the message to do what we can to improve the wellbeing of all.
My two Aunts, Waiharakeke and Paeroa Hunia had a huge influence on me. They were strong women who shaped the world we lived in. They did not wait for things to happen…..they made things happen because they simply believed that we could.
This Election we have a list of nineteen movers and shakers, who have helped drive Aotearoa forward; who have done much to change the tide.
At number 8 on our list we have Naida Glavish, the ‘kia ora lady’ who ever since that momentous day in 1984, has been the most powerful advocate for tangata whenua; and for our right to use te reo rangatira. Her story inspires us all that even a humble toll operator can challenge the corporate might of the Post Office and literally cause ripples which can change a nation.
Another one of the distinguished Diva we have on our list is Iritana Tawhiwhirangi whose name is synonymous with the revolution created through the kohanga reo movement. An incredible woman with the energy and vitality of the young in spirit.
In Te Tai Tonga, we have lawyer Rahui Katene, whose story I imagine would be extremely familiar to so many of you here from Ngä Rangahau tira, the starting point for so many Maori law students at Victoria. The enormity of Te Tai Tonga is nothing to Rahui, having come from a background in which she has been working with iwi entities and social service organisations, literally covering the full realm of legal advocacy. In many ways the last six years in which she was Managing Solicitor at Te Ratonga Ture, the Maori legal services, has been excellent preparation for this place.
Up in Hauraki-Waikato, we have Angeline Greensill, Lawyer, Geography lecturer, environmental activist, and the eldest daughter of nine children. Angeline was by her mother’s side, thirty years ago this year, when Eva Rickard was dragged from her ancestral land at Whaingaroa and arrested by police. A young mum, Angeline remembers her mother being dragged to the paddy wagons, accused of trespassing on the then Raglan Golf Course, and taken to jail.
Amongst the other seventeen protesters targeted by the Police, was John Hippolite, father of Rahui Katene; Tama Poata, Rowley Habib, Syd Jackson, Hana Te Hemara.
And so my thoughts also think of them.
I remember the impact made on 14 September 1972, when Hana Te Hemara, from Nga Tamatoa, and Lee Smith of the Te Reo Maori Society, presented a petition containing more than 30,000 signatures arguing for te reo Maori.
And I think of all that has happened since then – the land march of 1975 and the inquiries into Treaty claims, the growth of kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and kura a iwi, wananga, tangata whenua health and social service providers, Maori broadcasting, our Maori businesses, the impact of Maori entrepreneurs, the birth of the Maori Party.
All of these memories, all of these people, continue to inspire and drive me forward, in our pursuit of justice, and of whanau ora.
I know that we must not live in the past. But the past informs our present and helps us to plan for our future. As we remember…. we ensure that the mistakes of the past will never be allowed to be repeated.
As a people we have come so far…too far to ever allow any progress to be stifled or prevented.
Finally, in remembering the past and looking to the future, I reflect on the path I am leading as a continuation of that taken by my grandfather, Hamiora Uru Te Angina, my father, Tariuha Manawaroa Te Aweawe, my mother’s two sisters Ripeka and Mihiterina, who all travelled with Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana to England on two separate occasions, to have the Treaty ratified.
They were both ignored and snubbed by the Crown on the advice of the New Zealand Government.
As uri of these tupuna, I still feel the same indignity and rebuke suffered by those who passed before me, and that spirit of unrest will continue, until I know we have done all that we can do, to truly honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
And so this is where we come full circle, to know that our path leads us forward into the future. We must do all that we can to ensure we, the tangata whenua, are in the driving seat – not pushed into the back seat, or running on behind – but there at the steering wheel, helping to navigate Aotearoa on the road ahead.
We believe that this election, the Maori Party offers Aotearoa the unique opportunity for Maori being able to chart the direction forward.
As we say to all of those who are so consumed with whether we will turn left, or turn right – our gaze is firmly fixed on moving forward – forward together, being bold, having courage, and restoring people’s faith in their future.