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Turia: International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers


Hon Tariana Turia

Maori Party Co-Leader | MP for Te Tai Hauauru

5 December 2013

International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers

Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Gisborne

This is such a luxury. We feel so lucky to be able to immerse ourselves in the world of kuiatanga – to acknowledge the wisdom, the courage, the expertise and the vision of our grandmothers – to salute you, to pay tribute to you and to listen, learn and love the inspiration that you provide us.

I am greatly honoured to acknowledge you all, as the esteemed members of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

There is a saying that wealthy people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I say that my richness was certainly born of silver – the silver wisdom of my kuia – and my two aunts, Waiharakeke Hunia - Waitere and Paeroa Hunia - Hawea.

My grandmother and my aunts are definitely the people who had the most influence over my thinking. They gave me strong values and had huge expectations of me. They taught me the importance of kaupapa and tikanga, responsibility and obligation in our lives. I still think about them constantly – they are with me, wherever I go.

E kore e hekeheke he kakano rangatira

Our ancestors will never die for they live on in each of us.

Today I stand together with other grandmothers and great grandmothers from across the globe. I particularly mihi to our manuhiri from Germany, Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Italy.

And I acknowledge a very special reason for why I am here today – one of the sparkling treasures of Rongomaiwahine – Pauline Tangiora.

I remember a simple statement that Pauline once made “If something goes wrong, we have to speak up about it.” That statement has been her driving mantra – it is the reason why she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 - the context for her many awards both at home and internationally. Pauline embodies the expression of tikanga – which taken in its most literal sense means to do what is right, in the right time, and in the right way.

As a mother of eight and a grandmother to many, she has multiple reasons to do what is right – and she does it in so many ways. She understands the responsibility of leaving our world to future generations. She has been a passionate advocate for protection of Papatuanuku, our earth mother.

She campaigns for world peace and freedom - she is devoted to creating a brighter future for all our mokopuna to inherit. And so when Pauline calls, I come running. In many ways, I believe that is the magic domain of the grandmother.

I love the concept of the grandmother’s fire that starts and finishes every day of your conference. It is based on the belief that the stories shared around the fire have the potential to truly transform our lives. Those stories will reflect upon the teachings of your ancestors they will be written into our hearts with the promise of our grandchildren.

I have great faith in the power of story to change lives.

It is a key focus in the approach we call Whanau Ora – that we learn from our experiences the guidance of those who have passed before us. Whanau Ora is driven by the premise that families are the best architects, engineers, tacticians and strategists of their own grand plans.

Families know best their strengths, and appreciate the challenges that confront them. They understand risk but they also know about the courage to do what is right, no matter how hard. Sometimes, however, even in the strongest of whanau, there will be issues that seem insurmountable – and that is when we must turn to the source – look for the wisdom that will help us to achieve enduring solutions. And this is where our grandmothers truly come into our own.

I want to share some of the stories of the kuia who continue to inspire me, whether from beyond the veil or here in the everyday.

One of our most popular images of the power of the kuia, is a photograph of a tenacious 80 year old grandmother, holding her mokopuna’s hand, while she led the land march from Te Hapua in the far North to Parliament in Wellington.

This was a woman who played an active role in setting up Maori land development schemes in the Hokianga - was the foundation president of the Maori Women’s Welfare League and who challenged the government of the day to address the blatant discrimination in housing and employment.

Dame Whina Cooper - the grandmother who mobilised some sixty thousand people to protest the loss of their land - to demonstrate the travesty of confiscation, alienation and colonisation.

Another kuia who often comes up in my thoughts, is Tuaiwa Eva Rickard – probably best known for leading the long struggle to win back the land of her people. During World War Two the site of her birth Te Kopua, was destroyed to make way for an aerodrome and the Maori landowners were evicted. After the war the land was not returned to its original owners, but instead turned into a golf course.

Her actions – and those of Ngati Whatua at Bastion Point in central Auckland – were pivotal in helping to change land legislation. If land taken for public works is no longer need, the government is now obliged to return it to the original owners.

Eva had a saying that has stayed with me “If you think you’re sovereign, walk sovereign.”

There are other grandmothers, who continue to inspire me; to keep me grounded, to challenge me and encourage me to be daring.

I think of Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi – she transformed the early-childhood sector and our wider community by developing the kohanga reo movement, which is a collective approach based on whanau. The role she saw for kuia, koroheke and parents had a major impact on our people, and I think it made them consider how those early years impact on children.

This feisty fighter – and the equally dynamic Madam President – Rangimarie Naida Glavish – are two women that I feel forever privileged when I am in their company.

Naida took on the nation many years ago when she became the ‘Kia Ora Lady’ – the woman who simply knew it was right to greet people in her own native language. In 1984 Naida, as a toll operator, was told in no uncertain terms that she could only answer the phone in English. Her defiance and her determination to instead answer with a cheery ‘Kia Ora’ marked a sea change in our attitudes to Maori culture.

Finally, I want to return once more to the wisdom of my grandmother. My grandmother had the greatest maara that you could ever lay your eyes on. Our whanau garden were simply the best – and a place for all our families to gather, to get their hands dirty, to be together.

When the kai was ready, my grandmother would grade them into three different piles. The very best went to our manuhiri, our visitors. The second best went to all the relatives who had helped. And what was left went to us.

The values that garden taught us were about providing for all - manaakitanga – hospitality, the capacity to care. It taught us about respect for the land and all that she produces. It taught us about taking collective responsibility, so that no-one was left behind or forgotten.

There isn’t a day go by when I don’t think about those lessons I learnt so long ago.

And now – as a grandmother of 26 and a great grandmother of 20 – I can honestly say that my mokopuna give me the greatest joy I could ever imagine. I have been at almost every birth - I feel their pain - I am uplifted by their energy, their excitement, their zest for life.

These precious descendants of our genealogical line motivate me in every way, to fight for a better world, to live in a way that will help to make their future easier.

I started this korero by saying I believe I had an extremely privileged upbringing. I lived in a village in which every moment was under the watchful gaze of a thousand pairs of eyes.

The significance of our whanau leaders, our elders, is fundamental. Every breath I took, every step I made was supervised. They shared with me our tribal stories - they dared me to believe in a sense of future possibilities.

They shaped me to know the essence of who I am. I pay all tribute to those who gave me the self-belief that everything was possible; that the world was waiting for me to serve. I thank you again – for your leadership, for your example and the legacy that you are leaving our world.


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