Advocating for Māori a 'privilege' - Dr Ella Henry

By Marena Mane

Dr Ella Henry (Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kuri) has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to Māori, education and media.

Henry has been recognised across many disciplines, including sociology, business and Māori indigenous development, and for more than 20 years she's been actively involved in research, teaching and advocacy for Māori media. 

Henry was a Treaty negotiator for her iwi, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, and has been involved with the post-settlement governance entity, as trustee and chair, and hosted a Whakaata Māori show called Ask your Aunties from 2004 to 2007.

Now a senior lecturer at Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makaurau (AUT), she’s honoured for her mahi in Māori education and media.  

“The work I've done in Māori media has been advocating for our people, advocating for our industry, and teaching and working. So those have been my passions for the past 30 years and it's really a privilege to still be able to do that.”

Henry says it’s no secret that she was raised in poverty and, in her youth, that included living in a home with domestic violence, substance abuse and self-harm.

“It's not a secret. I'm not ashamed of my past but it is something that I know I share with a lot of our people, particularly our wāhine who had been raised not to believe in themselves and if I were to say anything to our people, particularly wāhine Māori, it would be believe in yourself. Believe in your babies. Because you know what, princesses make good choices.”

'Making their memory proud'

Henry is looking forward to not only celebrating with her whānau and colleagues at AUT on the first Matariki public holiday as a nation but also taking some time to contemplate.

“I also want to remember all of those really, really important people we have lost in Te Ao Māori over the last year. People who've been really important to me. Tā Joe last week, Moana and the most wonderful June Jackson, just so many of our great leaders. So reflecting on them. Making their memory proud is what I want to do for Matariki.”

The past few years have been extremely stressful and hard on Māori and Henry hopes Matariki will bring a new perspective for the new year ahead.

“I really think that now is the time, particularly with Matariki coming and being acknowledged by our nation, for us as a people to take heart from the positive things that are happening in our world, the arts, the music, the films, the media that just celebrate and to use Matariki as a time for reflection but also looking forward positively.”

Te Matatini is another national event Henry is looking forward to and she says she cannot wait to welcome the motu to Tāmaki Makaurau.