Mana wāhine prominent at Waitangi

updated By Tema Hemi
Northern leader Mere Mangu speaking at Waitangi.  Photo/File

180 years ago women were assumed to have been less outwardly involved in signing the Treaty of Waitangi and now our history has gone full circle. Māori women, in particular, are more prominent than ever, and an example of that was displayed by northern leader Mere Mangu who challenged the status quo on Waitangi marae.   

It was deemed disrespectful but Mere Mangu says it is her birthright.

"All the front seats are always occupied by the men and that's not good. Mother Earth didn't say this was a standing ground for men only but for all who nurture families," Mangu says.

Her stand on the marae during the government's welcoming at Waitangi caused a stir among leaders, but Mangu says the voice of Māori women has been suppressed.  

"For long now, men have suppressed the voice of women on the marae and it's only because we agree to it."

Her stance has resonated with Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

"I was very pleased to see her opening the pathways up, and mana wāhine has always been strong here. Waitangi Day, you know, if we think about previous elections, we've always had the discussion about the hau kāinga being able to have their voice," Davidson says.

The younger generation of Māori women in parliament knows too well the pressures of a male-dominated system.

Labour MP Kiritapu Allen says, "I look to Hilda Harawira, I see her rolling around; Annette Sykes, Mereana Pitman. You know, just ngā pou tino kaha rātou mō to tātou nei whenua, ngā mokopuna katoa."

Mangu says it is Māori who are responsible for holding back Māori women.

"But the issue now is not the government that I have to overcome. It's not the English who are here to tell my ancestors to sign here, but it is my own that continue to suppress our courageous women."

Women have been prominent this year at Waitangi. A prime minister paddled, women propelled the sacred Ngātokimatawhaorua waka through the waters and were outspoken on the marae. The first no doubt of many to come.