Māori Women’s Welfare League (Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora turns 70

By Marena Mane

Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori, Toko i te Ora, Māori Women's Welfare League national president Prue Kapua says the organisation's key achievements over the past 70 years have all been positive.

Almost 90 wāhine gathered 70 years ago in Wellington's Ngāti Poneke hall for the first conference of what has become the longest-serving Maōri organisation. Princess Te Puea Herangi accepted an invitation to become patroness of the newly constituted League. Whina (later Dame Whina), Cooper was elected President of the League. 

The league arose out of a desire on the part of Maori women throughout New Zealand for an organisation that would essentially be theirs – a potent force that could play an integral part in facilitating positive outcomes for Maori people through enabling and empowering Maori women and whanau.

Kapua says the involvement with kōhanga reo, the Māori Women’s Development Initiative helping Māori women in business, Dame June Mariu’s health initiative for the league through Aotearoa Māori netball and the Rapuora reports that were released by Dr Elizabeth Murchie, have all contributed to the success of the league.

“I guess we've always been involved in elements of raising the issues around inequity and racism and so on. So I guess one of the other things is we've survived, which is something to be celebrated,” she says.

Sadly, the same challenges

“I think our independence is a fundamental part of us being able to advocate now.”

The league's challenges, according to Kapua, have mostly been the same since 1951, with health, housing, education, and tamariki in care and she says, “It is a sad indictment.”

“To a degree, we probably have the opportunity to be a little more critical, a little more challenging, than in 1951.”

Kapua says some government agencies have realised that they aren't always the ideal people to deal with whānau, and they need Māori Women's Welfare League help figuring out how to best fulfil their requirements.

“We have a partnership with Oranga Tamariki. We're currently working with Stats New Zealand, to try to overcome the problems we had with the census in 2018, to make sure that we reach our whānau, and we're working on a relationship with Corrections to look at better ways that we can rehabilitate and work with our wāhine Māori in prisons.”