The week of breaking glass: Indigenous representation hot topic across the world this week

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.  Photo/File

History has been made and the women at the frontline are people of colour. In Aotearoa, Nanaia Mahuta broke a glass ceiling this week to become New Zealand's first woman Foreign Affairs Minister.

US Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris has made history too. The daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father has risen to heights never before reached by a woman of colour in the United States.

First US vice-president of colour

Harris' ground-breaking win has spread across online platforms like wildfire, with comments both positive and negative.

Former U.S President Barack Obama took to social media and said he and former first lady Michelle will do all they can to support the new administration.

"I also couldn’t be prouder to congratulate Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff for Kamala’s groundbreaking election as our next Vice President," he said. 

"It will be up to not just Joe and Kamala, but each of us, to do our part – to reach out beyond our comfort zone, to listen to others, to lower the temperature and find some common ground from which to move forward."

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, said in a press conference today, "I also want to note that Kamala Harris as Vice-President is the first elected woman of colour and she will bring some unique attributes to their leadership."

Ethnic backgrounds

Skin colour and ethnic backgrounds do not start and stop at Harris though.

Just before the election, Harris spoke to a full house in Fort Worth, Texas, reflecting on the work of Rebecca Acuña, a Mexican immigrant who ran Biden's electoral campaign in Texas.

Harris shared a message about Acuña (who voted for the first time in this election) that highlighted the point that being the only one there does not mean he or she ia the only one present.

"Yes, sister. Sometimes we may be the only one that looks like us walking in that room, having had the experiences that we’ve had but the thing we all know is we never walk in those rooms alone. We are all in that room together."

Those sentiments were shared amongthe likes of State Representative Victoria Neave. “Seeing Rebecca there leading the statewide campaign, I think it’s so inspiring,” she said in an announcement.

“We want our next generation to be able to see her, to see me, to see Kamala [Harris] in the White House and know that they can do it, too.”

First female Foreign Affairs Minister

Closer to home, earlier this week Nanaia Mahuta was made the first female to hold the portfolio of foreign affairs - a momentous occasion for the Māori speaking, moko wearing wahine from Waikato and an even bigger moment for New Zealand.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement of the portfolio, Mahuta emphasised that this 'first' did not come from nowhere.

"It's a huge privilege but I hope that, when people reflect on a number of firsts of many women in this parliament, it comes from the legacy that we've inherited," she said.

"The first country to give women the right to vote, the first country to ensure that we are progressive on issues relating to women.

"I follow in the line of a long legacy of firsts for women, and I hope that many other women of Māori descent, mixed descent, across New Zealand will see this as lifting the ceiling once again on areas that have been very much closed to us in terms of professional opportunities."

Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman took to social media after the announcement and wrote in support of Mahuta saying she could not wait to congratulate and work with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs on global issues.

"Decolonising our voice in foreign affairs is exciting. We should stop and think about what it means that this is only the first time ever a woman, and a strong wahine Māori, holds this portfolio."