Government Challenge to Mana Wahine

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Nā te Perehitini, Prue Kapua

In July 2019 the Minister for Women announced with some pride the allocation by Government of $6.2m to put together a specialist team to work alongside Te Puni Kokiri in co-ordinating a Government response and participation in the Waitangi Tribunal Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry.

The Wai 2700 Mana Wahine Inquiry will inquire into claims which allege prejudice to Maori women arising from Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi with damage to our customary roles and relationships with our whenua, whakapapa and matauranga with serious prejudicial consequences for our social, economic, cultural and spiritual wellbeing and our access to leadership roles.

At the annual gathering at Ratana Pa last Friday, Shane Jones displayed that prejudice in an attack on Pania Newton by belittling her contribution to retaining lhumātao as a taonga. Wahine Maori like Pania are not pretending to be anything. They are assuming those customary roles of kaitiaki and safeguarding our relationships with our whenua through whakapapa.

The Mana Wahine claim was filed in 1993, led by the Maori Women’s Welfare League. For 25 years it lay dormant until the Waitangi Tribunal announced its resurrection in 2018. A number of the Presidents named as part of the claim in 1993 are no longer with us, but the issues about the poor outcomes for wahine Maori raised by the League remain as relevant today, if not more so.

In July Minister Genter outlined that the Government intended to take a collaborative approach between Maori and the Crown to identify where there are issues and where improvements can be made.

Given the Government’s position, the misogynistic and ignorant attack by Minister Jones at Ratana Pa this week is entirely at odds with the Government’s purported approach to the Mana Wahine Tribunal claim. It is unacceptable that a Cabinet minister, particularly one holding an Associate Finance portfolio, displays the very behaviour that is at the heart of many of the claims that are before the Tribunal and exhibits the attitude that wahine Maori have had to endure based on an arrogant, discriminatory disregard of them, that, in this instance, Minister Jones directed to Pania Newton. And there is no justification for Shane Jones to be exempt from the collective Cabinet responsibility he agreed to when he accepted ministerial office.

It is not without irony that the impetus for the 1993 mana wahine claim by the League was the removal of Dame Mira Szaszy, a past President of the League and a woman of great mana, from the shortlist of appointees to the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission. The beneficiary of that decision, endorsed by the Minister of Fisheries, was none other than Shane Jones. To that end the acceptance of the appointment by Shane Jones   at the expense of Dame Mira Szaszy was clearly an act to please Pakeha and particularly the Crown to exclude wahine Maori from yet another decision-making position. Perhaps his attack on Pania Newton arises from his guilt at collaborating and compromising to please Pakeha, rather than sticking firmly to principles based on kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and tikanga.

In my view there is no question about who holds mana and shows leadership. And Pania does that regardless of attempts by Maori men to undermine her and perpetuate the damage suffered by wahine Maori from colonisation.

Shane Jones would do well to recall the words his kuia, Dame Mira stated to the United Nations Twelfth session of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples on behalf of the mana wahine claimants in 1994:

“Me aro koe kite hā o Hine-ahu-one – Pay heed to the dignity of women”

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