I am humbled and proud to have been welcomed to the whare with my whanau, friends and members of Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora. I acknowledge and pay respect to tangata whenua, our past Presidents, National Executive members and National Office staff.
This is a new journey for me in my role as National President. I have had the privilege over the last two years of visiting regions as part of the consultation on the Constitution and the Handbook. It has provided me with the opportunity to discuss and hear the issues that the regions and branches are facing. Those discussions will remain with me in the work I have in front of me to reaffirm that the foundation of the League lies in the branches and the regions. That is what the Constitution has stated clearly mai ra ano and is reflected in the processes in our Handbook. I promise that I will ensure that our Constitution and Handbook are always speaking in respect of our actions as a Ropu. I am committed to ensuring that the actions of your National Executive will be carried out in an open, consultative and transparent manner. A true and proper reflection of our motto ‘tatau tatau’.
It is time to get back to basics. That phrase was emphasised during the term of our last Tamaki Makaurau president, Dame June. At the very heart of the League and its beginnings is the fact that we are the first people of this land and our language is the first language of this land. Too much time is spent comparing us to other groups and attempting to address our needs as part of a number of minority groups. We know who we are, but I believe we need to be vigilant in asserting our status as the indigenous people of Aotearoa. We are not like any other group and our needs, aspirations and experiences are not like those of any other group. As a country we have signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and it is now time that effective implementation of that Declaration finds its way into our legislative and government practices. I hope that we can contribute effectively to ensure that the government and key institutions officially and formally recognise our status. It is from that basic premise that we can address the disparities we suffer in education, health, housing and justice.
Much is made of the need for the League to progress and change but I believe that our priority must be to get back to the basics. In particular, we need to focus on the reasons the League was formed in the first place.
Maori women wanted a voice in the early 1950s. Tribal councils and legislation had provided only for the involvement of men. But Maori women knew only too well the negative effects they and their whanau suffered in having to come to terms with tauiwi health, education and government systems that took no account of our culture and status.
63 years on we still face the same pressing issues. The need for the League to be the voice of Maori women is greater than ever. We need to look at the history of the League and the dedication of our members who undertook housing surveys, made demands for better housing, raised money to educate and clothe children in need and challenged government policies in every area of social need and justice.
Today we face the same issues of disparity in education, health, housing and justice. That is because Maori whanau have borne the brunt of economic restructuring during the ’80s and ’90s and during the recent global financial crisis. All of the statistics confirm that we suffer disproportionate job losses which leads to lower incomes, lower home ownership, lower education attainment and poorer health outcomes. And the growing issue of child poverty within our whanau will perpetuate these disparities unless we confront them now.
As it was in 1951, housing is a major issue that needs to be addressed immediately. We need to take a leading role in actively promoting solutions that provide safe and secure housing options for our whanau.
Housing has remained a constant issue throughout the time of the League and I acknowledge the work that has been done through housing surveys and by our representation on relevant bodies. Now, more than ever, we need to reinvigorate our efforts and tackle this issue over the coming year as a part of the wider poverty kaupapa.
We have many challenges. We need to ensure our existing contracts are achieving positive outcomes for our whanau. But more importantly we need to be advocates for action. We need to agitate for specific measures that advance our whanau. We need to use the many skills and experiences found amongst our large membership, brought together by a commitment to our founding principles, to exert enough influence to bring about the changes that will lift our whanau out of poverty.
We need to call for accountability and to do so nationally and on the international stage.
There is no other voice that can speak with such a mandate for Maori women. For many years we have passed remits calling for change and now we must carry those through. Collectively we are unstoppable and I, along with a committed National Executive, intend in this first year to emphasise at every opportunity our status as first people and the status of Te Reo as the first language.
From that basis we will ensure that the voice of Maori women is heard in the fight for our whanau to have safe, secure and healthy housing options. From there we can improve our health and education outcomes. It is time now for us to lead the way in pressing for solutions that are specifically targeted at our whanau.
As Ta James Henare stated:
Maha rawa wa tatou mahinga, te kore mahi tonu; tawhiti rawa to tatou haerenga, te kore haere tonu.
We have done too much, not to do more; we have come too far, not to go further.
Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora