Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Wāhine Māori must lead dismantling of colonialist mindset in Aotearoa


Recently I shared my concerns about the escalation of abuse from misogynistic racists and the targeting of wāhine, many who wear moko kauae.

I referred to my own experience knowing that if I share my views (of colonisation or racism), it ignites attacks on my wāhine ahua (physical appearance).

I shared how as a wahine I feel forced to armour up psychologically against these types of right-wing males, simply because they struggle with what I represent or because, as Morgana Watson described so well, “it is an affront to their colonial thinking, and that as a consequence these men become increasingly agitated and resort to abuse to silence us”.

This colonial hegemony attack at wāhine ahua today is a gendered motive used to preserve hegemonic white male control, it is gendered racist motives used to preserve male colonisers’ control.

The very same controls that predetermined the fate of wāhine historically are today trying to restrict and limit wāhine participation, to make us less active in calling out racism.

'Status of Māori women misrepresented, eroded'

Leonie Pihama, associate professor and renowned academic and researcher, wrote in Understanding Colonial Hegemony, “The status of Māori women has been seriously misrepresented and eroded”, asserting that “Māori women must be recognised in the many roles that are ours, and that includes our leadership, rangatira positions”.

“Mana Wāhine is an assertion of our intrinsic mana as descendants of our tūpuna, as holders and maintainers of whakapapa. An underlying tenet of Mana Wāhine is that our tūpuna wāhine have always had critical roles in Māori society.

“Through colonisation those roles and the status of Māori women has been actively, deliberately, and intentionally undermined, marginalised and denied.”

It is that role wāhine are asserting today, removing the shackles of colonisation, upholding our rangatiratanga, using our platforms and spheres of influence to invigorate change within our whānau, communities and sectors.

Inspiring courage, leading movements. Explicitly highlighting historical trauma that creates the displacement that many of our whānau contend with today and boldly dismantling the layers of racism to address inequity so that our whānau can reach their true potential.

Moving across our various environments and cultures refusing to be stereotyped or marginalised, with voices that are secure and hearts that are intentional on working alongside our whānau, tane, tangata Tiriti and tangata moana towards a united Aotearoa.

It is this very strength that has triggered right-wing males’ warnings to wāhine not to step out of line, not to participate in politics or policy that propose to reset the balance of power. But reset it we must – 181 years of trying it their way has failed us; a Tiriti-led Aotearoa is calling and wāhine-led balance is required.

Dramatic power shift under way

Thankfully there is a dramatic change of power going on, the world is hearing indigenous people’s stories more and that includes Māori, there is a consolidating of indigenous relationships, there is more understanding of privilege and fragility and a desire to change the very colonised frameworks and systems that embolden them.

At home, we are sharing more of our own stories, assuming our own ahua, threatening the very core of generational hegemony. We are remembering our own amazing tenacity.

We started Te Kōhanga Reo movements, we led mana wāhine claims across multiple generations of wāhine who have lived and survived the impact of colonisation, we cross the floor politically to uphold our tino rangatiratanga, we challenge government agencies tasked to look after our tamariki, and we win more Olympic medals.

None of what wāhine do is exclusive, or denying all our whakapapa. Therein lies the biggest insecurity that these dominators don’t understand, that being proud to be wāhine Māori is not anti-Pākehā, that asserting our matriarchy as wāhine is as natural and as necessary as breathing.

“Me aro koe ki te hā o Hineahuone: Pay heed the dignity of wāhine.”

This whakataukī is a reminder of the status of wāhine within Māori society. Hineahuone is the first human being, shaped from the sacred earth of Papatūānuku, the earth parent, from whom we all descend. We do not have to fit into a patriarchal mould; our role is unique and valuable.

We, as wāhine Māori, must continue in the path determined, have the absolute conviction to drive from that which isn’t working for our whānau, push through the abuse, non-believers and unite in reasserting our positions and status within our own communities and wider society.

This week, I travel to celebrate our Kīngitanga gathered at Tūrangawaewae marae in Ngāruawāhia. It is something our kuia did for years and I have done since I was a young wāhine.

This year we also celebrate and remember a special kuia, Princess Te Puea Hērangi, granddaughter of Kingi Tāwhiao Te Wherowhero, a wāhine who, 100 years ago, confronted many challenges and, against all odds, moved her people from a position of disparity to wellbeing. Pay heed the dignity of wāhine.

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