The first Treaty of Waitangi claim filed by an all-female chapter of a gang has been lodged by the leader of the Mongrel Mob Wāhine Toa.
“It’s about looking at the effects that gangs have had upon women and children, historically and to present day,” says leader Paula Ormsby.
Ormsby and member Cherie Kurarangi put forward the claim on behalf of the Wāhine Toa chapter as well as Priority Whānau, which encompasses wāhine Māori who are gang-associated, and their children.
“There’s so much judgment of women, and the children get judged, which hurts me even more. So much judgment of women and why would they choose this lifestyle. Well, a lot of them haven’t chosen it – they’ve been brought up in it.”
They want the Government to consult and significantly expand supported advocacy options for members of the Wāhine Toa, as well as the Priority Whānau.
The statement of claim was lodged on August 19, and details the ways it says the Crown has failed in its obligation to take proactive steps to protect the claimants.
Ormsby says the State needs to look at the intergenerational trauma that was created by colonisation, and why gangs even came into existence.
“There’s also, you know, the monetary gain out of that [the claim] as well, which we could do so much with. Create papakāinga for our families’ homes, and programmes.”
The claim is only in the early inquiry phase, but the claimants are clear that policy change is needed to address inequity.
Lawyer Tania Te Whenua is working with the group and says it’s impossible to deny the reality of the situation faced by Māori women and their children associated with gangs.
“Māori women also suffer the highest level of serious harm and serious harm resulting in death as a result of intimate partner violence in this country.”
She says the process is a matter of gathering evidence on the nature and extent of the issues as well as finding out what is driving them “so we can formulate requests for policy change in an informed way”.
The claim says the Crown failed to stop disproportionately high levels of harm and discrimination suffered because of the combination of being Māori, being women and their association with gangs.
“Though it may be easy for onlookers to sayMāori women shouldn’t get themselves in the situations, Māori women should just leave the gangs or they should not commit the crimes. That simplistic view of what is an extremely complex situation has failed us in this country to date.”
She says another claim has been lodged by gang-associated women, but this is the first claim from an all-female gang.
The first hearings will run from February 3-5, just before Waitangi Day.
University of Canterbury director of Criminal Justice Dr Jarrod Gilbert agrees with Te Whenua and says anyone who thinks it’s just as simple as women leaving the gang scene doesn’t understand violent relationships.
“And they certainly don’t understand the gangs.”
He told the Herald on Sunday informal controls used by gangs mean “narking” to the police is also seen as an unnaceptable thing to do.
Although there have been gang claims in the past, Gilbert says this is the first from a female chapter.
He says one of the advantages of looking at issues gang women face is that people can see things in a different light.
“We see gang men as ‘offenders’, or as a threat, whereas we know, if you look at the life histories of the majority of gang members, they’ve come through terrible existences as children and as young men. Now, the women face similar challenges, but I suspect there will be far greater sympathy for the women.”
This insight into what gang-associated Māori women are facing, says Gilbert, may give a better idea of how to address wider gang problems.
“If we can recognise where they’re coming from we may have more sophisticated tools in the arsenal to tackle the issues around them.”
The claim looks at levels of violence resulting in serious harm and death as a case study and details how Māori women are disproportionately affected.
It says wāhine Māori are more than twice as likely to experience one or more coercive and controlling behaviours from a current partner and be subject to a violent interpersonal offence by an intimate partner.
Te Whenua says some of her clients were in state care and had been through unimaginable pain there.
“Many of them have looked to gangs as their source of strength, to be able to carry them through this lifetime because they’ve suffered such repugnant – to many of us – reprehensible harm and trauma at the hands of the State.”
She says in her work as a lawyer, she sees the genesis of intergenerational trauma in a Crown act, “whether that’s with your current generation or your forefathers’ and mothers’ generation.”
She says that compounds over time and doesn’t get better unless there is proactive state action.
“As a Māori woman, I inherently connect with the evidence of our claimants; to one degree or another as a Māori person you have either experienced what they bring out in their personal stories or you have family who have.
“This is setting a line in the sand now, shift the numbers and shift outcomes for our Māori women, especially thoseassociated with gangs.”
Te Whenua says they won’t stop until they see improvements.
“Until less women are killed, until less women are imprisoned, until less Māori children are killed in our society, until less Māori children are taking their lives.”
What is the Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi?
• The Treaty is considered Aotearoa/New Zealand’s founding document, an agreement between Māori and the Crown.
• The document was signed in 1840, then travelled around the country. Some iwi never signed up, but eventually around 540 rangatira gave their signature; crucially, about 500 of those signing Te Tiriti – the Māori version.
• Differences between the two texts have led to the greatest of debates in New Zealand’s history.
•These crucial differences in interpretations of the texts, Treaty breaches by the Crown and confiscations of land, led to much protest by Māori, eventually paving the way to the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.
•Under this legislation, the Waitangi Tribunal was formed and tasked with determining the meaning and effect of the Treaty for the purposes of inquiring into Māori claims of breaches of the Treaty.
•Since 1985 there have been more than 90 settlements for iwi about breaches of the Treaty, worth more than $2.4 billion, although experts have argued these represent less than a cent on the dollar in terms of actual loss.
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