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The Matariki collectors’ issue of Woman. (Image: Woman/School Road Publishing)
The Matariki collectors’ issue of Woman. (Image: Woman/School Road Publishing)

ĀteaJune 25, 2021

My stars of Matariki are wāhine Māori

The Matariki collectors’ issue of Woman. (Image: Woman/School Road Publishing)
The Matariki collectors’ issue of Woman. (Image: Woman/School Road Publishing)

Writer Sarah Sparks on feeling inspired by nine stars of Matariki – namely the wāhine Māori that feature on the cover of a new issue of Woman magazine.

I would like to imagine that the Matariki cover of Woman magazine, out this week, has set a precedent for the industry. When have you ever seen a collective of wāhine Māori in a gate-fold front page on a mainstream consumer title?

Like, never.

That constellation of nine captured with such splendour by Taaniko and Vienna Nordstrom of Soldiers Rd epitomises tino rangatiratanga – each of those women has forged her own path in a uniquely wahine Māori way, from the venerated author Patricia Grace to rising star Te Ao o Hinepehinga Rauna. They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Well, for me that cover unlocked a thousand wāhine Māori… tūpuna and uri, voices of the past, the present and the future intertwined. Our indigenous sisterhood visible and valued. It sure blows the usual women’s mag formula to smithereens.

I’m sure we all have our own war stories of how certain media makes us feel, as women or as Māori. Our media is guilty of casting spells that harm us by typecasting women, or sidelining diversity until it’s no longer expedient to do so. Historically, popular women’s titles here haven’t excluded wāhine Māori and Pasifika, but neither have they been champions for our cultures.

But this layout well and truly breaks that “one-size-fits-all, one-world-view-serves all” homogenous depiction of New Zealand women. My hope for this collectors’ issue is that it offers the potential to shift limiting unspoken and unseen boundaries of belief. Those handbrakes of uncertainty that hijack impulses to bust out and dare to do, to think, and to be different.

Matariki is about honouring those souls since passed, embracing the new and releasing the old. The principles of rebirth are nothing new to Woman, which was born from the ashes of Covid 19’s destruction of the Bauer stable of magazines. Former Woman’s Day and NZ Woman’s Weekly editor Sido Kitchin was approached to galvanise a team producing diverse and inclusive content. Broadcaster Stacey Morrison has been there since day one enlightening readers with her te reo Māori column, and stands shoulder to shoulder with Kitchin as co-editor of this issue.

Māori stories curated by two editors in the true spirit of a Te Tiriti partnership – how fresh and equitable. Now if only we can achieve a similar outcome in certain policy design at government level.

All power to this and long may other media (let alone the private and public sector) be inspired to adopt similar practices alongside tangata whenua.

As the saying goes, where you place your energy is what you value the most.

The resourcing by a self-made, indie publisher is a message of real kaha. It has synchronicity with the news cycle, too, given what has been unfolding politically, socially, culturally, economically and environmentally in Aotearoa recently.

And wāhine Māori and highly respected kuia like “the dames” (Dame Naida Glavish, Dame Tariana Turia, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi, and Dame Areta Koopu) have been right in the middle of the cut and thrust of it.

In these times of He Puapua, when our nation and the world is grappling with how to honour indigenous human rights with integrity, who were the constitutional scholars behind that powerhouse piece of commissioned research responding to the United Nations declaration? Wāhine Māori.

Who has boldly challenged the government ad infinitum to take its hands off our tamariki and sort out Oranga Tamariki? Wāhine Māori.

Who has been calling out health inequity (one was even touted as having a 10-1 chance of being the next governor general), litigating reductions in Whānau Ora funding and lodging significant claims in the Waitangi Tribunal that paved the way for the emerging framework of a Māori Health Authority? Wāhine Māori.

Who led the charge at Ihumātao to protect and preserve the whenua to uphold its spirituality, culture and history? Wāhine Māori.

Who has been pushing back against the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for its highly unpopular selection of Mataharehare Pā site for the National Erebus Memorial that risks harming a sacred pōhutukawa as old as Te Tiriti? Wāhine Māori.

What does all this have in common with a glossy like Woman? The parallels are centred on principles. Those little things are also big things that matter.

As the whakataukī says, “Me aro koe ki te hā o Hineahuone” – pay homage to the essence of womankind.

The magazine intuitively picked the right time to celebrate in such a substantial fashion the mana of wahine Māori in word, action and deed.

It mirrors the power of how they are spreading light on environmental advocacy, cultural preservation and improving health and social services around the globe.

Our perceptions can form our reality, and for many, media have a direct influence and impact on that. So, thank you Woman for sprinkling the stardust while elevating the standard.

Yet as we all stargaze, let’s dream of even higher aspirations.

With the demise of Mana magazine four years ago, it’s no longer the norm to see beautiful Māori faces in an explicitly Māori context staring back from the magazine stands, so who can blame me for wanting more now I’ve had another taste? Would the masthead ever become Wahine, perhaps timed to honour Te Wiki o te Reo Māori? Or decide that half the quota of annual covers would showcase only wāhine Māori to inspire us all? What about scholarships and mentoring to attract more wāhine Māori writers and creatives into its workforce? How about a publishing mandate (à la Stuff’s Ta mātou pono) that’s an enduring commitment to content that is unabashedly Māori in storytelling, design, and mātauranga? And weaving in music, art, poetry, fashion and photography from a te ao Māori perspective that showcases the next generation of young up-and-coming creatives?

While we look up at the heavens trying to map out Te Iwa o Matariki, Matariki, Tupuārangi, Waitī, Tupuānuku, Ururangi, Waitā, Waipuna-ā-Rangi, Pōhutukawa and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi, let’s take a moment to reflect with respect the special wisdom and beauty of our own taonga on the ground – our wāhine Māori – who are collectively advancing and taking us with them.

Keep going!