The president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, the oldest national Māori organisation still in existence, has a few words on the misogynistic comments made by Shane Jones at Rātana.
In July 2019 the minister for women, Julie Anne Genter, announced with some pride the allocation by the government of $6.2m to put together a specialist team to work alongside Te Puni Kokiri in coordinating a government response and participation in the Waitangi Tribunal Mana Wāhine Kaupapa Inquiry.
The Wai 2700 Mana Wāhine Inquiry will inquire into claims which allege prejudice to Māori women arising from Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi with damage to our customary roles and relationships with our whenua, whakapapa and mātauranga with serious prejudicial consequences for our social, economic, cultural and spiritual wellbeing and our access to leadership roles.
At the annual gathering at Rātana Pā last Friday, the regional development minister, Shane Jones, displayed that prejudice in an attack on Pania Newton by belittling her contribution to retaining Ihumātao as a taonga. He called her a “little putiputi” and claimed: “You derive your mana in te ao Māori, not from pleasing Pākehā.”
Wāhine Māori 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 Wāhine 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 MWWL presidents named as part of the claim in 1993 are no longer with us, but the issues about the poor outcomes for wāhine Māori 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 Māori 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 Rātana Pā this week is entirely at odds with the government’s purported approach to the Mana Wāhine 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.
The attitude that wāhine Māori have had to endure based on an arrogant, discriminatory disregard, is repeated in this instance in the form of Minister Jones’ attack on 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 wāhine claim by the League was the removal of Dame Mira Szászy, 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 Szászy was, I believe, clearly an act to please Pākehā and particularly the Crown to exclude wāhine Māori from yet another decision-making position. Does his attack on Pania Newton arise from guilt at collaborating with and compromising to please Pākehā, 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 Māori men to undermine her and perpetuate the damage suffered by wāhine Māori from colonisation.
Shane Jones would do well to recall the words his kuia, Dame Mira stated to the United Nations 12th session of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples on behalf of the mana wāhine claimants in 1994:
“Me aro koe ki te hā o Hine-ahu-one – Pay heed to the dignity of women”
Prue Kapua (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Kahungunu) has been National President of MWWL since 2014. She is a lawyer and principal of Tamatekapua Law.