Women from Te Tai Tokerau have a speaking role in official pōwhiri welcoming guests this year to Waitangi as part of Waitangi Day commemorations.
Ten pōwhiri are taking place at Te Whare Rūnanga, on the Upper Treaty Grounds, throughout the course of the week-long event, and a wāhine from the haukāinga (local people) will speak at each one from the mahau (porch) of the wharenui after the manuhiri (guests) have finished their whaikōrero (speeches).
Mere Mangu has been a fierce advocate for the rights of women to speak and in previous years she has stood during pōwhiri to call for change, undeterred when there was push back.
She called the move to allow women to speak as inevitable, especially with Te Tai Tokerau electing its first female MP in Te Pāti Māori’s Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, saying that as a woman, “she needs her voice to be heard on behalf of our people”.
“There was no kōrero about that when it was a male [MP] all these years – they just stood up whenever pōhiri they were present at and the taumata agreed he was going to be one of the speakers – no problem. Well, nor should it be a problem now that [Kapa-Kingi] has the same title and the same mantle, and for any other women from Tai Tokerau, from Ngāpuhi nui tonu, who also have standing that their people have put them up for,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how small, how big, if the people put you there, kei a koe te rangatiratanga (you have the authority).”
Alana Thomas of Ngāti Rēhia said discussions between the taumata, the Waitangi National Trust, and the wāhine involved have been taking place these past months. She acknowledged the kotahitanga that eventuated in the decision and how “we are moving into the space for this week knowing that it is a first for us in Waitangi having this new approach to wahine”.
“That’s not to undermine the work that our wāhine have been doing every year, and I’m thinking of our kaikaranga, our kaiwaiata, ērā āhuatanga katoa (all those elements), this is just another aspect we are seeing our wāhine come into, that formal part of the pōhiri process.”
The controversy around speaking rights for women during pōwhiri at Waitangi
The rights for women to speak as part of the pōwhiri process has been a controversial issue over the years during Waitangi.
The likes of Mere Mangu and the late Titewhai Harawira were staunch proponents for allowing Ngāpuhi women to speak, especially in the face of non-Māori – male or female – being afforded speaking rights ahead of wāhine Māori who were fluent reo speakers.
Harawira is known for bringing Helen Clark to tears in 1998 when she took issue with the then-Opposition leader being allowed to speak over Māori women and, along with Mangu, has consistently fought for recognition and change throughout the years.
In 2021, the then-National leader Judith Collins came under fire after suggesting it was sexist when she wasn’t allowed to speak, despite then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern being given the privilege.
It then became a non-issue for Collins ahead of Waitangi 2022 when she was replaced by Christopher Luxon as National Leader.
In 2023, there was some confusion with speaking rights in general after organisers requested for political parties to put up kaikōrero who weren’t their leader, overshadowing any debate on the rights of women.
The use of pōwhiri/pōhiri in this article reflects the iwi dialects of speakers.
pōwhiri/pōhiri – welcoming ceremony
wahine – woman
wāhine – women
haukāinga – locals, local people
mahau – porch
wharenui – meeting house
manuhiri – guests
whaikōrero – speech(es)
whakaaro – thoughts
kōrero – talk, discussion
taumata – the speaker’s bench
Ngāpuhi nui tonu – wider Ngāpuhi
kotahitanga – work as one, unity, collective
kaikaranga – ceremonial caller(s)
kaiwaiata – singer(s)