Mu­si­cian, ac­tivist and writer Moana Maniapoto re­flects on the Black Pearls of Aotearoa and asks how far have we come

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Mu­si­cian, ac­tivist and writer Moana Maniapoto re­flects on the Black Pearls of Aotearoa and asks how far have we come

Black Pearl, pre­cious lit­tle girl, let me put you up where you be­long.

Black Pearl, the 1969 hit for Sonny Charles and the Check­mates, was the song that kicked me into the mu­si­cal spot­light in Aotearoa. It was 1990, and I was just try­ing to be use­ful. My mates were rat­tling the cage in­side the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, ed­u­ca­tion, health, me­dia, and on the streets. In those days, thoughts of us be­ing board mem­bers, chief ex­ec­u­tives or run­ning our own com­pa­nies were, well, non-ex­is­tent.

We just wanted to be vis­i­ble. That big ol’ glass ceil­ing Pakeha women talk about? Maori women couldn’t even see the damn thing. We were still out­side bang­ing on the door, try­ing to get in. Most of us still are.

So we packed the mu­sic video full of wahine Maori of all ages, shapes and sizes. Eight months preg­nant with my son Kimiora Hiku­rangi, I was all shapes and sizes my­self.

The video was a de­lib­er­ate cel­e­bra­tion that, against all odds, Maori women are still here. When you don’t hear your lan­guage on the ra­dio or see your­selves on tele­vi­sion, it’s easy to get the im­pres­sion you don’t count.

Black Pearl took off, up the charts. Strangers would rock up with a hug, and say: “Thank you for mak­ing me feel proud to be a Maori woman,” then dis­ap­pear, leav­ing me teary.

Not long af­ter the re­lease, June Jack­son, my mother-in-law at the time, sug­gested we throw a Black Pearl party in the mid­dle of Man­gere as a treat for kuia who didn’t get out much. The venue was the Nga Whare Waatea night mar­kets. It didn’t have proper walls, just bits of tar­pau­lin. No one cared.

June was a cleaner. She made the best chut­ney around. She also backed a vi­sion by An­zac Wal­lace to cre­ate a wel­com­ing space for Maori in the heart of Man­gere, par­tic­u­larly those with weak ties to iwi. The long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of the Pa­role Board, June cre­ated a pro­gramme to help rein­te­grate in­mates into so­ci­ety. It was run by a neat bunch of ma­tri­archs.

Auck­land was full of dy­namic kuia who were sur­ro­gate mums and nans for many of us.

There was Hau­pai (Nanny Jack) Tawhara, a Tuhoe kuia and a fix­ture on the streets of South Auck­land. Her trademark white gloves were as spot­less as the rest of her Maori War­den uni­form.

Waireti Wal­ters, who was just as jolly and ir­rev­er­ent, and hell-bent on drag­ging any fe­male in her sights into her mo­bile cer­vi­cal smear clinic.

And dear old Mere Knight, who was at ev­ery hui in her beloved Man­gere. They re­minded me of the multi-tal­ented Beatrice Yates in Ro­torua, one of our Te Arawa kuia who be­came ev­ery­one’s aunty.

In­spired by that first Black Pearl party and those wahine, my friend Amiria Rer­iti and I teamed up with Brandi Hud­son, Carol Ngawati and Ni­cole Pres­land to run the an­nual Black Pearl Awards. It was another all-women, flax-roots af­fair, although ev­ery year a bunch of op­por­tunist males would vol­un­teer as wait­ers.

We wanted to ac­knowl­edge the un­sung hero­ines mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in their own com­mu­ni­ties. All of them were hum­ble to a T. One sweet old dear would knock on doors in her poor neigh­bour­hood to of­fer bud­get­ing ad­vice to young mums. Their gen­eros­ity of spirit had us dab­bing our eyes and ques­tion­ing our own com­mit­ment.

THERE WAS no ques­tion­ing the com­mit­ment of the women who lodged the Mana Wahine claim with the Wai­tangi Tri­bunal, in 1993. Or their mana. Dames Mira Sza­szy and Whina Cooper, Lady Rose Henare, Dr Iri­hapeti Rams­den, Donna Awa­tere, Ripeka Evans, and Pa­parangi Reid. For­mi­da­ble and highly ac­com­plished, they were role mod­els for many of my gen­er­a­tion.

The ba­sis of their claim was that the Crown’s ac­tions and poli­cies had breached the pro­tec­tion of­fered by Te Tir­iti — and that this sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion had de­prived wahine Maori of our spir­i­tual, cul­tural, so­cial, and eco­nomic well­be­ing.

Next year, 25 years af­ter it was first lodged — and af­ter sev­eral of the claimants have passed on — the Mana Wahine Wai 2700 claim will fi­nally be heard by the tri­bunal as part of the mas­sive Kau­papa In­quiry.

That in­quiry will also look at Wai 2608 — the claim that the jus­tice sys­tem is in­sti­tu­tion­ally bi­ased and dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­gets Maori.

I’m pick­ing there’ll be some mas­sive spillover be­tween the two.

For many Maori, th­ese aren’t con­tro­ver­sial claims. They’re the re­al­ity that we live with daily, the sta­tis­tics that we know only too well.

For ex­am­ple, Maori are more likely to be stopped by po­lice, ar­rested, less likely to have le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, more likely to plead guilty, and six times more likely to be im­pris­oned than any­one else. On top of that, Maori women make up nearly 60 per cent of the prison pop­u­la­tion. The im­pact on whanau is huge.

The Mana Wahine claim is a re­minder that Maori women have al­ways been at the front­lines of this fight to as­sert our mana and re­claim our right­ful place in this land.

Twenty years af­ter the Treaty was signed, in­clud­ing by 13 women, Maori were out­num­bered. Dis­ease. In­va­sion. Re­sis­tance. Maori women picked up weapons too, to de­fend their land and way of life.

My dad told us about Ahu­mai Te Paer­ata (Ngati Raukawa/Ngati Te Ko­hera) who re­sponded to calls from the Bri­tish that women leave Orakau: “If the men are to die, the women and chil­dren will die also.” Most did. Ahu­mai was shot four times.

Then there was Hine Pore (Te Arawa), who also fought along­side Kin­gi­tanga and at Gate Pa in the 1860s.

As power was de­volved from the Queen to set­tler gov­ern­ments, laws were in­tro­duced to alien­ate more land and un­der­mine Maori sovereignty.

Wahine ran­gatira had been used to as­sert­ing lead­er­ship and in­de­pen­dence. But they found them­selves bat­tling against both the im­po­si­tion of Euro­pean rule and mis­sion­ar­ies who re­placed the fe­male-heavy Maori sto­ries with Chris­tian ones, in which fe­males were chat­tels. In­creas­ingly dis­em­pow­ered Maori men started to pick up im­ported think­ing around gen­der roles.

Maori women joined the Women’s Chris­tian Temperance group as part of the Suf­frage move­ment (and had to sign a pledge to give up ta moko), but they also fought for a voice in the Maori Par­lia­ment.

Meri Te Tai Man­gakahia ad­dressed Te Ko­tahi­tanga, plead­ing for Maori women to not only vote, but sit in the house. She ar­gued that Queen Victoria might be more re­cep­tive to ad­vo­cacy from wahine, given Maori men hadn’t

had any suc­cess in halt­ing land alien­ation. Nga Komiti Wahine would later call for a boy­cott of the Na­tive Land Court while also fight­ing against alien mat­ri­mo­nial prop­erty laws.

Th­ese women honed their ad­vo­cacy, net­work­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills within Ladies Com­mit­tees and the Coun­try Women’s In­sti­tute (CWI). But they were me­dia savvy, play­ing a role in the pro­duc­tion of Maori news­pa­pers and us­ing them to mo­bilise around po­lit­i­cal is­sues — i roto i te reo.

De­spite the might of the Ma­chine, Maori women have con­tin­ued to fight back as their an­ces­tors did. For ex­am­ple, Maori writ­ers, aca­demics, and ac­tivists con­sis­tently chal­lenged the women’s move­ment about a lack of sup­port for de­coloni­sa­tion. They helped us un­der­stand the link be­tween coloni­sa­tion and the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma that has our peo­ple end­ing up in in­sti­tu­tions.

Linda Tuhi­wai Smith, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Waikato, agrees that the fem­i­nist strug­gle is rel­e­vant for all women in Aotearoa but, at the same time, “Our rage as an op­pressed group is di­rected at dom­i­nant white struc­tures which sit over us so en­com­passes white women as well as white men.”

THE RAGE went both ways. In 1981, my mate and I found our­selves next to Eva Rickard and other Spring­bok Tour pro­test­ers in the mid­dle of Rugby Park in Hamil­ton. The crowd was bay­ing for blood. And as we left the pitch, some recog­nised Eva as the kuia who had led the 1978 occupation on the Raglan Golf Course, af­ter land seized un­der the Pub­lic Works Act post-war was never re­turned. Eva copped their full anger. It was ugly.

It takes guts to get off the fence and do the un­pop­u­lar thing. Eva Rickard had that in spades. And the move­ment she led did change his­tory. The Crown even­tu­ally re­turned the land to Tainui Awhiro in 1984.

Mer­ata Mita copped abuse too. An ac­tivist whose own life is now cel­e­brated in film, Mer­ata gave our peo­ple a voice and ex­plored the hard

stuff on screen through Patu and Bas­tion Point: Day 507.

“The revo­lu­tion isn’t just run­ning out with a gun,” she said. “If a film I make causes indige­nous peo­ple to feel stronger about them­selves, then I’m achiev­ing some­thing worth­while for the revo­lu­tion.”

A men­tor to many, Mer­ata was in­spired by Nga Tam­a­toa. They weren’t al­ways pop­u­lar with Maori. In 1972, Hana Te He­mara’s pe­ti­tion mo­bilised sup­port for te reo. It even­tu­ally led to the es­tab­lish­ment of ko­hanga reo and helped gain of­fi­cial sta­tus for Maori lan­guage.

Hard to imag­ine now that, in 1984, Dame Naida Glav­ish was threat­ened with dis­missal for greet­ing cus­tomers with “Kia ora,” when she was a toll op­er­a­tor for the Post Of­fice. In 1991, af­ter reach­ing gold sales with Black

Pearl, I re­leased AEIOU to deaf­en­ing si­lence. New Zealand ra­dio wasn’t in­ter­ested in play­ing Maori mu­sic, but it turned out the rest of the world was. I didn’t know it then but singing in Maori about Maori would take me — and Hinewehi Mohi, Rob Ruha, Maisey Rika, Maimoa, and Alien Weaponry — on to stages around the globe.

When our indige­nous cousins from Tai­wan, Aus­tralia, Canada and else­where look at Maori gains with envy, we tell them that noth­ing has ever been handed to us on a plate. Maori con­tinue to put up one hell of a fight.

SO WHERE are we now? My 10-year-old just sent me her es­say ex­plor­ing the place of women in Maori mythol­ogy. It’s in Maori. Two ticks for that.

This week when I asked women to send images of them­selves for my War­rior Woman mu­sic video, it was heart­en­ing to see so many wear­ing ta moko. Big tick.

We can cer­tainly cel­e­brate an in­crease in the num­ber of Maori women lead­ing iwi or at the board­room ta­ble, in Par­lia­ment and across the pro­fes­sions — women like Brandi Hud­son now run­ning the In­de­pen­dent Statu­tory Board, Ari­hia Ben­nett and Lisa Tuma­hai, the chief ex­ec­u­tive and chair of Te Ru­nanga o Ngai Tahu.

Maori women are of­ten lead­ing the way at iwi and hapu level, too. They’re tack­ling en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues or ac­tive on post-set­tle­ment trusts. Many more, like my cousins Watu Mi­hinui and Aneta Mor­gan at Whakare­warewa, are run­ning wananga and keep­ing ev­ery­one up with the play.

Most of my old class­mates from law school are judges. There are Maori women in the arts and in sports on the global stage. And hot­shot jour­nal­ists, ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists and aca­demics. Oth­ers have high-level roles in­side or­gan­i­sa­tions and gov­ern­ment min­istries. “Think of me as a plant,” whis­pered one high-flyer to a group of us. The Black Pearls I know are on a mis­sion. They may be flamethrow­ers or stealth bombers, but changers don’t just want a seat at the ta­ble. They want to tip the ta­ble over, rear­range the seat­ing and change the menu.

Neo-lib­er­al­ism, con­sumerism, cap­i­tal­ism,

Meri Te Tai Man­gakahia ad­dressed Te Ko­tahi­tanga, plead­ing for Maori women to not only vote, but sit in the house. She ar­gued that Queen Victoria might be more re­cep­tive to ad­vo­cacy from wahine, given Maori men hadn’t had any suc­cess in halt­ing land alien­ation.

in­di­vid­u­al­ism, racism — all the “isms” — are killing all of us, but es­pe­cially Maori.

Most Pakeha un­der­stand that their sons and daugh­ters are less likely to be picked up by the cops, go to court, drop out of school, rob a bank, get sick, be un­em­ployed, com­mit sui­cide, or end up home­less. The sta­tis­tics should be a wake-up call. Many Pakeha don’t un­der­stand the dice is loaded in their favour — that their place in the is a given. Most who do are agents of change in their cir­cles of in­flu­ence.

JUNE JACK­SON was made a Dame in 2010 and has re­tired. She’s frag­ile now. But her happy place was al­ways among a posse of big, bold, and bossy women at Waatea — smok­ing and cack­ling up large.

Back then, Amiria Rer­iti and I would rock up to them. “Tobacco is a tool of coloni­sa­tion,” we’d an­nounce. “Maori women have the high­est smok­ing rates in the world.”

They would roll their eyes. And take another puff. The im­pact of coloni­sa­tion walked through their gates ev­ery day. Poor. An­gry. On strug­gle street. Alone in New Zealand’s most crowded city. That’s the sad re­al­ity for more and more Maori.

If I was go­ing to give out a Black Pearl Award this year, it would be to a grand­mother I know who has raised three young chil­dren on a ben­e­fit while both par­ents were in jail. At one point, she was forced to live in a mo­tel be­cause, un­known to her, some­one had smoked “P” in her state house. De­spite that strug­gle, she’s in­stilled pride and pos­i­tiv­ity in her grand­daugh­ters.

Sure, we’ve made ad­vances, but what with all the “isms”, it’s Maori women like Nan bear­ing the brunt of try­ing to hold fam­i­lies to­gether and raise con­fi­dent and ed­u­cated kids, while oth­ers work hard to chal­lenge sys­temic racism and struc­tural in­equities we in­herit through coloni­sa­tion.

This year, as we re­flect on Women’s Suf­frage and 250 years since the ar­rival of James Cook, the legacy of on­go­ing coloni­sa­tion — the real story, warts and all — will un­fold at the Wai­tangi Tri­bunal.

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