Māori wāhine remembered in suffrage movement

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RNZ rnz.co.nz

The Minister for Women says wāhine Māori don't get the credit they deserve for their role in women gaining the right to vote, so she threw an event in Wellington this week to acknowledge them.

Suffragette Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Source: Auckland Museum

Up on a stage in front of almost 100 people, an emotional Mona Mangakāhia paid tribute to the memory of her great-grandmother Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia.

She said she wasn't afraid to tell it how it was and thought many Māori women could do a better job than the men.

"I quote, 'There are many women who are knowledgeable of the management of land where their husbands were not.'

"And, again, she suggested to parliament that the Queen would listen to petitions presented to her Māori sisters."

In 1893 her great grandmother was the first woman who bravely stood before the Māori parliament arguing the right for women to vote, and stand as members of parliament.

If you hadn't heard of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter said, that was the problem.

She said women like her and the first Māori woman MP, Iriaka Ratana, needed more recognition for their role in the suffrage movement.

"It's important to recognise the critical role that wāhine Māori played in the suffrage movement because often times all we hear about is Kate Sheppard and the suffragists.

"There were Māori suffragists who helped pave the way for women winning the right to vote in Aotearoa."

Today there are 13 Māori women in parliament.

Lawyer Julia Whaipooti, said they were continuing to show all young Māori women that having a voice was possible.

"In order to see, you have to be, and I really believe that. For me, it's inspiring to see that it's possible, it doesn't mean that Māori women have to go into parliament but what it means is that we're visible in places that make decisions about us."

Speakers of the evening remembered wahine like Rangitopeora from Ngāti Toa who was described as a courageous warrior, a user of taiaha, and a beacon for her people.

They remembered Te Puea Herangi from Waikato, who opposed the government's conscription of Māori men, telling her people on many occasions not to fight another man's war.

Mona Mangakāhia said the legacy of those wahine and that of her her great-grandmother lived on.

"Ērā wāhine arataki ai tātou, leading in various sectors - hākinakia sports, business and innovation, the revitalisation of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, each and every one of them leading the way and personafied those values of leadership exemplified by my tupuna, Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia."

She said all Māori should exercise their right to choose how they vote while the Māori Electoral Option was currently underway, a right that was hard fought for by her tūpuna.

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