Ms Panoho was 14 years old when she and fellow students from Auckland’s Western Springs College (then called Seddon High School) marched across the city’s harbour bridge during the 1975 Land March. Next year she was part of the Bastion Point occupation, as an organiser with the Grey Lynn Youth Group.
"It was a very political era in the 70s and 80s when we got started. We rose up to assert our rangatiratanga through the Māori rights movement, the trade union movement, the women’s movement, the mana wahine movement and homosexual law reform," says Ms Panoho.
"Aotearoa has changed because so many of us fought to change it. As we pushed to change society, we also pushed for change within our unions. That’s where the Kaihautū Māori position comes from. The movements produced great role models who paved the way for us today. Through our own Māori leadership, we assert our mana as Māori workers in the PSA and in our communities."
The Grey Lynn Youth Group organised young Māori and Pasefika in the 1970s and 80s, resourced and funded by Auckland City Council.
An active unionist all her life, Janice began work for the PSA in 1984. She was previously on the Executive Board of the Clerical Workers Union, and ran for parliament as a Mana Motuhake and Alliance candidate.
In the 1980s, Māori unionists came together in nationwide huis to demand genuine Treaty partnership and greater representation within union structures.
Ms Panoho organised huis that led to the creation of Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina with the move to organise by sectors, the Māori network to which about 8,000 PSA members now belong.
In her new role, she oversees the integration of kaupapa Māori programmes and strategies into the PSA’s campaigns, works to normalise tikanga practice in the PSA, and leads the union’s engagement with iwi and kaupapa Māori organisations.
"Māori have a troubled history with the New Zealand state, and as the union for state employees the PSA is well placed to campaign for positive change. The best way to improve this relationship is to improve the conditions in which Māori communities live," says Ms Panoho.
"What’s good for Māori workers is good for all workers. If we sort out the social issues for our people it will benefit all of Aotearoa. The struggle continues."
PSA Kuia Georgina Kerr provided the following mihi to honour Ms Panoho’s appointment.
"Tuia te tiriti ki runga, tuia te tiriti ki raro, tuia te tiriti ki roto, tuia te tiriti ki waho. Tihei mauri ora!
Ka wehi kia io, nāna nei te tīmatanga me te whakamutunga o ngā mea katoa, e tika ana kia whai kororia ko tōna ingoa tapu. Tukuna mai te kaha me te manaakitanga, ūnuhia te māramatanga hei korowai, hei rangatira mo tātou.
Kei ngā mate huhua o te wā, ka noho rātou ki te tihi o to whakaaro nui. Hokihoki atu ki Te Ao Tūroa, haere atu rā, moe mai rā, okioki atu rā.
Otirā, ki ngā kanohi o rātou mā, nau mai, haere mai rā ki Te Pukenga Here Tikanga Mahi."
PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies says the union is proud to announce Ms Panoho’s appointment.
"Janice brings a wealth of mana to this new position. Her experience, dedication and extensive networks in both the Pakeha and Māori worlds are of immense value to our union and the whole movement," she says.
Lesley Dixon and Virgil Iraia, tuakana and teina (convenor and deputy convenor) of Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina, say the Kaihautū Māori position will allow the union to fully engage with ngā iwi katoa.
"We congratulate and warmly welcome Janice to our union’s leadership."
"She brings deep knowledge and understanding to the role, giving us an opportunity to further develop our relationship with all iwi through Te Rūnanga and our Māori membership across the public service."
PSA President Benedict Ferguson encourages the union movement to engage with its history.
"There were always many unionists who supported Māori rights, but that’s not the whole story. We must also acknowledge Māori faced racism within our ranks," he says.
"We can build on the best of our past and learn from the mistakes. When Janice and others marched for land rights in 1975, the PSA supported them with a large donation. By stepping up as Kaihautū Māori, Janice honours the best of our history and strengthens our capacity to improve on it."