The opening hearings in the Waitangi Tribunal’s Mana Wahine Inquiry have heard powerful kōrero about the power, authority and status held by wāhine Māori in pre-colonial Aotearoa.
A series of tūāpapa hearings are setting the pou or foundations for the Inquiry, by exploring the tikanga and role of wāhine in Te Ao Māori.
The Inquiry will go on to consider contemporary treaty breaches including the PSA’s Rūnanga’s claim against employment inequities that have left generations of wāhine Māori in low paid jobs with vulnerable working conditions.
The first hearings were held at Kerikeri in Te Tai Tokerau and Ngāruawahia in Waikato in February.
In often moving testimony, speakers presented evidence about the mana that wāhine held in pre-colonial society.
Ripeka Evans, one of the original claimants from the first Mana Wahine claim in 1993, spoke of how tāne and wāhine were essential to the collective whole.
She described the wāhine Māori who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the “founding mothers” and said colonial attitudes had led the Crown to prevent other wāhine from signing.
“The colonial culture that looked to men as leaders and chiefs – this caused the negation of wāhine Māori mana motuhake and rangatiratanga over their whenua, taonga, mātauranga, hearts, bodies, minds and beliefs.”
PSA Kuia Georgina Kerr attended the first hearing in Kerikeri. She is one of the claimants for Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina’s claim.
She says the kōrero highlighted the “systemic deprivation experienced by all of us”.
“It is clear that our rights have been marginalised for too long, that colonisation has had an impact on the minds, bodies and spirits of generations of wāhine.”
Whaea Georgina says many of the claimants were tearful and emotional as they spoke at the first hearing.
She plans to give evidence herself at one of the upcoming tūāpapa hearings this year.
“We still have to stand up there and that’s a hurtful process. It’s not easy opening your hearts up to share those stories.
“But the Crown is trying to make amends and the Waitangi Tribunal is the pathway to that journey.”
The Rūnanga’s claim will highlight treaty breaches such as the Crown’s failure to provide education that adequately prepares wāhine Māori for employment, or to eliminate bias and discrimination in the workplace.
The Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry will hear a range of claims which allege prejudice to wāhine Māori as a result of historical and contemporary treaty breaches.
Main photo caption: PSA Kuia and claimant Georgina Kerr and claim lawyer Tania Te Whenua