Thanks to Teanau Tuiono and Iris Tuiono for the pictures taken at the Hirangi Hui 1995 and representatives of various movement groups from around the motu.
It was an exciting time to be at University when I did my undergraduate degrees in the mid-nineties. I had been on a purpose driven kaupapa Māori quest since I arrived back from London after a four year OE (overseas experience). When I left in 1987, I found people outside of Aotearoa were so interested in Māori culture and language which was a stark contrast to what I found in Manurewa. I also left Aotearoa not knowing anyone who had been to University and yet everyone I travelled with had a degree. Suddenly a university degree was back on the table for me after the high school careers counsellor had systematically removed the idea from my worldview with her advice to be a hairdresser instead of a doctor or teacher. With my confidence boosted through being a traveller I returned with a steely resolve to go to University, and learn my Māori language and culture. That quest has profoundly changed my life.
I started the journey to reclaim my te reo Māori at night class in 1992, and felt like I had found my tribe at Te Ara Poutama, Auckland University of Technology then known as AIT. Alongside my new like-minded friends from our class, I started my journey to learn te reo, and with it tikanga, and kapa haka. It wasn’t long before the enthusiasm for our language and culture produced a week long full immersion model of learning, and the group Te Wānanga ki Waiheke was formed. We later renamed it Te Wānanga Reo Rumaki to encompass our desire to take the wānanga around the country and learn from the various iwi and hapu tribal groups.
Within this group I started decolonising my mind. We saw such a need for this and as such we added a full day in English to our Wānanga and dedicated it to decolonising workshops and activities. As a result, a new world of critique, politicisation, and conscientisation had opened up to me. I started to understand myself, my culture and my “assigned” place as a Māori woman in our society better. The anger and frustration began to well up, and soon after there was a call to action. I wouldn’t have been ready if it wasn’t for this foundation.
In 1994, somehow a “leaked” document named the Fiscal Envelope found its way to our desks, which proposed a fiscal cap of $1 billion to settle all Te Tiriti o Waitangi historical claims. At our Te Wānanga Reo Rumaki after-party in Christchurch we decided to set up a political activist group to oppose and disseminate information on the Fiscal Envelope. Te Kawau Maro was born; a fitting name for what was to eventuate, gifted to us by one of our Wānanga leaders and a mokopuna of Rewi Maniapoto Keith Ikin.
By then many of what became the core members of Te Kawau Maro had started or were completing degrees at the University of Auckland. From our base up at Hineahuone we set up an office and connected with Ngā Tauira Māori, our communities, and the Maori activist groups around the country. Te Kawau Maro as a group were able to work with the activist groups to coordinate a mass movement based around tino rangatiratanga. We started with a goal of information dissemination about the Fiscal Envelope but ended having achieved a lot more.
Tuhoe brothers either side of Cherryl Smith, Lavinia Kula and Abigail McClutchie, 1995 Tuhoe Embassy, Ruatoki.
From numerous protests up Queen Street and a Hikoi to Wellington, to demonstrations such as opposing CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting) NZ 1995, where we instead offered the Alternative to CHOGM hui for activists and Te Tiriti o Waitangi trainers to learn more about decolonising their minds. As well as supporting numerous occupations such as Pakaitore (Moutoa Gardens) and the Tuhoe Embassy in Ruatoki, we also brought a creative flair to our protests such as the late Piripi Haami and crew froWhanganui pretending to be a courier and delaying the One News at 6pm, protesting the replica Endeavour at Queen’s Wharf, and dressing up as police officers with bus driver uniforms, and $2 shop helmets and batons with a Theatre of the Oppressed flash mob at Aotea Square, we were able to share information about tino rangatiratanga. All of the work activists were doing around the country got the attention of Māori leaders including Paramount Chief Tā Hepi Te Heuheu of Tuwharetoa. He called a national hui to discuss the government’s plans and on behalf of Te Kawau Maro I was tasked with presenting some of our concerns. Following Tā Hepi’s press, rejecting the Fiscal Envelope on behalf of Māori tribes, rōpu and individuals at Hirangi Marae that day, the government were forced to have proper consultations.
It didn’t take long to realise that there were many kaupapa that needed our attention and support. Our small and committed group were starting to get thin on the ground as we involved ourselves in broader issues and student politics. What I learned is that we had failed to re-group and reset our objectives broader than just the Fiscal Envelope. Before long our beloved Te Kawau Maro had imploded and our work together as a group was done. Around the same time our wonderful rangatira Wharepapa Ben Savage passed away and Te Wānanga Reo Rumaki held our last wānanga at the Piritahi marae on Waiheke where it had first started.
With both Te Kawau Maro and Te Wānanga Reo Rumaki no longer in operation, my aspirations for tino rangatiratanga and a decolonised Aotearoa New Zealand also faded. My positive vision was now a blur and I fell into a depressive state. With my degrees I ran away to Korea to teach English. It took me a long time to find my new standing place in the tino rangatiratanga movement and I still struggle to learn my reo consistently. As well as other interesting lessons along the way, I learned that once you have aspirations of tino rangatiratanga they may fade for a period, but they never go away, and they’ll pester you until you find another way to realise them.
The most important thing I learned was that I could make a difference without a group, one person and one conversation at a time. I learned that being an agent of change requires a lot of skills. I gained quite a few of them on the go and they have been most useful in my career and personal life. However, one the most important ones is to choose to be a life-long learner. What this means is that there are no mistakes when you are open to learning from the minute you open your eyes in the morning to the moment you close them. Everything outside of your comfort zone is the learning zone, and the more comfortable you get stepping out, the easier it gets and the braver you become.
Whilst I found the front line quite frightening at times it was also exciting. I remember the energy and passion that quite often surged through me during our kaupapa-driven activities and encounters. A lot of that was fear, and the feeling of being willing to make a stand anyway. I haven’t really protested on the front-line for a while, but I support anyone who is willing to stand up and be counted in that way. Instead these days I seek other ways to contribute to the kaupapa and these bring me the same feelings of passion and excitement.
It amazes me to know what a handful of committed people can do to effect change. I think you can also do a lot for the kaupapa working one conversation at a time. In saying that, it’s always good to work with like-minded souls because it’s a lot of fun and there is nothing better than brainstorming with brains. Mauri ora!