Angeline Ngahina Greensill grew up in a Raglan family where you didn’t have to look too far to see how you should respond in the face of injustice. You spoke up. And you took action. That was the trademark style of her mother, Eva Rickard, right up until her death in 1997. And there was nothing timid about Eva’s mum either. She was Riria Rapana. So, among Angeline’s role models, were these two formidable women. But she has travelled her own path too – in the academic world, teaching (here and in Brisbane), lecturing, gathering in a law degree, battling for a stronger political voice for Māori, nurturing kids (seven of them plus 14 mokopuna), and working zealously for the environment as well. Dale starts the conversation with a query about who Angeline had found to be inspirational – and Riria, that imposing grandma, was the first who came to her mind.
Riria was from Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Toa. She married Honehone Kereopa of Tainui. I was six when she died, but I vividly remember that she was very tall. At least 6ft 2. She was bilingual but preferred Māori. She was a healer, orator, songwriter, bush lawyer. She spoiled us but she was staunch too – and she knew when you’d done something wrong just by looking at you.
She fought the government when they confiscated Te Kōpua for an aerodrome in World War Two and managed to get 200 pounds compensation from them for her loss of access between her house and the town. The rest of the people were moved off but she stayed at her home while bulldozers demolished the meeting house below. Her home still stands at Riria Kereopa Memorial Drive, Whāingaroa (Raglan).
And your mum and dad?
My mother, Tuaiwa (Eva), was the seventh of 15 children. She was a courageous, creative, woman of colour who could dance, dress, sing, and bake the best creamed mussel pies. She was always helping others, and was renowned for her activism over land, justice and political rights.
My dad, James Rickard, had 10 siblings and hailed from Rangitukia. His father, Vivian, was Irish and his mother, Juliana, was Spanish/Portuguese/Māori. During World War Two, Dad was manpowered to the Tikitiki Post Office. He was about 15. He was then sent to Tāneatua, then to Cambridge and in 1945 arrived in Whāingaroa where he met my mother. They married two years later. He was a great cook, a gardener, and provider. He helped establish Poihākena Marae, Whāingaroa Kite Whenua Trust and Te Kōpua 2B3 Incorporation (which oversees a multiply owned land block in Whaingaroa).
How many children did your parents have?
There were nine of us. One died shortly after birth and another brother died a couple of years ago. I’m the eldest daughter and second in line. One brother lives in Australia and the rest of us are here. Four of us live in Whāingaroa. So does my dad. My mum passed on nearly 20 years ago.
Your mother was a very high-profile campaigner, wasn’t she? Did that mean you were always aware of the challenges for our people?
No, I didn’t realise how bad things really were until I came back from overseas in my 20s. I was born in 1948, so I grew up just after World War Two. In a small town like Raglan, with just over 1100 people, we were a close-knit community. Māori and Pākehā worked together. The gap between the rich and the poor was less noticeable because there were no unemployed. So growing up was wonderful.
We had dozens of mothers who knew all the kids. Even businessmen knew every child who went into their shops and it seemed that many parents took responsibility for the children in our town. We’d go to whānau houses and snack on our way home from school. Then there were daily chores to do as both parents worked in the post office. My dad later became the bank manager at Trust Bank until he retired. Well, retired is the wrong word because he ended up supporting my mother’s many campaigns, and still works voluntarily for our hapū and charitable trust.
Life was simple in the 1950s. There was no television. We didn’t have a radio. We had no electricity until I was nine. We swam in the river and learned about our environment. We learned right from wrong, and how to look after one another. Ignorance was bliss.
When did things in your whare start to focus on politics?
About the 1960s, when the golf course and sewage issues began. The club wanted to move the Waitetuna golf course, seven miles out of town, to Te Kōpua (the Raglan aerodrome). That was the first time my mother took me to a public meeting. We were totally outnumbered, probably five Māori to a full town hall of 200 golfers and councillors. Decisions were made about our land, whether we liked it or not.
At the same time, the town was growing – so they needed to put in a sewage pond. The Health Department had subsidised small towns to build oxidation ponds to store sewage before pumping it out to sea. The council chose Te Rua o Te Ataiōrongo, our wāhi tapu site, just upstream from our marae. That led to calls from tōhunga to meet in Raglan, at 12 noon on February 12, 1978. We did and witnessed the Raglan Golf course arrests. When I saw my mother being arrested, I completely switched my energies to pro-Māori causes.
Just prior to that, there were protests like the 1975 Māori Land March, which I didn’t participate in as I was overseas. When I came back, there was certainly a change of climate. The lines had been drawn and people were actively promoting going back and living on the land and trying to hold on to the three million acres of land that Māori still had.
Then, in 1981, there was that Springbok tour which prompted a lot of protest, including the action that led to you and Eva and many others helping to stop the Waikato game.
Oh yes. My mother and I ended up among the protesters on the Hamilton rugby ground. We didn’t plan to be there. We’d gone to support the protest march. Somehow, the fence gave way and we ended up in the middle of the field. Mum was happy to be there. I was a bit worried though because I was breast feeding my son who I’d left with my husband, Alan, and Dad back in Whāingaroa. I thought we’d be gone for a couple of hours, but we were there until quite late in the afternoon. It wasn’t a great place to be because there were some very angry rugby fans. Still, there was a good outcome because what happened in Hamilton gave hope to Nelson Mandela and the South African struggle against apartheid.
Did you feel vulnerable standing with your mum in the middle of a rugby field with so many irate rugby fans?
Definitely. Especially when the Red Squad were running at us with their batons. They’d charge, stop a few inches away, retreat and then charge again. I was sure we were going to get whacked. I was two or three rows back from the outside circle and we’d all linked arms. Syd Jackson was one of the first arrested. They had to drag people off one-by-one and that cut into game time. Eventually they cancelled it. As we were leaving, people began throwing cans of alcohol. The police were trying to get us out of the grounds before they released the crowd. I can remember my mother standing with her hands on her hips and yelling out to a group of Māori boys who were chucking things at us: “You should be here on my side supporting us instead of throwing things.” So they sat down. But it wasn’t a safe place to be. We were lucky to escape unscathed that evening, but many others suffered injuries inflicted by angry rugby fans.
That was an example of people power, wasn’t it?
Yes. But I look around today and that energy seems to be missing. We were very active in the 70s, 80s and into the 90s, and then, after the sell-off of the State-Owned Enterprises, things changed. That was when market forces were allowed to influence our economy. I think we’ve gone downhill since then.
Changes at universities have had an impact too. I was paid to train as a teacher. Since the 1980s, students have had to take out student loans and, instead of getting out to a protest about education, loans, or anything else affecting them, they’re busy concentrating on trying to pass their exams. Their priority is to pass and then try and get a job to pay off their loan. Those who can’t find jobs still have debts to pay back. I think it’s criminal. Government free market policies introduced user pays and put many students into debt which they will take years to pay back.
You’ve taken education seriously – a teaching degree, a law degree, a master of social science. You’ve been a political candidate on three or four occasions too. Have your whānau followed a similar path of education and political involvement?
Yes, but they’ve followed their own paths too. Some have been observers of the actions I’ve taken. They’ve gone into accounting, linguistics, teaching, justice, whakairo, IT, permaculture, and physiotherapy. So there’s some variety there. Half of my children speak te reo and some speak other languages. Some have been involved in various political campaigns, environmental protests and hikoi.
And your tane?
Alan is a lovely man, very much like my dad. Poor guy – I got him to retire this year and he’s been busy ever since. I retired 18 months ago from Waikato University because I had too much work to do at home, looking after our hapū treaty claims, and environment. Right now, Alan is using his skills to project manage the refurbishment of the old Waihi Dairy hostel at the Kokiri we inherited during the land struggle. He’s also busy working with my dad on gardens and erosion projects. Without his support, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve had to do. It’s been very much like my mother’s life. My dad was always the strength behind her, ensuring she got the task done.
Caring for the environment has long been one of your main concerns, hasn’t it?
I love the land. I think we’ve got a wonderful country. I get depressed when I see rules and regulations that allow people to just haphazardly chop out 100 acres of bush a year. Māori land around here that we’ve looked after is still in its natural state and we prefer to keep it like that. The problem is that it’s now looked on as waste land. The Ture Whenua Maori Act is about to be changed, and I think some of our lands will be threatened. I’ve grown up aware of what was taken and of the need to hold on to what is left for current and future generations.
I also love the sea. The confiscation of the foreshore and seabed was a huge injustice because our people managed these spaces. Every whānau had rocks that they used to look after and you couldn’t take from someone’s crayfish hole. You had to look after your own. The Foreshore and Seabed Act basically gave the management of our place over to councils and Crown agencies. Our kaitiakitanga is very difficult to exercise with the rules that are imposed upon us. We do it, but it’s a struggle.
Angeline, you’ve stood politically on many fronts over a long period of time. Do you sense that your tamariki are in on the long game and will be following in your footsteps?
Yes, I think some of them will. Some won’t because they are aware of the lifelong commitment that is needed to create change and they have other priorities. But that’s for them to decide. My job is to pass on strategies, skills and knowledge I have gained over the years that may prove useful not only to them but to their children, and others in our hapū.
I’ve accumulated a lot of information which I intend to archive and put into a hapū library so that whanau can access that information and strengthen themselves. They can relive the battles we’ve won and lost and, hopefully, learn to strategise for better outcomes. We’re planning to have wananga to teach our whānau and hapū some of the old songs that they may not know or have forgotten. When you destroy a community, you destroy the continuation of tradition and knowledge of waiata and kōrero. We’re lucky, my grandmother Riria wrote songs, so we have some to pass on to our mokopuna.
Social justice, as Rangi Walker said, is a “struggle without end”. We have lost many in our struggle for social justice and made small gains along the way. While those in power turn a blind eye to the devastating impacts their decisions are having on children, whānau, communities and our environment, the fight continues. To give up the struggle is not an option and is not in the best interests of our children, grandchildren or our country.
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