For many years, and for many Pākehā and Māori, the Tuwhare name has conjured up memories of Hone Tuwhare, a railways boilermaker who brought his distinctive poetry into their lives when that form of the arts hadn’t been among their interests. Hone died in his late 80s more than 10 years ago. But, before his passing, another Tuwhare voice began making an impact. That’s the voice of Moana Tuwhare, one of Hone’s grandchildren who, armed with a BA and a law degree, and now 20 years of legal experience, has become a leading and forthright figure in a number of Ngāpuhi’s struggles. And, as she explains to Dale, the Treaty settlement is by no means the only goal.


Kia ora, Moana. Thank you for joining us on E-Tangata. And, first of all, I wonder if you might explain where your names come from.

Well, my full name is Moana Mary Tuwhare. Mary is my mother’s and my grandmother’s middle name. It’s one of those names that have been passed on in the family. And Tuwhare is the surname of my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. I’m not sure where they got Moana from. I think that, back in the mid-‘70s, they just decided it was a good name.

Its a lovely name. Now can you tell us a little bit about your whānau?

I’ve grown up knowing I was conceived in Hiruharama on the Whanganui river. My parents, who were devout hippies at the time, were living in the community at Jerusalem. That was when James K Baxter had a following there. I’ve grown up knowing that the people of Ngāti Hau are a part of our wider whānau from that time that my parents lived there.

So that’s where life began for me. But I was actually born in the north, at Whangarei Hospital. My parents, Rob and Lynette, at that stage, were living in Northland. Then, a few years after I was born, we shifted to Waiheke Island and I was brought up on Waiheke for most of my childhood, although we did a stint in Australia for a few years.

In those days, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Waiheke was an isolated community that you could reach only on a very slow, wooden ferry.

It wasn’t the Waiheke that we know today of gated communities and fast catamaran rides to downtown Auckland. It was a pretty small, tight-knit community and we had the fortunate experience of being brought up with a lot of really astute and broad-minded people.

That was the environment that my parents exposed me to when I was young. And it’s the kind of environment that I’ve been exposed to most of my life. So I’ve been quite lucky in that regard.

We were an active part of the Ngā Hau e Whā community on Waiheke at Piritahi marae. There was a whole lot of whānau from different hapū and different iwi from all over New Zealand, which made for a unique marae upbringing.

There were some pretty staunch female leaders who ran the marae. I remember being on the end of the tea towel in the wharekai with all the aunties for most of my younger years. And I soon realised that’s where all the decisions were being made.

We had the privilege of being with people like our Aunty Dottie Keetels who was the matriarch of the marae. She was the one who’d pushed for establishing the marae there and had found the funding and made it all happen. Then there were women like Sandra Lee who, at that time, was the local councillor for Waiheke at the Auckland City Council.

Before that, she was on the community board. She was deputy leader of the Mana Motuhake party under Uncle Matiu Rata. He handed the mantle on to her and she became the leader of Mana Motuhake and deputy leader of the Alliance when they joined with Labour, the Greens, Democrats and various other parts of the Alliance party.

You mustve got a taste for politics yourself when all that was going on.

In my teenage years, I was involved in all of those political movements that went with being an active rangatahi member of Mana Motuhake. So I had the privilege of seeing Uncle Mat in his later years, which was awesome and inspiring.

I also got a good education because I was fortunate enough to be sent to Auckland Girls’ Grammar. My best mate was Annabelle  Lee (Sandra’s daughter) and we commuted to AGGS every day. In the third form, when we’d just turned 13, we were bleary-eyed girls catching the ferry at 6.30 in the morning. So it was a long, hard day for kids that young. But we absolutely loved it.

I ended up going to Ngā Tumanako o Kahurangi there. It was, in effect, a school within the school and was led by the likes of Rahera Shortland and Arapera Blank (nee Kaa) from the East Coast. So we had inspiring role models in those years.

Can you tell us about your mum and the support and influence she provided for you?

My mum, Lynette Kelly, is a Pākehā, of English descent. Born and bred in Christchurch. Well and truly a South Island Pākehā in her upbringing. She was the black sheep of the family and she had more broad-minded views than the rest of our family did about race relations and Treaty rights and all of those things.

I think her natural fit in life was within Māori communities. She was a registered nurse and she was a very strong influence in my life within our marae community. She was the one who was always dragging me to the marae and making me peel potatoes and whatever else needed doing.

Why do you think she was like that?

I believe it’s just that she’s had a radar for social justice — and it hasn’t been limited to what she saw as the unfairness and injustices facing Māori. She’s one of those people with a big heart and finely tuned antennae for things that aren’t right.

When I was 12, Mum took me out of school for the Peace Walk, which was a hikoi from Te Rerenga Wairua to Wellington. It was primarily about New Zealand being nuclear free. So she was always exposing me to the bigger picture on important issues.

She was from a poor working class family who moved to Twizel when the dam was being built. Then they went back to Christchurch. Mum was a woman who naturally gravitated towards people in need. I think that was one reason she went to nursing. She had a sharp analytical mind as well, and she encouraged us not to just accept what we were being told or what was put in front of us.

And what about your dad?

My dad, Rob Tuwhare, is one of the three sons of Hone Tuwhare. He‘s also always been very open-minded. His mother, my grandmother Jean Tuwhare (nee McCormack), has been a particularly strong influence on him, and all of us too.

Her father (Great-grandad Duncan) who I knew as a young child, had a thick Scottish accent until the day he died. He was an amazing artist and a conscientious objector in the war — and he was imprisoned in Wellington for refusing to go to war.

Again, that side of our family were pretty staunch on social justice issues and rights and freedoms, so Dad was brought up with that influence. And I regard Grandma Jean as being pretty ahead of her times. Fiercely independent and clever, and as a primary school teacher, she has influenced many children‘s lives positively.

Of course, Dad‘s father Hone Tuwhare was also a huge part of his life and so my dad is a product of all of that. Dad is a lover of music and books and a carpenter by trade. But also, you could catch him at Aboriginal rights protests in Sydney, facilitating anger management men‘s groups, working in prisons, writing stories, and watching sport. My kids would say he’s the best koro ever, so that‘s my dad.

Did you have much contact with Hone, your koro?

Well, I knew and loved Grandad. Everybody knew him. He was one of those people who, when in a good mood, would immediately manaaki people and make you feel welcome and entertained. That’s how I distinctly remember him. Every time we were together, he would go to extremes with getting the yummiest kai and drinks. He was always generous and kind to me.

He entrusted me with some important family histories and whakapapa and I think we had a deep and abiding love and respect for each other. I cherish every moment I got to be with him. He was a distinctly special and unique person.

Let’s turn now to your life as a lawyer. What prompted you to make that your profession?

I think the Treaty of Waitangi, the agreement that our tūpuna signed in 1840, has always been a passion of mine, something I’ve felt really strongly about. I recall the school having people, like Moana Maniapoto, come and talk to us on the Treaty and colonisation and de-colonisation and those sorts of things in the early 1990s.

That struck a strong chord with me. But also, in the family I grew up in, I couldn’t avoid being informed about Treaty issues. So the decision to go to law school wasn’t so much a decision. It was more of a pull.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I enrolled in law school, got in, managed to pass and then somebody gave me a job. But it was really Treaty law or Treaty jurisprudence and the Treaty relationship that attracted me.

At that time, there was the fisheries case and the big iwi-urban debate going through the High Court which was just around the corner from the law school.  Various other things were happening, like the fiscal envelope and Moutoa Gardens occupation in Whanganui. So I was aware that important things were starting to change, or had been changing for a time since Uncle Mat put the legislation to the house to establish the Waitangi Tribunal.

I was caught up with all those issues as a student. That’s sort of what pulled me into law. Since graduating, I’ve been dealing with Māori issues but mostly with Treaty issues and Waitangi Tribunal claims. I’ve had the privilege of representing hapū and iwi from all over the country and it’s been awesome.

Its been frustrating and galling that, although the Treaty settlements have been in the order of two cents in the dollar deals, a good proportion of wider New Zealand seems to think Māori are being generously treated. But I imagine that some of that Treaty work has been inspiring as well as frustrating.

It is full of frustrations, but there are plenty of ups as well. When I’m working in that space, I sometimes have my lawyer hat on, but sometimes I’m wearing my iwi-hapū representative hat.

I need to be quite clear about that distinction because I can quit my lawyer job today or tomorrow, but I can’t ever walk away from my whakapapa and the legacy that my tūpuna have left.

So I always call myself Ngāpuhi before I call myself a lawyer. More specifically Te Pōpoto, Te Uri o Hua, Ngāti Tautahi and Ngāti Korokoro.

Working with our people in the thick of dealing with Treaty issues, in my view, is an absolute privilege. And what I’ve found is not just the generosity of spirit and the accommodation that our people constantly make to tauiwi and to the government of the day, but the generosity in sharing knowledge and sharing understanding and sharing histories and stories.

It’s a constant learning, a constant wānanga in that regard. We get the privilege of having so much information and mātauranga shared with us as Māori lawyers. That side of things is pretty special. But it comes with full-on obligations to care for that mātauranga and to push for results that are meaningful.

Youve been a vocal critic of the Ngāpuhi settlement delays. And I suspect that it hasnt been easy for you as a youngish Māori woman to stand up against some of the figures in those debates and negotiations. But what do you see as the way forward?

I could probably talk for a week about this, but I’ll try and give you the short version. The main issue, as I see it, is that Ngāpuhi have always operated as a confederation of independent and interdependent hapū.

What the original mandate didn’t really recognise, and what the present government is still failing on, is the need to recognise the mana of our hapū.

The problem has really been around the leadership and the political will among ourselves and the government to ensure that our hapū and the mana and rangatiratanga of our hapū is respected at every step. And in meaningful ways, not just as window dressing.

One of my biggest bugbears with the whole Ngāpuhi settlement saga is that we’re constantly being used as a political football. Everybody wants to settle Ngāpuhi. It’s kind of a race or a challenge between the political parties to see who can be the one that manages to complete it.

We are now apparently the subject of a coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First, and, quite frankly, Ngāpuhi are nobody‘s football — and as long as they think they can treat us as one, they’re doomed to fail.

Crown policy and processes can’t dictate to the hapū of Ngāpuhi how we must fit into them. And, in fact, they have been proven not to work in our case. We look at the settlement negotiation landscape as equal partners. It is our right to determine the way in which we will have our historical claims settled. No one else’s.

So I’ve been pretty forthright in my challenges to people who would purport to be the decision makers both internally and externally.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve built up a strong team amongst the network, amongst the hapū. And I think the longer this government keeps trying to force down our throats a model and a set of processes that don’t fit, the stronger the opposition is going to get. So further delays become inevitable.

What they need to do is to start accepting that we’re able to determine our own future — and that includes the way in which we’re going to do this negotiation. Not only are we able, but we’re willing and ready. That’s the crux of it.

Ka pai. The settlements are some way away, but do you envisage a time when the settlement for the north has been concluded and you can get on, as others have, with a post-settlement environment?

If we manage to get a settlement in the next 10 to 20 or however many more years, that’s beside the point. Long-term, the need is for this government or any other future government to co-operate and deal with us on a partnership basis. No settlement has really struck the right balance on that, in my view. Ngāpuhi seek constitutional transformation on our terms, which ensures we decide our own futures.

If we settle, then, yes, the pūtea will help us to achieve our long-term visions like having prosperous, healthy communities. But, actually, our future wellbeing relies on addressing issues far deeper than how much money will become ours in a settlement deal.

I see other post settlement environments still struggling on the fundamental issues, although they have more money in the bank.

Most of our people have had to move away for work. So we’re looking for ways to attract our talent home — and see that there are jobs for them when they come. And houses for them.

Then there’s another thing that we sometimes struggle with in the north. That’s seeing that our kids can get a good education. It’s hard to get good teachers anywhere, but particularly in rural areas. We struggle to attract the best.

So there are all those sorts of issues. And there are other issues around our people who are in real need, who are still trapped in cycles of abuse and violence and alcohol and drug addiction, and various things that happen to them and their lives and their families’ lives as a result of being in that space.

We have a strong network of people who’re already at the frontline addressing a lot of those things in their various mahi and within their hapū and with programmes, wānanga and workshops and all of that. So I see that as just getting stronger and stronger. It’s only going to have more influence.

We really want to create an environment where we have healthy, happy, thriving communities again, like we once did. It wasn’t that long ago that it was like that. It’s just that the urban drift has taken a massive toll on Ngāpuhi and taken away that wrap-around support that we used to have as hapū and whānau communities.

But the urban drift has also taken a toll on our people at home, who aren’t able to draw on the skills and expertise that many of our Ngāpuhi whānaunga have, but who are out there in the world living and working with those skills and those abilities.

So we’re really wanting a strong, secure, and supportive environment to attract our talent to come home and start to lift things even further. This is being done and can continue to be done now.

Part of ensuring we have that type of environment is having leadership who support and encourage that young talent to come through. This is also happening now, which is great to see. Our whanaungatanga amongst the hapū and our networks of Ngāpuhi coming together is strengthening by the week. Pulling in the same direction, and a force to be reckoned with. It‘s awesome to be a part of that.

The Treaty settlement is really just one more work-stream. Hapū leaders and hapū kaimahi are busy, at various levels, with all of the other work-streams, apart from the settlement.

The settlement is not necessarily a priority for many of us, given the time and effort and resourcing it requires compared to all the other work that needs to be done. It’s just another work-stream that is very poorly supported and resourced by the government.

So, if they‘re serious about shifting things forward, they should come and speak to us about what that‘s really going to take in terms of their commitment to the process.

While the settlement might help us to achieve some of the things we’re trying to achieve, we’re looking to achieve them anyway. We aren’t beholden to any government to build a brighter future for our people, and we know that.

Ka pai, Moana. No doubt your work brings you to the city at times. But where are you based these days?

I’m living in Northland. In Waimate North. I call Northland home. The Bay of Islands, Kaikohe and Hokianga is home for us. That’s where we have our main hapū connections.

And, finally, perhaps you can touch on pastimes or interests that arent iwi or Treaty-related? Do you have that kind of luxury?

My answer would’ve been different if you’d asked me this question 20 years ago. But I have five children. And, as a mother of five, I’m proud and often grateful that I get to bring up these little people and help to shape them into the good people that I hope they are and will become.

Outside of my iwi and law life, I’m running around after children. The 18-year-old has just started his building apprenticeship. My 16-year-old has just started her Year 13 at Ngā Puna o Waiorea. She’s in her last year and going great guns. I’ve got my nine-, four- and two-year-old running around the house. So that keeps me busy but also keeps me pretty grounded and focused on the important things in life. They’re really a big part of who I am. My babies.


© E-Tangata, 2019

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