Naida Glavish has been in the habit of making waves for many years. Recently that’s been in politics with her forthright views on the role of the Maori Party. But her resolute advocacy has also made sure that health care has become much more attuned to the needs and rights of patients of non-Pakeha ethnicity. Then there’s been her lifelong commitment to te reo Maori. Here she tells Dale about how she came to be travelling down those paths.
Well now, Naida. I think we should start with your names because neither of your two names are at all common here in Aotearoa. The Glavish surname suggests some interesting whakapapa. And your first name is so uncommon that many of us aren’t even sure how to pronounce it. Some say Nayda. Some say Nyda. Some say Nah-ee-da.
Actually, my first name is Rangimarie. I was named by my grandmother on instruction from her father. But it’s not “Rangimarie the peaceful.” It’s Rangimarie and Rangi where all the storms happened. And Marie is to be the creator of peace rather than peace itself. So that’s my name, but it doesn’t get used.
The Naida part of my name is Croatian and some of my Croatian relations tell me that it means hope. So there’s hope for peace, I guess. It’s actually Nah-ee-da. That’s how a Croatian would say it.
But I’ll answer to both. It’s Naida here nor there.
And the Glavish name?
The Glavish name was originally spelled G-l-a-v-a-s. And it was pronounced Glavash, with the emphasis on the second syllable. My grandmother and grandfather came over to New Zealand from Croatia in nineteen hundred and something and the name got anglicised to Glavish to make it more acceptable here.
Can you tell us about your whanau and your background as a young girl?
I was raised and nurtured on the shores of the Kaipara harbour by a grandmother, Ngapeka Teririkore Nahi (nee Panui). I was actually born in the front seat of my father’s Studebaker car, as a matter of fact. The family story was that I was probably conceived in the back seat, and that I’d been on the road ever since. But when I raised that subject with my father, all he did was chuckle – and have a laugh about it.
Anyway, I was brought up by my Maori grandmother and, across the road, was the Croatian grandmother, Marija Glavish. Her maiden name was Delich.
Neither grandmother could speak English very well, so I bounced from one to the other – and I had to go to school to learn to speak English properly. We lived in a nikau whare with an earth floor. It was very clean. I remember once when the public health nurse had to visit (because an aunty was there with her baby) and she was just full of praise about the cleanliness of our whare with the earth floor. Even though it was considered ill-mannered to speak about someone’s home, Mama didn’t comment.
So I grew up with the values of tapu and noa, and karakia for everything with my grandmother. Not playing with food. We were raised with the understanding of the pull of the tide for fishing purposes. Understanding the moon phases for planting and growing our kai, the tāpapa for the kumara and, at the time of harvest for the kumara, how to prepare the pit with burnt fern leaves so that the slugs couldn’t get in, but also preparing a pit with the little kumara for the slugs, rats and the like so that they didn’t go near the pit for our consumption. It was a very rich upbringing really. The birds and the trees and shrubs also had their part to play as our messengers for the crops, and the kai beneath the sea.
Of course, I had to go to school, but I didn’t learn much there that was of any use to me that I hadn’t already learned at home.
How about those school days?
I was expelled from one school and suspended from two. I was a fluent speaker of two languages, and I had a little knowledge of Croatian from Grandma Glavish. So that tells us how well it worked out.
My first school was at Pukekohe — that racist town of Pukekohe — where, for instance, us Maori weren’t allowed to sit upstairs at the picture theatre. I spent a few years there because Mama (my grandmother) was a widow and needed to go to Pukekohe to work in the market gardens. I actually attended the Pukekohe Native School. I absolutely enjoyed living with my Mama. I was truly loved.
But then I was called back to my mum who’d had twins to my stepdad, a beautiful man from Rarotonga. So when I was called back to my mum, I attended Helensville Primary school and then Helensville High, which has become Kaipara College.
But, being Maori, I was put in the “B” stream. Never mind that I got only two answers wrong out of 100. The “A” stream wasn’t where all the Maori were. They were “B”. So that was where I was sent.
And why was it that I didn’t get along at school? I suppose you could say that it was just that… well… I didn’t comply.
Now, what about your mum?
She was Nohotakitahi, although they called her Nora because the school-teachers of her time couldn’t pronounce Nohotakitahi. She had three of us to Frank Glavish. There was Robert, me and David. Both my brothers have died. Mum and Frank separated and she then met this wonderful man, Paniani Tapurau, and they married. Mum and Paniani had twin girls, Lucy and Lisa.
So you had a few siblings?
Well, yes, Frank Glavish had nine of us to four different women.
We’re talking about your dear old dad?
Yes, our dad died in 2013 aged 101.
Don’t tell me it was him who had nine kids to four different women.
Yes, it was.
Wow. That fulla. And he still lived to 100?
One hundred and one to be exact.
That could be the secret to longevity.
Well, he would swear by it.
All right. Let’s move on from his escapades. Did you get caught up in the urban drift? Did rock ‘n’ roll lure you into the city?
Oh, yes. I got caught up in the urban drift. When I was living with my grandmother, I was an absolutely loved child. She saw that I didn’t want for anything. Clothes, shoes or anything at all. But my cousin didn’t have the luxury of the things I had. She was working in the market gardens and, one time when we were walking home from where she worked, she saw some clothes on a tank stand. So she decided that she would go and claim them – which she did. And she got spotted by some neighbours who rang the police.
She then pleaded with me to say it was me because I wouldn’t get a hiding from my grandmother but she surely would from her mother. So I said: “Yes. It was me.” Even though those things she took wouldn’t fit me. Anyway, long story short, I ended up in a courtroom in Pukekohe and then in child welfare for four years. And from the age of 12 to the age of 16, I went to 10 different homes.
Wow. I find that unimaginable. But, anyway, that was the reality for you. Ten different homes. Just trying to cover for a cousin. That must’ve been a dark period of your life?
Well, it was. It really was because, as a 12-year-old, I was torn from the bosom of this beautiful beloved grandmother of mine. She stood on the footpath as these two social workers, Pakeha women, drove off with her mokopuna in their car into the sunset. She didn’t know where they were taking me. Neither did I. It was my first trip ever over the harbour bridge. Then it was 10 different homes. I attended Takapuna Grammar and then Northcote College. It was four years of my life where I experienced the Department of Social Welfare at its worst.
Was there abuse?
No. Not for me. No, there wasn’t. There was certainly emotional and psychological abuse, but nothing physical.
You’re 16 by now and, I’m assuming, you were finally able to break free of social welfare. How did that come to be?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. They just decided: “Oh, well. You’re 16 now so, you can pack up and go.” Which I did. I went home. I can still remember my 16th birthday back home because it was the first time in four years that I was able to come together with all my cousins and Mum and aunties and uncles.
And then what?
I went to work in a sewing factory in Helensville. And I married young. I was only 17 but I was a mature 17. I had six children. I lost one daughter in a tragic accident. I didn’t go to work after I married until all my children had gone to school, and when my baby went off to school in 1975, I went back to work. That was as a toll operator.
My beloved grandmother developed a cataract and was blind so I went and brought her to live with me. She taught me so much in her blindness. She was with me when I was having my children.
We don’t hear much about your man. Is he around still?
Oh, yeah. We’ve separated. But he’s out at Kaipara. He’s well. Between us, we now have 19 grandchildren: 13 grandsons and six granddaughters. We also have 22 greats today — 12 great-grandsons and 10 great-granddaughters.
It’s called immortality guaranteed.
Lovely. Now let’s check out the fuss you caused when, as a phone operator for the Post Office, you dared to say: “Kia ora. Tolls here.” That wasn’t the accepted routine, was it? So you could’ve got the boot.
Well, that was in 1984, some years after my grandmother had died in 1972. And the whole affair was a worry because, if I was to be dismissed for saying Kia ora, it would’ve also meant being evicted from the Post Office house that I was renting. So I was thinking that I’d had just about enough of this battle.
Then, as I was driving over the harbour bridge, I heard this voice in my ear: “Nui ake tenei take ia koe.” (“This is far greater than you.”) As if to say: ”Who do you think you are?” Anyway, I thought it was the wind whistling through the window so I wound it up. And then it came again. So I knew that my grandmother was telling me that this business was far greater than me – so I went to the supervisor and said: “You do what you have to do as my supervisor, and I will respect it. But I will do what I have to do as the child of my grandmother.” Then I went back and sat on the toll board and said: “Kia ora. Tolls here.”
Rangi Walker was the then chairman of the Auckland District Maori Council so I rang him and told him that I was being harassed and threatened with dismissal because I said “Kia ora. Tolls here” instead of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”.
Rangi then made a phone call to the New Zealand Maori Council, which was under the chairmanship of Graham Latimer, who supported the idea that the Post Office should be challenged.
The next afternoon a headline in the then Auckland Star was: “Toll Operator threatened with dismissal for saying Kia ora.”
Anyway, the next move came from the Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, who returned from an overseas trip and said: “I’ve been overseas deciding the economics of this country and I get back here and some girl wants to say Kee ora. Well, as far as I’m concerned, she can say Kee ora. Just as long as she doesn’t wanna say Gidday Blue.” And that was the end of it. It was all over.
I then left tolls and went to the teachers’ training college in Auckland. I was one of 40 fluent Maori speakers from around the country who entered into Te Atakura and trained how to teach te reo Maori. I taught at Henderson High for three years.
After that, I went to work in Health and we’ve been able to make some major changes there. I think the country has moved on considerably from the Kia ora days. There’s more acceptance now that we’re all Kiwi. There are still some little pockets of people who still want to be a Pakeha. But, in the main, we’re all Kiwi. So we’ve come a long way.
There’s still work to be done, though, with te reo Maori – where you’re such a strong advocate – and in politics, where you’ve become more and more involved. To the point where you’re the president of the Maori Party.
Well, I agreed to be the president of the Maori Party to support Tariana Turia’s kaupapa. It took great courage for her cross the floor on behalf of iwi katoa. So I support her, and I support that stance. The challenge today, I think, is that we need to convince our people that it is to their benefit for their Maori Party to be sitting at the table of government.
We can disagree, and do disagree, with government. But we are sitting at the table to negotiate for the things that our people need. We get nothing in Opposition. Nothing! So, I’m happy for us to be there and to be advocating on behalf of our people.
What about retirement? And your family goals?
I’m hoping to retire at some stage. But, I don’t know. Retire from what? I suppose I won’t ever get to retire totally. But one goal is that my mokopuna — as many of my mokopuna as possible — can korero te reo. And another is that not one of them will ever go into the hands of CYFS. Not one. And that goes for my mokopuna tuarua as well. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got 22 greats under the age of 10. So it’s time for me to help mould them.
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