Ngahuia te Awekotuku, emeritus professor of Waikato University. “I was born in the 1940s, after the Second World War. There were a lot of shenanigans. But, also, there was music. There was waiata. And there was constant haka as well.“ (Photo: Tracey Scott)

Emeritus professor Ngahuia te Awekotuku, who’s now in her 70s, is an award-winning researcher, writer, activist, curator, and critic. She was recently elected as a Companion of the Royal Society Te Apārangi, academia’s most prestigious award, for her “boundary-breaking work” in the humanities. That includes being the first wāhine Māori to earn a PhD in a New Zealand university, helping to establish women’s studies as an academic discipline, and developing takatāpui (LGBT) courses at Victoria University.

In this rich kōrero with Dale, she talks about how she avoided becoming a major delinquent, the school principal and mana wāhine who helped to shape her path, and the realities of being gay before the homosexual law reform in 1986 — and much more besides.

 

Kia ora, Ngahuia. Let’s start with some kōrero about your name and your whānau.

Well, I was adopted at birth from parents who were quite old. I’m very much the pōtiki in the whānau. On my father’s side, my tuākana are 25 or 30 years older than me. On my mother’s side, we’re closer in age.

My mum, Erana, was unwell, and my father, Tamahou, was away a lot. As a result, I was taken by an amazing whānau here in Ōhinemutu. When I was growing up, I was known as Huia or Ngahuia Gordon. But that wasn’t a happy name — or a happy family.

My shelter, my protection, my happy place was with my kuia, Hera Tāwhai Rogers, who was a sublime weaver. When Queen Elizabeth was here, in the royal visit of 1953-54, Hera made the kākahu for her.

I grew up in a whānau of weavers, carvers, and singers. My kuia also worked among the geysers at Whakarewarewa, where she was known as Guide Sarah. That meant I had a creative upbringing with lots of singers, artists, weavers and carvers. But what was most important is that my kuia, Hera, had a strong and refined sense of excellence, of perfection, in her work. And her daughter, Paparoa Tāwhai, my whaea atawhai, had the same kind of discipline.

So, even though I was the most useless person in the whole village with my hands, I understood what it meant to produce your best and make a commitment to excellence. That’s what this kuia and her whānau taught me. We were a humble, marae-based whānau living in the pā, Ōhinemutu, in Rotorua.

Like so many post-World War II Māori Battalion families, there was so much drama, so many songs. There was 6 o’clock closing in those days, and Ōhinemutu had a pub called the Lake House up on the hill, overlooking the village. It was this grand, brooding, ugly parasite, three storeys high, that just sat there and sucked up all the energy. And we also had a pub a couple of blocks down the road, the Palace. Both places employed many of our relations over the years.

I was born in the 1940s, after the Second World War. There were a lot of shenanigans. But, also, there was music. There was waiata. And there was constant haka as well because, as you know, we have renowned families in entertainment in the mainstream world.

Ngahuia as a Māori maiden for a tourist promotion in 1965. “I’d been told to grow my hair long and smile for the Pākehā. And you end up being kinda trapped in this notion of what being a real girl is — in contrast to the girl that you want to be.” (Photo supplied)

Rotorua was a tourist town. And most of us kids from the pā were on the stage with our mothers and our grandmothers and fathers and uncles and aunties when we were very, very young. Because that’s what we did. That’s how we grew up. That’s how we made money. And tourism and Te Arawa was the subject of my PhD thesis, which I gained in 1981, over 40 years ago.

My biological whānau, on my mother’s side, were from Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Pikiao and Waikato — and they were head people. They lived in their heads. They composed, orated, argued, kept whakapapa, named the landmarks, and held the histories. They were much more philosophical and intellectual.

My father was a mix of Ngāti Whakaue, Tūhoe and Ngāpuhi. His grandmother was a Reihana from the north, and his grandfather was Saami from the Arctic. I found that out only recently. Also, he was Tūhoe, so I’ve got a strong line to Tamakaimoana of Maungapōhatu. I’ve always thought of myself as a fruit salad, a mix of different kinds of people and activities and passions.

The father of my birth mother had three degrees from Oxford University. He worked in the British colonial service. After a brief marriage and two daughters, he left my grandmother, who was Te Awekotuku.

How did I end up with her name? When I got my master’s degree in 1974, I didn’t want Gordon on the diploma, because that name had only bad memories for me. But I wanted a name. Te Awekotuku was given to me by the elders of my mother’s family. My biological father’s family suggested a name too, but it didn’t quite fit me. I felt it wasn’t quite where I wanted to go, whereas with Te Awekotuku, it’s a flying name and I’m very honoured by it.

It’s also the kind of name that means you’ve got to watch what you do. I was told, when the old people gave it to me, that if I didn’t look after the name, I should watch out, but if I respected it, the name would look after me.

When I was doing some research, I saw that you were part of Ngā Tamatoa in the early days. Who were your mentors at that time?

My kuia, Hera, and my mother, Paparoa, were incredibly influential as creators, as haka women, as people whose work is out there in the community. People wear their korowai, wear their kākahu. My grandmother’s work is in churches and whare whakairo around the country. She was a massive tukutuku specialist as well. They were the two who set the standard.

But, when I was a little kid, Māori were being recruited to go to teachers’ college — and one of my aunts was this phenomenally vivacious, energetic, high-octane woman, Lydia Toria Tawhai. She was my whaea atawhai’s sister.

Aunty Toria was amazing. I was her guinea pig. She had me reading at three and writing at four. So, as soon as I started school, I was moved up two classes. And then I was always with the big kids rather than in my own age group. Not so much because I was clever, but because I had a head start with Aunty Toria. Her daughter, Miro, was the same. She was kind of fast-forwarded as well.

Then the whānau had an unsettled time, and I ended up in Wellington with my Aunty Nuki who was a devout Catholic. And she got me into the Catholic school system. Then, suddenly, I was back in Rotorua at St Michael’s Convent where I was taught and sheltered and nurtured by the most amazing Irish Sisters of Mercy — real old-time nuns with the veils and the big rosary beads.

They were phenomenal. And there were more than a dozen different ethnicities in the school. Kids from all over Europe, as well as from Sāmoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands. But it was also a very Māori school because it was on Ngāti Whakaue whenua, and we were Whakaue children.

I guess the nuns saw in me a kid who was intellectually insatiable. And, because I had quite serious eyesight problems and asthma, I just wanted to sit and read. And when everybody else was running around and climbing trees and pinching each other’s bikes and swimming up and down the river or across to Mokoia, I was reading a book. Any book would do. The Bible, a phone book, The Hymnal, a concert programme, Best Bets . . . anything!

Oh well, it served you well, didn’t it?

It did. And then, because my kuia was a famous weaver, someone came to our house, in the pā in Ōhinemutu, when I was 12 and heading for disaster because I was so unhappy. But this person came to visit my kuia and she was elegant and articulate, and she had this little book and a pen. She interviewed my kuia about weaving and about making piupiu.

I had to serve tea and be quiet. But I watched this person as she sat there with my kuia and took notes. I was stunned by her. She was physical perfection. So beautiful with long, long hair over one shoulder, and these great big eyes, and the pen and notebook. And it was Ngāpare Hopa. The first Māori woman to get a PhD in the world, the one who went to Oxford. And I was like: “Oh, wow.”

When I asked her what she was doing, she was very patient and kind as she explained it to me. And I thought: “I could do that.’’

She didn’t become my actual mentor because she went to England not long after that. But when you see what someone is doing and it makes so much sense, you think: “Yeah. I could do that.” And, for me, that’s been one of the key elements of my own journey. Ka nui tonu taku mihi ki a Ngāpare.

There’ve been other people I’ve watched along the way, and I’ve thought: “Māori can do anything. Women can do anything. Nothing is impossible.”

Meanwhile, my mother was concerned about me reading books all the time, which was hilarious because I was running wild. I was deeply unhappy throughout my early adolescence until I ended up at Western Heights High School with my cousins. There were a lot of Māori in the top academic streams there, unlike the other girls’ high school where I’d been the only Māori in my class.

My mother thought I needed sorting out and dumped me on all these rambunctious, rowdy, hard-drinking, hard-playing aunties in the hockey club, Oruawhata. I did two seasons with them. I couldn’t see the ball, whether it was on the ground or flying through the air, and I couldn’t run because I had asthma.

But I had all these aunties yelling at me — and one kuia, in particular. She was Aunty Bonnie Amohau. She was a cuboid shape, and she was the goalie. She’d stand in the goal wearing these great big cricket pads that she’d stuffed with phone books for protection. She was extraordinary. And she’d bellow at me across the field. I’d hear: “Huia! Never give up, girl! Never give up!”

At that time, I was in a space where I could’ve become quite a major delinquent, or I could become more engaged and intellectual — like go to school and pass my exams. All my mates at that time were getting hapū. And I was getting bored. But I changed schools and ended up at Western Heights where the principal, Derek Lake, was very different from the racists at the other schools.

He saw the potential in me, as he had with other Māori kids at that school. And, from that moment on, I moved forward. I’m very grateful to him. He was amazing. He really was. He helped a lot us from Ngāti Whakaue, Rangiwewehi, Ngāraranui, this side of the lake. He got us through all sorts of stuff.

From potential delinquent to becoming the first wāhine Māori to earn a doctorate from a New Zealand university. Here’s Ngahuia with friends and whānau at her PhD graduation at Tamatekapua House, Ōhinemutu, in 1981. Left to right: Atareta Poananga, cousin Donna Awatere, Ngahuia, cousin Donna Hall, Ama Rauhihi, Rangitunoa Black, and Hana Te Hemara. Atareta, Ama and Hana have since passed away. (Photo supplied)

So, you turn up at varsity in Auckland in 1966, where, I bet, there weren’t too many Māori students at that time. 

There were 20 of us Māori first-year students across the entire university. I was in O’Rorke, a university hall of residence, and I was the only Māori girl there. And this kuia, Meremere Penfold, came and got me. An amazing woman. Just sublime. Anyway, she took me to this orientation evening, where all the freshers were gathering with the senior students.

Almost all of them had been to Queen Vic, St Stephen’s, Hato Petera, Hato Pāora, Hukarere, Te Aute or Tūrakina. All private Māori schools. There was one who’d been to Diocesan as a boarder, and another who’d been to St Mary’s in Auckland. And here’s me from Western Heights High in Rotorua.

They were the elite. They really were. In the corner of the room was this Pākehā playing a guitar and singing an American folk song that she’d put Māori words to. I’d never seen anything like that. And here were all these snooty Māoris, none of them talking to me, and then we had this awkward period of introducing ourselves.

The one that welcomed us was Pat Hōhepa. He’s my relation through my mother, through the Tāwhai Mokaraka Hōhepa crew from Waimā, Hokianga. I was aware we were related. He was doing his PhD or master’s. And the other one was Peter Sharples. They were our welcoming committee. And I felt out of place. Had the wrong clothes on. Didn’t look right. Then they realised I was from Te Arawa, and one of the women said: “Oh, I suppose you can poi.” [Laughs] Of course I can poi! I was given a poi when I was two!

The whānau I grew up with here in Ngāti Whakaue were humble. My kuia and mum and aunties weren’t front-of-the-house people — they weren’t reo karanga, whai kōrero people. I don’t mean to demean my family, but we weren’t like the front row unless we were doing the haka.

And my mum and my kuia had this fierce sense of social justice, especially my mummy. She was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party from its beginning. Like from the 1930s. So I grew up with this strong commitment to social justice — and I got a lot of that from my mother.

And, also, from watching the more privileged and affluent Māori families around Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty. People don’t talk about that, but it’s something I’m still acutely aware of, with all the intergenerational poverty and depredation and precariousness for many in 2023.

Way back then, you had your wealthy, privileged, well-educated Māori and you had the ones who were working on the roads, or making beds at the hotel, or clearing tables in the public bar. There’s always the notion of social hierarchy that operates within te ao Māori, without any critical interrogation. People don’t ask why.

And I’m reminded of that orientation evening and all those snobby, snooty people. The only ones who I was attracted to, apart from my cousin Pat Hōhepa, were four people. There was Maxine Rewiti, who was Ngāi Te Rangi and an Elam art student. And the man she was eventually to marry, Hone Ngata, who was a shining, enormous presence. And then there were the two iconic people, who were trying to start a family at the time. The fabulous Hana Te Hemara and Syd Jackson. They were the four I noticed at the university Māori orientation.

I didn’t hang out with Māori students that much because I was doing English and art history and on a different track. And I just thought the club was snooty. I never went back. But I did see Hone and Maxine and Syd and Hana at protest rallies and demonstrations, and I’d hang around. I really admired them.

And during that orientation week, I very quickly got into the left-wing, socialist, anti-Vietnam-War, anti-apartheid struggle. Guerrilla theatre, bright noise, hippie action — that’s the energy I liked.

At a 1971 Women’s Liberation conference in Wellington. (Photo supplied)

This was at a time when gay rights were somewhat under the radar. Pleasingly, we’ve brought this kaupapa out into the open, as it should be. But in the 1970s, it would’ve been very different.

The impact of Christian values on the Māori world has been profound, revolutionary, destructive, and it’s had an appalling and pervasive effect. I’ve always felt that, within the Māori world — and I saw this growing up in the pā — there were never absolutes. I mean, yes, most people were heterosexual. That’s the most ubiquitous option and that’s how people are taught to behave.

But, in my community, there were also extraordinary, visionary, talented, astonishing human beings who defied convention or who hid behind a veneer of heteronormative behaviour with families and wives and straight jobs.

They had secret lives, though, and the reason they had secret lives is that for men, until 1986, you ran the risk of being criminalised, of losing your job and of losing your family. And of losing everything that had any meaning for you. Simply because your natural state of loving, and of being, and of erotic contact or gratification, wasn’t approved by either the Bible or by the state.

I had huge respect for the queens — and we had a few around the town when I was a teenager. One of the more fabulous, even though he was kind of in the closet, was a local radio personality who came from another iwi. He was flamboyant and fabulous, and he wrote a superb autobiography, In The Air, in which he describes his time here in Rotorua. I’m referring to Henare Te Ua.

There were others who gathered around him, a few of whom were my uncles. In the women’s context, there wasn’t the risk of going to jail. But there was the risk of losing your job or losing your children, if you realised, after a disastrous marriage that, actually, you were “like that”. And the words we used were “like that”. “She’s like that”, “he’s like that”, and “Oh, look, they must be like that.

In the hockey club that I was in, we had fabulous butch women. They were all around the Bay of Plenty and around the motu. We’d go to tournaments. One of my most phenomenal early experiences was when I was about 10 or 11. We were at the Hui Topu in 1960, and we were watching the haka teams coming on to our marae, Te Papaiōuru on Ōhinemutu.

I went out to watch the pōwhiri when Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū was arriving. And I saw their leader, and the women around her. She was this majestic woman. She wore men’s clothing, and she even had a fedora hat. And later, I saw her haka group when they performed. On stage, there were all the Māori performers, with the females wearing the most unflattering awful, awful costumes. Well, the long piupiu were beautiful, but those ghastly pari bodices flattened everything and turned you into a stiff board.

Tuini Ngawai (1910-1965) was born in Tokomaru Bay and was a renowned composer and performer. She wrote more than 200 songs, and formed and led Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū from the 1930s.

Suddenly, there was this electrifying presence on stage leading the haka — the one who wore the fedora at the pōwhiri. Her name was Tuini Ngawhai and she was glorious. So were the women around her. And even though she wasn’t my mentor, and I never knew her or even met her, just seeing her on stage was, for me, electrifying. It truly was. And it was at that moment that I knew something about myself.

I was an Arawa, and a girl in a family of guides, haka people, and all that stuff. I’d been told to grow my hair long and smile for the Pākehā. “Oh, you’ve got such lovely fair skin. Oh, your hair’s so black. Oh, look, you’ve got such good eyebrows.” And you end up being kinda trapped in this notion of what being a real girl is — in contrast to the girl that you want to be. Which is someone like Tuini.

I had aunties — and I’ll just talk about one aunty. She and her beloved of over 40 years, these two women, had a lot to do with my upbringing and they raised about seven kids. She had a senior civil service job in town. And, after 5 o’clock and on the weekends, she’d wear men’s trousers, men’s shirts, cravats, big jackets.

Butch-as. Utterly butch.

But she’d have a pleated skirt in her car. And when she’d get to work, she’d get changed. I can think of three aunties who did this. They had this ritual of getting changed before they went into the office. And they’d wear these ridiculous bloody skirts, because that’s what the government and what the social order of the day demanded of them.

And I also had uncles being persecuted and convicted of same-sex behaviour, to the great agony of their whānau.

That’s the kind of stuff that motivated me as a radical gay liberationist, although the political pathway was the anti-Vietnam, anti-apartheid protests. Then equal pay for equal work. And, in 1970, all these movements, like Ngā Tamatoa and women’s liberation, suddenly blossomed.

Ngā Tamatoa was an interesting group. There are people from that time with whom I still share a great deal of my life. Hone Ngata, of course, has passed away, but there’s still Maxine. Then there’s John Ohia (Ringo) and his wonderful wife, Orewa Barrett-Ohia. And I often see Rawiri Ruru from Ūawa. And I catch up with my fabulous painter friend, Kura Te Waru Rewiri. Those and other relationships have been sustained, although we’ve all gone back home. We’re home.

For me, it’s been an interesting journey, moving from that radical activist world in the tertiary environment and in the cities, back to our haukāinga, back to our marae, because that’s pretty much where I’ve ended up. Even though I’m still doing political and literary and urban gigs, I’m absolutely committed to being here.

I started coming back to Ōhinemutu, where two of my sisters were living on whānau land, in about 2006. My biological mother is partly from the Waikato — and I was very involved with Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu. She was an extraordinary and engaging mentor, someone whom I deeply miss and still grieve for. She was the epitome of excellence, compassion, courage, and engagement with the people. She was absolutely one in a century.

And I was deeply humbled to be around her as one of her hāwini, serving her, after I started working in early 1985 at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton.

“Most of us kids from the pā were on the stage with our mothers and our grandmothers and fathers and uncles and aunties when we were very, very young. Because that’s what we did. That’s how we grew up.” Ngahuia and Whakaue Koeke performing at Te Arawa Regionals in 2016. (Photo supplied)

I understand it was out of respect and love for Te Arikinui that you received the moko kauae. How has your life changed now that you wear the moko kauae?

When I was growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s here in Waiariki, there were a lot of kuia, wāhine mau moko, mau kauae. And, although my own kuia, Hera, didn’t have one, a number of her cousins did, and I had the privilege of being with them, of seeing, touching and being a little bit frightened of it. That was because they were so remote and so much from te ao tawhito — from another time, another place, another way of being.

When Te Arikinui passed away (in 2006), it was like a huge body blow to all of us. And it was her aunt, whom we lost a few weeks ago, Te Aroha Herangi Tairakena, who sowed the seed. She suggested that this was a way that those of us from her immediate family could remember her.

Needless to say, the men and the corporates and the paepae were talking about monuments and other more concrete ways of honouring her. And we thought: No.

Instead, for her huritau, for the first-year anniversary, 16 of us would do it. And so, we endured the process over three days in June. And by the huritau in mid-August, we were all healed up and very firmly together.

It did change my life. I’d always enjoyed a kind of androgynous look. Once I got away from Rotorua, I could explore the more androgynous, less feminine part of me and take the hair right off. Shave it right down, wear leather, be what I wanted to be. And even in my period of serving Te Arikinui — over 20 years — I still maintained what was seen as probably a too androgynous way of being. But that was me.

Well, it was a transformational decision to get my face inscribed, but I was encouraged by an incredibly strong, butch-as, androgynous woman called George, who worked as a security guard. She took the kauae on the death of her mother. And yet it in no way diminished who she is as an enormously powerful, dazzling, androgynous, lesbian, butch woman.

And when the new Ariki assumed his status, he brought in a new household and new staff — and I pretty much came back here to Ōhinemutu and became much more active here at home, with my new face. There weren’t many wāhine mau kauae around at that time. In fact, there was only one other in the pā, and that was Maria Tuhipo Kereopa, an extraordinary cousin of mine, and her partner from the north. Both of them had moko kauae. And both of them were exceptional beauties. So, I thought: “Okay. I’ll do this. It’ll be fine.”

I did, of course, check with my older siblings because I had two sisters in their 80s. And their reaction was immediate: “You do it for us. We don’t want to do it.” So, I felt honoured by that.

It is a journey, though. And it’s complicated. The world that we move in today, however, is much more at ease with how we look. That’s taken probably about 15 or 20 years. However, I haven’t been to places like Gore or Ashburton or Invercargill or any of the more remote settler communities, so I don’t know what the response there would be to faces like ours. What I’m immensely heartened by, though, is the number of men who are attaining he rangi paruhi [full facial tattoo]. I think they’re absolutely spectacular and brave.

It’s an ongoing journey, but it does put our faces out there. And it presents our values system, the aesthetics of our old people, and the visual legacy of our world, of our Māori world, of centuries and centuries of being on these islands. It brings all that back.

And, in a way too, it connects with other parts of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa and our islands of origin. So, it’s special for me. It’s an honour to have it on my face.

Ngahuia with her partner Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora, at the Auckland Writers Festival. (Photo supplied)

There’s magic in your kōrero, Ngahuia. Absolute magic. And your focus has morphed into extensive work on spirituality and Māori deaths. Why so? What encouraged you to delve deeper than most into aspects of our tangi and spirituality?

One of the things that made me aware happened in the 1980s. Māori senior academics, including Pat Hohepa and I, had to interview students who were hoping to benefit from what was known as the Manaaki Tauira Fund. It was a massive pool of money for Māori in tertiary education, and all you had to do was claim Māori descent and be interviewed by senior staff. This was in the 1980s and early ‘90s too. And when we were on duty, Pat and I would check whakapapa or whatever, and then recommend which applicants should get grants.

And, lining up in the corridors of Auckland University, where we were having the interviews, were all these unlikely looking people who were turning up to benefit from their Māori princess great-great-great-grandmothers. And so, Pat, in his brilliance, devised a question to help us sort them out.

He’d look at each student in turn, and he’d say: “Tell us what you do in your family when somebody dies. You know, the person that was the Māori in your whānau, the person that you’ve named. What happens when they die? Were you there?”

Well, 85 percent of them couldn’t answer. So they didn’t get a grant.

It was like the determining factor of being Māori, of an actively engaged identity at that time, which was about 30 years ago, was tangihanga. This is what makes us different from the rest of the world: how we grieve, how we take care of each other, how we assert our connections. It’s how we either confront or conflate drama and grief and family disconnection and dysfunction, so that you can either have a massive meltdown or heal wounds.

Those were the kinds of factors that motivated us to put together the proposal for the tangi research that got such significant funding. I think that tangihanga is an ongoing and dynamic place in which our being Māori is not only explored and expressed, but it’s also transformed.

I’ve attended a few Black Power tangihanga, and Mongrel Mob as well. And the mana, the ritual, the sense of respect, the taking care of the bereaved and grief-stricken whānau, continue. It’s all of that which makes us Māori.

It’s like where the dead, the old people, have all come back to love and protect and engage with the living — and the living can say goodbye to, and commit to, and understand what the connections are as they walk around the pā or as they come into the house, or as they sit by the tūpāpaku. The point of tangihanga is to heal and look after te hunga ora, the bereaved family, and their much wider kāwai.

It’s about celebrating a life, and lamenting that life being over. But it’s also about the uri whakatupu, the descendants, and about the whanaungatanga of everyone that comes in to say goodbye.

I think, too — and I believe this, having lived around the Pacific for a lot of my life — that, through our tangihanga ceremony, we’ve sustained the language. We’ve managed to keep te reo Māori and particularly te reo ōkawa (formal language) as a thriving and dynamic reality because that’s something we’d never let go. And tangihanga has sustained that.

Even if we’re in Arizona or Perth or Tokyo or London, and somebody passes away, whānau go through that ritual. It doesn’t have to be three days. It may only be a day and the night. Or a few tearful hours. But the process is observed.

And I think that, as a community, but also as an iwi, a demographic group, a nation, we are lucky. Really lucky. The land may have been snatched from under our feet and the language may have been trampled and abused and demonised. And cultural behaviours may have been either trivialised or infantilised. But we’ve still hung on to tangihanga. We’ve still kept that taonga, and we’ve kept it close.

It’s something that’s so much part of the Māori soul — and it has survived. It still motivates and inspires and strengthens us. Because we’ve never let that one go. Whatever they might try to do to us, we’re not gonna let that one go.

There’s no way that any amount of colonial or Christian or alien interference and intrusion and damnation and demonising will take that out of our souls. It’s there forever. Even in 200 years, our people will still be doing tangi. I just know that.

“For me, it’s been an interesting journey, moving from that radical activist world in the tertiary environment and in the cities, back to our haukāinga, back to our marae.” (Photo: Tracey Scott)

Kia ora. Like I said, there’s real richness in what you’re sharing. And now perhaps one final question as we wind up our kōrero. Are we being bold enough in our demands for change?

Oh no. I’m reminded of what Parekura Horomia used to say: “No one should be left behind.” But I can’t help thinking of the continuing social inequity, the economic deprivation, the intergenerational poverty.

I live in Rotorua. We’ve still got motels loaded up with our whānau pōhara. Recently, I went to an event that was jam-packed with smarmy, Māori designer-wearing professionals, swishing about looking fabulous and nibbling on gourmet food. And I thought of what I’d be coming home to, in and around Ōhinemutu and Kuirau Park. People sleeping in the bushes, or in the empty foot pools. People sitting outside the pie shop with their hands out. People sitting outside the bread shop with their hands out. Babies in cars outside the pokie bars.

I mean, what the hell are we doing?

Somehow, as a people, we’ve lost our vision. We’ve been seduced by the corporate dollar. I’m disgusted at the investment of my own iwi in shopping malls and a luxury spa, when we don’t have kaumātua flats, when we have a housing crisis. When so many of us are missing out on some of the necessities. There’s such an aggrandisement of the individual and the individual achiever.

And I acknowledge that I’m an individual achiever. I’ve done really well. That’s thanks to those who yelled at me and said: “Never give up.” I’m indebted to them, and so I pick up their mokopuna and I take them with me.

No, we’re not bold enough. Voices like mine aren’t being heard. And I think that it’s highly likely that we’ll see the kind of revolution that we had with Ngā Tamatoa. That type of energy will have to rise again. Because it will only get worse.

Thanks, Ngahuia, for your especially interesting kōrero. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you.

Thank you, Dale. Kia ora.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ngahuia wishes to dedicate this piece to the late Patu Hohepa. She was overseas when he passed away. Moe mai rā, e te kaka tarahae, moe mai rā.

© E-Tangata, 2023

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