A long time coming, the Wai 2700 Inquiry, better known as the Mana Wāhine Kaupapa Inquiry, has had its first hearing, listening to women decolonise gender roles and understanding the place of Māori women pre-colonial times. The investigation was first held in Waitangi on February 3rd this year and had its initial tūāpapa (foundational) hearing to define mana wāhine and establish the Crown’s impact. Exploring the tikanga of mana wāhine and the pre-colonial understanding of wāhine in te ao Māori through claims, this all-female claimant group is the first of its kind to delve into the lasting effects of colonialism on indigenous women. The claimant group is led by respected lawyers such as Annette Sykes, and activists like Dr Leonie Pihama.
The central question is the ‘alleged’ denial of inherent mana (status would be the best translation in this context) and iho (contextual meaning of essence) of wāhine Māori. In the denial of mana, claimants are also exploring the systemic discrimination, deprivation and inequities experienced as a result. An inquiry into both historical and contemporary breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi will be conducted with a chronological approach to help develop a full picture connecting the issues brought up and the impact they have had over a long time. There are now 200 claimants, including individual whānau, hapu and iwi alongside groups from the Public Services Association, Māori midwives and nurses, survivors of family violence, women in the shearing industry and the Wāhine Toa chapter of the Mongrel Mob.
The themes of the claims include loss of rangatiratanga (chieftainship), and the social, economic, environmental and cultural loss that has occurred from this lack of recognition of wāhine rangatiratanga. Claimants have also brought up the failures of the crown in specific areas such as gender pay gaps, undermining of female leadership, institutional racism in Crown departments and domestic violence. A most pressing issue is the mana of wāhine and tamariki, the failures of organisations like Oranga Tamariki who have deprived wāhine the ability to take care of their own. The roles and responsibilities of wāhine Māori are crucial to Te Ao Māori, iwi, hapū, marae and whānau. Wāhine Māori are our life bearers, our mothers and our greatest asset in the continuation of our lines. This inquiry will bring some autonomy back to our life givers and sustainers and ensure them legislative safety.
The Mana Wāhine claim was sparked in 1993, after Dame Mira Szaszy was passed over for an appointment on the Waitangi Fisheries Commission. A highly-qualified and renowned champion for women and for Te Ao Māori, Szaszy was nominated and suggested by her hapu for such a prestigious role. The place was instead given to Shane Jones. This led to numerous protests and the writing of the first claim of which would become Wai 2700. Slowly and steadily, women from all over the motu have submitted their own claims in a collective attempt to regain autonomy and control over themselves.
Last year, the Waitangi Tribunal committed to dedicating and financing a research committee and developing claimant funding for research to support this kaupapa inquiry. Kaupapa inquiries are broad ranging inquiries by the Waitangi Tribunal into claims which raise nationally significant issues affecting Māori or groups of Māori as a whole, where the claims have not previously been heard. Depending on the outcome of the hearings, recommendations can be put forward to the Crown by the Tribunal.
A notable inquiry that is a first in not only the New Zealand legal system, but internationally, also has claimants asking to conduct hearings at significant locations across Aotearoa. Memorandums have suggested that hearings be held across the motu at Treaty signatory sites including Waitangi and Kaitaia, Waikato Heads, Whanganui, Kāpiti, Waikanae and Rangitoto. Te tiriti o Waitangi has the signatures of 13 wāhine rangatira who have come to be known as the “founding mothers.” These signatories show that wāhine have always had an important place in ancient Māori society and that it should be reflected in today’s society, as well. These “mothers” have been constantly referred to throughout hearings. Their legacy has spanned decades and their descendants have taken their place as leaders by speaking at the inquiry hearings.
The inquiry sets particular precedence for women’s rights. This inquiry distances itself from the Victorian English idea, which many of our laws are based on, that men and women are different and that women are essentially chattel. This inquiry will breakdown western concepts of gender identity and the numerous roles that women could play in a traditional Māori society. Professors of law, like Tracey Whare, are excited for the opportunity to revisit New Zealand history. Whaea Tracey spoke to Craccum and had high hopes for the inquiry, “(I am) excited to hear Māori women get to tell their stories and have the freedom of having an institution recognise their issue.” She believes the Tribunal can best make recommendations in the ways in which the Government should be engaging with Māori women in all places including home, school, and the workplace, and implementing the rights they deserve. Whaea Tracey noted how statutory mandate can make the real difference and fix the inherited imbalance stemming from colonisation for all wāhine, Māori mai, tauiwi mai. The Crown’s participation in the inquiry is being led by the Minister for Women, Jan Tinetti, and Minister for Māori Development, Willie Jackson.
Professor Whare hopes to discuss the results of these inquiries in her classes. She is teaching a contemporary tiriti class and aims to dedicate a lecture talking about the emerging issues for not only the claimants, but the New Zealand legal systems, too. We here at Craccum believe there is a brighter future for our wāhine and our systems and we’ll be keeping a vigilant eye on the hearings, and those treaty classes, to keep everyone reading informed.