Young Māori Women Stand up for Their Land
Five years ago, law graduate Pania Newton and her cousins got together around a kitchen table and agreed to do everything in their power to prevent a housing development at Ihumātao, the south Auckland site considered sacred by local Māori. Reuters journalists Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon profile the young women on the frontline at the protest site.
Newton, now 29, is today leading thousands of protesters occupying the land at Ihumātao, one of a number of grassroots movements spearheaded by young, educated and tech-savvy Māori women.
Using social media and crowd-funding websites, the groups are mobilising community support to demand land rights and other reforms for Māori in the highest-profile indigenous rights campaigns in more than a decade.
“When you look at our campaign you’ll see the majority of us involved are women, and that’s because we feel this great sense of connection to Mother Earth,” Newton said in an interview. “We are the nurturers, we are the carers. We’ve had to overcome many, many challenges for thousands of years, and we’re strong – we’re resilient, we’re feisty and we’re fierce.”
Iru Iti a Māori-language orator with ancestral ties to Ihumātao who is related to Newton, waited out the pouring winter rain beneath a large tarpaulin covering a makeshift meeting ground at the protest site.
The 53-year-old said his nieces’ leadership and knowledge of how to navigate both the Māori and Western worlds is revitalising his people’s fight for social justice.
“Until very recently I never believed we could do what we did. If my father were still alive he’d think this is amazing,” Iti said.
Māori have a long history of activism to fight for their rights and culture. The protests at Ihumātao echo a 1977-78 occupation of Auckland’s Bastion Point by a local tribe, which ended after 507 days when police forcibly removed and arrested hundreds of protesters.
But many notice a difference in the new wave of protest that has emerged, which is also challenging some traditional leaders and spokespeople.
The protesters occupying Ihumātao do so in disagreement with a tribal authority with links to the area, which has supported the housing project after gaining a number of concessions from the developer, including moving the planned housing back from the main protected heritage area.
Original article by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon, Reuters, The Japan Times, August 16, 2019.
Photo by Reuters.