The Taniwha's Exile: The Exclusion of Maori Women from Environmental Policy and Decision-Making in Aotearoa/New Zealand

By Clarke, Eileen | Hecate, May 2004 | Go to article overview

The Taniwha's Exile: The Exclusion of Maori Women from Environmental Policy and Decision-Making in Aotearoa/New Zealand


Clarke, Eileen, Hecate


A main theme of this paper is notions of marginalisation, exclusion and alienation (exile), and what those might mean for Maori and particularly Maori women and their whanau/families. It is concerned with how Maori might encounter these in their lives, how they are made manifest, not only in concrete and material, but also in psychological and spiritual ways. Accordingly, by focussing on a specific case study with which I am particularly familiar, this paper attempts to provide a meaningful local context, if not operational definitions, through which to explore theoretical constructs of marginalisation and exile. More specifically, it will attempt to engage those forms of exclusion that might be seen to reflect more closely the experiences of Maori--alienation, displacement, dispossession and raupatu.

He wahine, he whenua, ka ngaro ai te tangata

Whenua is the Maori word for land (i). It is also the placenta from which the child draws sustenance while in the womb. The analogy is clear and simple. We are dependent on the land to nourish us within the wider universe just as we rely on the placenta to nourish us in our mother's womb. But there is a deeper tie--land is also Papatuanuku the ancestor who together with Ranginui created the universe, as we know it. Her power of procreation is instilled in women and in the land. Both carry a form of tapu, which must be protected and safeguarded ... 'Through women and land man is lost', is an ancient whakatauki that is often quoted in the modern context as meaning women are the downfall of men. However, a deeper reading would uncover the mana and tapu of Papatuanuku, inherent in both women and the land, and highlight their importance in maintaining human existence. (1)

In presenting this chronicle of a community's struggle I want to place emphasis on the roles that women have played (or in some instances been prevented from playing), not necessarily in high profile public ways, but in behind the scenes organisation, support, manaaki and advocacy. The women in question are all firmly embedded in either whanau, hapu or iwi settings--or indeed all of the above, that well encompass the males in their lives. They are a fluid, organic group located across a range of professional, academic, artisan and, latterly, activist contexts; during the course of the struggle they have come together as they have been able depending on a raft of realities including time, energy, specific strengths and strategies and, not least, sheer economics.

These women are nurses, teachers, lawyers, writers, poets, artists, community workers, scientists, planners, curators and historians, local body politicians (and hopefully come the next election maybe national politicians) and, of course, academics. Just as importantly, if not more importantly they are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, great grandmothers, sisters, wives, aunts, nieces and cousins. In this capacity they are connected through whakapapa across the generations. In their career roles these women may be regarded as interlocutors for the testimonies of their whanau, hapu, iwi, community; as community members themselves however, they all hold dual, if not multiple roles and positions in relation to the political act of advocacy and testimonial presentation:

   we've seen that in situations of extreme danger the people
   who take the greatest risks are often women. They are
   capable of total selflessness, total courage. When the time
   comes to make a revolution, women are there in the front
   lines.... but afterwards of course when it is time to divide up
   the power, they are inevitably left on the sidelines. (2)

A common thread, apart from whakapapa, linking this group of women, is their engagement in environmental struggles encompassing a number of issues such as the pollution of resources, the extraction of resources, and the dumping of waste products. For the purposes of this paper however, the focus is on the construction of a large prison for male inmates on a unique (geothermal) tribal resource, which is also regarded as a waahi tapu--a traditional sacred site. …

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