To Meagan Joe, President, Jacqui Te Kani, General Manager, Members of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Distinguished Guests, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
May I thank you for inviting me to attend and officially open the 58th National Conference of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. I attended the 56th National Conference on 2 October 2008 with real pleasure and I am delighted to be with you again as the League moves towards its 60th birthday.
When preparing for my opening address to you, a Government House staff member found an undated and anonymous book in the Parliamentary Library and borrowed it. It seems to be authored some time in the 1970s and covers an analysis of the League from the 1950s up until that point. We have made a copy to leave with you.
I would like to read a section of this book, which I think describes the Māori Women’s Welfare League as it was, and as it still is. It reads:-
“The Māori Women’s Welfare League was brought into being as a result of the intense desire of the women of the race for an organisation, not exclusively Māori in its membership, which would give them a voice and, at the same time, unite them in the purpose of serving both race and community.”
Formed in Wellington, following the mass movement of Māori from rural to urban New Zealand - which has been called the ‘second migration’ - the league's original goal was to preserve Māori culture, arts and crafts while also promoting fellowship and co-operation among various women’s organisations.
Its activities have extended far beyond that. As a pan-tribal and pan-cultural organisation, the Māori Women’s Welfare League has moved from focusing primarily on women, to a focusing on family wellness which extends into community wellness.
The League is planted firmly on the ground, and works closely with the community, promoting the family values. These values have served us well as a country in the past, and they continue to play an important role in building safe and healthy communities.
The building blocks of society, families need to be given support and assistance to succeed – and the Families Commission has identified today’s families as different from my traditional notion. Organisations such as the Māori Women’s Welfare League play an important role in supporting the community, families and thus children.
Anand and I have become grandparents for the third time in two years with the latest addition to our family born early this month. Becoming grandparents serves as a reminder to us of the difficulties parents face. Ours is a rapidly changing society many people are no longer as connected to their wider families as they once were.
Modern families face more stress in our current economic climate. I know that the League is championing the new focus on home industry and resourcefulness as a way of coping with tight family budgets. I think this is an inspired idea, and a way to do something positive involving children. Last week we planted zucchini seeds and are watering them on the windowsill so that 19 month old Lola can help and watch them grow.
As a woman I salute you and this organisation for achieving so much for so many. It was often the case that women’s needs were overlooked and it is thanks in part to you, women found support and a voice. There have been great female leaders in this country and, in the early 2000s, we were unique in the world in that our Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, and Speaker of the House of Representatives were all women.
The League continues to encourage and support women into leadership roles as well as giving women a voice and continuing the advocacy for women in marginal situations like gangs.
I would like to finish by reading an excerpt from the book Rapaki Wahine Whakamaumahara: Memories of the Rapaki branch Māori Women’s Welfare League as told by Dr Libby Plumridge. The comments, which are from an unknown source, state in Māori:
Ka Kotuku Rere Ngatahi, haere atu ra… haere atu ra,
Tapotu ana te ngaru ki Huiamai o Whakarepo,
Hei maumaharatia Ka Hakui Whakaruruhau i ka ra o mau,
Rite tonu ana ia rataau te Kaihautu o te waka a Makawhuia
Me urungitia Te-Roopu-Wahine-Māori-Toko-i-te-Ora
Ma wai e too te waka inaianei?
Wahine hou mingoi! Wahine hou rakahau!
In English, she said:
To our treasured birds of single flight, fare thee well.
The waves break on Huiamai of panoramic Lyttelton Harbour.
Let’s remember our dear Korowai Taua of our renown past
Like the great guide of the migrating canoe Makawhuia
They steered the kaupapa of Māori Women’s Welfare League.
Who shall haul the waka now?
A new generation of women, move! Rise up!
It is a wero that remains as relevant today as it was then.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare the 58th National Conference of the Māori Women’s Welfare League officially open.
No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.