Hon Tariana Turia
Speech To The New Zealand College Of Midwives National Midwifery Conference, Hamilton
Tena tatau e hui nei i tenei ra. Nga mihi ki a koutou ki Te Ata-i-rangi-kaahu, me te kahui ariki, ki a Waikato, ki a
Tainui. Anei tenei awa o Whanganui me ona maunga e mihi ana ki a Waikato me ona maunga rangatira. Waikato taniwha rau,
Distinguished midwives, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, grand daughters, wahine toa - tena koutou,
tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.
I am a descendant of the river of Whanganui and like any river there are twists and turns, there are rapids and
turbulence and there are places of serenity and calm where one can marvel at the beauty which springs forth from mother
nature, from Papatuanuku herself.
Today, I want us to celebrate the marvels of nature and the beauty, which springs forth from the work that you as
midwives do. I want to affirm the position that you play in the preparation of our children and of our parents for life,
for sisterhood, for brotherhood and if they so choose, or it so happens, for parenthood.
I would like to pay tribute to you and your work by quoting a passage from the Robyn Kahukiwa book “Wahine Toa”, the
words are those of Patricia Grace.
This is the story of Papatuanuku the earth mother. First however it is the origins of:
“I am aged in aeons, being Te Po, the Night, that came from Te Kore, the Nothing.
First came Te Kore that could neither be felt nor sensed. This was the void, the silence, where there was no movement
and none to move no sound and none to hear no shape and none to see.
It was out of this nothingness that Increase and Consciousness, and I, Te Po were born.
I am aged in aeons, and I am Night of many nights, Night of many darknesses.
Night of great darkness, long darkness, utter darkness, birth and death darkness; of darkness unseen, darkness touchable
and untouchable, and of every kind of darkness that can be.
In my womb lay Papatuanuku who was conceived in Darkness, born into darkness - and who matured in Darkness, and in
darkness became mated with the Sky. (Ranginui)
Then Papatuanuku too conceived, and bore many children among the long ages of Te Po.”
Papatuanuku and Ranginui were at one time, one.
They are now apart. Between them, but not separating them are their children to whom they had given life and whom they
had nurtured, and into whose hands they had given future life and growth.
Within the Maori world we continue to celebrate both Rangi the Sky Father and Papatuanuku the Earth Mother.
You as midwives and we as women need to take the time to celebrate what we do for mothers, fathers and children.
You need to celebrate the fact that you play positive roles in allaying the anxieties of expectant mothers. You allay
the fears of the nervous fathers.
You also need to celebrate the fact that as professionals you have made yourselves culturally safe by being aware of who
you are and therefore being able to respect the cultural beliefs of the mothers to be who may be culturally different to
You need to celebrate that within this cultural context - the extended family, whanau or aiga are important, that the
pakeke, the elders are especially important and I know that you respect and value the role that they all play.
You need to celebrate that you are skilled and the very positive contributions you make to families often cannot be
A number of my staff, my family and my daughter in laws remember very fondly the experiences of care and the very
professionally human manner in which midwives interacted with them.
In July I became a great grandmother for the first time. My granddaughter Brook gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We
have named her Mere-Aneta. Her mother calls her Jayden.
The arrival of my mokopuna has made me take time to reflect on a number of issues such as birthing, family, children,
protection, naming and relationships, which are important to us all.
The meaning behind the words "tangata whenua" is basic to any understanding of wahinetanga or womanhood.
As Maori women we trace our mana wahine (female status and power) to Papa-tua-nuku, our Earth Mother.
It is from Papa-tua-nuku that we claim our identity as being the land itself and not merely the people of the land as
the general translation suggests.
When a woman is pregnant, the “whenua” (placenta) is the lining of the womb by which the foetus is nourished.
Following birth, the “whenua” is then expelled with the foetus and the umbilical cord. Rauru is a name given to part of
the umbilical cord. Nga Rauru is one of the iwi of which I am a member - another connection. “Whenua” is also the term
used for “land”, the physical body of Papa-tua-nuku who is the provider of nourishment and sustenance for all her
The relationship we have with our whenua is indeed a special one, a spiritual bond with our Mother, Papa-tua-nuku, and a
connection with the very source of life itself.
It is no coincidence then that the world is the sustainer of life within the womb and the source of nourishment after
birth, the earth itself, is, in both cases, “whenua”.
Indeed the burying of a newborn baby’s afterbirth or whenua in the land of their ancestors is a ritual, which is
increasingly being performed by many younger Maori parents.
A ritual in which they participate as they recognise their connectedness with who they are and the special place they
and their whanau have in Aotearoa, particularly that part of Aotearoa to which they have genealogical ties.
My great grand daughter’s whenua or afterbirth is buried at our urupa at Whangaehu, along with the whenua of all my
other mokopuna. We belong to the Iwi of Ngä Wairiki, Ngati Apa.
The word “whanau” as many of you would know, means to be born of; the word “hapu” means to be pregnant with; and the
word “iwi” to us, is taken from the word Koiwi - which is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.
The words whanau, hapu and iwi are words of identity and belonging.
In the final analysis, we are all people of the land because we come through the land. As women we are “whare tangata” –
the house of the people.
With the birth of my great grand daughter and the recent birth of another grand son, the issue of the disparities are at
a personal level, again bought in to very sharp focus for me.
There is much we have to do. In the last 20 years inequality in New Zealand has grown faster than in almost any other
country in the developed world.
That is shameful and not fair. A just and decent society would not tolerate it.
In Aotearoa, that inequality is unique in that it is the indigenous people who have borne the brunt with the growing
disparities between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders. The experience it must be said is not unique to
It is intolerable to this coalition government to see whanau, hapu and iwi, dispatched permanently, it seems, to the
status of disadvantaged citizens in their own land.
The government is committed to reducing disparities in that what strengthens Maori will contribute to the strengthening
of our nation overall.
In other words what is good for Maori will be good for New Zealand and you have an important role to play in this.
This government will not be deterred by mischievous ill informed opponents who delight in attempting to gain political
capital out of attacking Maori whanau, hapu and iwi initiatives.
We need to be concerned about these people who playing on fears and are seeking to divide Maori against other New
Zealanders by creating the impression that Maori somehow will gain an unfair advantage over them with the policies being
pursued by this government.
The initiatives by the government are attempts to ensure that whanau, hapu and iwi get what they have not been getting
which, is why the GAPS exist in the first place.
Building the capacity, particularly of our women is going to be critical because the majority of our children are being
raised by their mothers. Finding ways for Mäori and other women to train as midwives that doesn't require them to leave
their families, will be a critical development that needs to take place. You may well want to consider this matter, and
how this organisation could assist this development to occur.
I believe we all want a society, which strives for social, political, economic and cultural inclusion.
A society, where all Maori parents will know that to give birth to Maori children will not be consigning them to a
social, economic, cultural and political scrap heap that the growing disparities from the past appear to be have done.
You as midwives are one of the role models for our expectant mothers, for the children they carry, and for the whanau
into whom those children will be born.
You contribute to the development pathway this child will travel on when they enter this physical world and you build
the confidence of the mother in preparation for motherhood.
Educate a man, you educate an individual
Educate a woman - you educate a nation.
You know that a child in utero is sensitive to all that is occurring with its mother and the whanau.
You know that negative experiences and anxiety of the mother, can affect the child emotionally, psychologically and
Certainly our old people knew. Many in fact had the same knowledge that you as midwives now have.
What I would like is for our people to reclaim that traditional midwifery expertise and professionalism.
It concerns me at times to hear that Maori knowledge is referred to as 'cultural knowledge' and western knowledge is
referred to as professional or clinical.
What I want to say here is that all knowledge has a cultural basis to it. What all of us need to do is to identify the
cultural base to our professional and clinical expertise.
We need to listen to each other a lot more and learn that we all have much to contribute to each other's professionalism
and skill base.
In doing that we all contribute to birthing and nurturing processes which will benefit our nation, but more importantly
our future generations to come.
In conclusion, I want to personally thank you all for the part you have played in bringing many Maori children safely
into this world.
The many Maori children who have expelled that breath of life - Tihei Mauri Ora!