We begin our week-long coverage of Māori stories to mark Waitangi Day with a look at a stunning photo essay, longlisted for the Ockham book awards

I come from a long line of strong, Indigenous wāhine. But in 2016 my world changed. I remember the day vividly. I was curled over on the floor of the hospital emergency department, struggling to breathe. Grief was forcing its way out of my body, a sound I had never heard before. My nan, Dawn Matata, my tino wahine, the woman who raised me, had died.

Some moments in your life become pivotal. This was one of mine.

My nan was a teacher, a weaver, a creative, a storyteller. Sitting at her kitchen table over a cuppa tea, sharing intergenerational kōrero, had always helped me to figure out my life.

Her passing came six years into my journey of infertility. As a wahine, I felt lost.

Simultaneously, I was in the midst of fighting for the future of our whenua and people at Ihumātao. A transnational corporation planned to build a housing development on unjustly confiscated ancestral land.

Aqui Thami: “I am doing a doctoral degree with the School of Social Work in Bombay, and looking at the way Indigenous women view nation state, citizenship and resistance in Darjeeling. I have a Master’s degree in Dalit tribal studies. It was out of desperation that I enrolled into my Master’s. I knew nothing about myself, and it was hurtful to be existing in an academic space, because in Hindu practice and philosophy, education is supposed to be only for the upper caste.”

The heaviness of societal expectations on me as an Indigenous woman was drowning me. I was expected to earn my place and thrive both in te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā, and represent both exceedingly, to fill my whare with children, to speak my language confidently and wear my markings.

I looked for solace. Social media was full of self-obsession, consumerism and too many keyboard warriors. News media hammered home to me and others that my people were consistently under-achieving and over-represented in a raft of undesirable indicators. We were no-good trouble makers.

We Indigenous wāhine lived in a media-saturated world, but we weren’t swimming in our stories.

Hinewirangi Kohu-Morgan: “I’m 73. I came out of school being bashed for speaking te reo so I put it in my head somewhere a long time ago that there was something wrong with being Māori. I got the bash when I said it wasn’t Captain Cook who found anything — it was Kupe. School was the first place you were assimilated, to get you out of your history.”

A year after my nan passed, I became hapū with a kōtiro. I was confronted with my reality: raising an Indigenous wahine in a colonised, patriarchal world. I didn’t want my daughter to carry the weight of intergenerational trauma I felt.

I questioned, What atua wāhine and tūpuna wāhine pūrākau could she access? What mātauranga did she need for her life journey? Where would she encounter powerful role models in her everyday world?

I then questioned those things for the rest of us.

I set myself a wero, to amplify the voices of 100 kickass Indigenous wāhine doing things differently. My goal was to change our narrative for future generations.

Kanoa Lloyd: “Being a wahine Māori on television comes with a sense of responsibility to our people. You have to figure out how to protect yourself and create boundaries so that you stay strong enough to do the important work.”


NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women embodies the diversity of what it means to be an Indigenous wāhine today. Together, we are redefining what success means for us. We intentionally centre Indigenous values and whakaaro to change the perception of Indigenous wāhine and, in turn, change the way we perceive ourselves.

We had little-to-no resources, but huge passion and drive. It took three years, with some time off in between to co-lead the occupation at Ihumātao and deal with the world-changing Covid-19 outbreak and its sudden series of lockdowns.

Kim Tairi:”I call myself an intersectional feminist because, like everybody, my identity is really complex. I’m brown, I’m Māori, and I’m a woman. Intersectional feminism talks about how being part of minority groups that intersect can make it much harder to survive in the world.”

The 100 wāhine featured in this pukapuka work across diverse sectors and in wide-ranging roles. Some seek to end domestic violence, others improve access to services, or support environmental and sustainability goals. Some influence the media, champion the arts, advocate for Indigenous and land rights, revive Indigenous systems and practice, open doors to academic interests and strive for gender equality. The youngest is 14 and the eldest is in her mid-seventies. We feature wāhine Māori, Moriori, Pasifika, Melanesia, Wijadjuri, Himalaya and Mexico. The geographical reach of NUKU spans Te Tai Tokerau to Ōtepoti, from coast to coast and over to Rēkohu.

This book, and the associated NUKU multimedia series, has been conceived, led and made by wāhine. To honour our collective story sovereignty and ensure a foundation of mana motuhake, this pukapuka has also been self-published.

Reina Vaai: “I was born in New Zealand because the hospital in our village didn’t have enough medical professionals in the birthing unit. My mum came to New Zealand, gave birth to me and we flew back to Sāmoa… We migrated to New Zealand and lived with my nana, Siainiu Faalogo, in Māngere. It was quite overcrowded. My nana and my uncle were in one room, my parents, myself and my three siblings were in one room, another uncle and his wife and their five kids were in another room, and another aunty and her children were in the garage. That’s where I grew up — and it was amazing.”

Indigenous wāhine dream to see our future generations thrive — to be confident in their reo, to be equipped with their mātauranga, to be proud of their identities, to be healthy, happy and well. For this to happen, we need a thriving ecosystem supported by Indigenous values and practices. The key to our ambition is connection. Being connected to our whānau, to our history, to our knowledge systems, to our taiao, to one another. This will see us prosper.

NUKU is proudly about who we are; not who we’ve been told to be. Mā hine, mō hine, kia hine. Mauri ora.

Stacey Morrison: “Wāhine taketake have to look out for each other, because only we know what it feels like to be us. The reality for Indigenous women is the mahi is endless, but often we feel like the time is now. Ka whati te tai, ka pao te tōrea — when the tide goes out, the oystercatcher must strike.”

NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women photographed by Qiane Matata-Sipu ($65), featuring her portraits of wāhine Māori, Moriori, Pasifika, Melanesian, Wijadjuri, Himalayan and Mexican, is available in selected bookstores, and from the publisher (as well as some cool merch). It has been longlisted for the best book of illustrated non-fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand national book awards.

Qiane Matata-Sipu is the author and publisher of NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women, longlisted for best book of illustrated non-fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand national book awards.

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