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Excerpt: ‘200 Women’: Marama Fox

Excerpt [1] / Release [2]
200 Women
Ruth Hobday, Geoff Blackwell, and Kieran Scott (distributed by Upstart Press, $75 RRP | Website: http://www.twohundredwomen.com/ [3])

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200-women

Marama Fox was born in Hamilton, New Zealand. She has taught at Māori-language immersion schools aimed at fostering an understanding of Māori language, culture and wisdom, and in public secondary schools. Fox was an advisor to the Ministry of Education before being elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 2014; she is a representative* and co-leader of the Māori Party.

Q: What really matters to you?

Our Māori children – I went into politics to help our nation remember how to love our children. It is time to correct the disparity that exists between Māori and Pākehā – between indigenous New Zealanders and those descended from European settlers. People have to listen to the realities of what it means to be Māori, so that we can develop and implement better policies that help our children realise their aspirations. I want our children to know how great they are – to stand up and embrace the greatness of their ancestors and their achievements. So, I am paving the way for my children’s generation to take back their narrative.

For a long time, I myself held negative perceptions of my people and thought I had a great Western education; I learned about Elizabeth I and about the wonderful settlers who colonised New Zealand. I had intended to go to university, but I had a baby instead. It was when I took my son to kōhanga reo that I was exposed to a Māori world view. Kōhanga reo is a Māori language nest – a pre-school – hosted by our elders in an effort to revive our language. They invite mothers to bring their children along to be spoken to in te reo Māori and to be schooled in the knowledge of our people. It felt like someone had taken off the top of my head with a can opener and had started pouring in all this knowledge. Oh, my gosh, my brain!

Images copyright © 2017 Kieran E. Scott kieranscottphotography.com

Images copyright © 2017 Kieran E. Scott kieranscottphotography.com

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been raised with this knowledge. I had grown up feeling that I should be content with the disparity between my people and Pākehā. But, learning of my mother’s whakapapa, or genealogy, I realised I was born of greatness. My people had navigated their way to Aotearoa – New Zealand – across the oceans by reading the stars, while Europeans still believed the world was flat. The more I learned, the more I started to question: How did Māori go from being the epitome of health to having a life expectancy ten years lower than that of Pākehā? And why didn’t we own our land anymore?

In 1840, we signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori people were assured of certain rights over their land and agreed to live in unity with the colonisers, but we have suffered because, for 177 years, the New Zealand government has ignored us. There have been laws that said our children could only be taught labouring, cooking, cleaning and nursemaiding – this was all we were deemed competent to do.

There have been laws preventing our children from speaking their own language in schools because, when faced with the decision of whether to exterminate us or to ‘civilise’ us, it was decided that we were to be civilised – and this would need to be done through a language more conducive to human thought. Excuse me? Our language is not good enough for academic rigour, and yet, we traversed the oceans and forged an existence here before anyone else!

I joined the Māori Party to be a voice for our people. There’s an old First Nations saying, ‘Left wing, right wing – same bird.’ These days, I say, ‘Red undies, blue undies – same skid marks.’ We Māori are still bearing the skid marks of colonisation and of the resultant cultural genocide. They stripped away our faith in ourselves – our hope – by telling us our language was not good enough and that we were not good enough to benefit from Western knowledge. I don’t think people understand what that kind of systemic abuse does to a people: to be told generation after generation that we’re not good enough.

And what does it do to the other side who are told they deserve their place in the world while everyone else has to fight for theirs – that they are superior and are entitled to their privilege. I’m new to this struggle, but we have never stopped fighting: I follow phenomenal women like Whina Cooper, Eva Rickard, Donna Huata, Tariana Turia.

My goal is equitable outcomes, which is more important than equal opportunity. The statistics that exist in relation to sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and suicide rates are unacceptable. When a nine-year-old chooses to take their own life instead of living their reality, that is wrong. Children who go through the system – and 63 per cent of these kids are Māori – are immediately at the bottom of every disparaging statistic in this country; they are more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to be abused, more likely to leave school without an education and more likely to die earlier. And the present-day incarceration of our people is another stolen generation. It is unacceptable. The system is wrong, and yet it is deemed a ‘Māori problem’ – but it is not. Our whole nation is responsible for our children. We have to change the way we do things.

Q. What brings you happiness?

I find my happiness in mayhem. My nine children have all just moved home with my husband and me; four of my sons are married, so their wives have joined them. There are six mokopuna – grandchildren – the youngest is a newborn. It is mayhem, and it is the most perfect bliss I’ve ever experienced. My peace and my happiness are right there, sitting in the middle of that – the kids running around, clambering all over me; everybody cooking, debating, arguing, playing, laughing and singing.

Q. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I live in a society in which we have some of the highest suicide statistics in the world, especially for Māori. Our young people can’t see hope in their futures and so choose to take their own lives – that is the pit of misery. How can it be that these people aren’t empowered to reach out for help, to deal with their emotions, to find resilience and hope?

Q. What would you change if you could?

I want our people to reconnect with our tūrangawaewae – the place where we have the right to stand. We have to build a society that values this again, that pulls people together to assist one another in fulfilling their dreams and shows them a brightness of hope for our future.

Q. Which single word do you most identify with?

Whanaungatanga. This embodies everything about being a family and our interconnectedness. It is the idea that each of us needs each other and that there is none greater or lesser than another.

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Text copyright © 2017 Blackwell and Ruth Limited blackwellandruth.com [4]

* At time of writing.

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