Tania Te Whenua
Te Waiariki – Bay of Plenty
“I always wanted to be an advocate and a voice for those who can’t easily advocate for themselves or whose voices are marginalised. I originally thought I would advocate for others in an international context. In my experience, growing up in Aotearoa, the stories we learnt about oppression always referenced other cultures. That’s a living example of how New Zealand’s education system ignores our own histories of social injustice.
Having said that though, my kaumātua, kuia (elders) were deeply aware of the oppression that we had faced as Māori having witnessed their communities being forcefully relocated from their lands after suffering debilitating invasion. My earliest experience of protest was being taken as a child by my koro (grandfather) to pick the tops of young pines that were growing on the confiscated land that neighbours our farm. When I entered tertiary education and had the ability to choose what I learnt about, I realised the true depth of oppression and inequity that we as Māori face in our own country. I became attuned to the flow on effect of colonialism that drives oppression today and which I myself have lived through.
I grew up in Ōpōtiki, raised by my mum – a solo mother of five, and her Tūhoe whānau, the Te Whenua whānau. In Ōpōtiki, the intergenerational impact of our early colonial history is palpable. We experienced some of the highest rates of land confiscations per capita during the “land wars” and now have some of the highest rates of socio-economic deprivation, including being named the homicide capital of New Zealand in a Ministry of Justice Report published in 2019. The intergenerational impact of colonisation is not an issue that can be resolved over night, without true partnership in the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi the disparities will only continue to compound over time.
It’s this background that fuels my passion and commitment to kaupapa Māori and the bigger picture of improved outcomes for Māori.”
“I studied law whilst raising my first two children and am now leading my own practice while raising my second two. My children have always been there with me throughout my career. I see them as a real source of motivation. Whānau is a hugely important part of my culture and values, as is the importance of raising well-grounded tamariki to step into the whānau legacy and continue to realise our values when I am gone.
My older children are now at Auckland University. My eldest is in the throes of completing a Bachelor of Medical Science and will begin a cardiology internship later this month where he is excited to work with Ngāti Porou who we whakapapa to on my father’s side. My daughter is also a social justice commentator who plans to create her first documentary this summer. My two younger children are just beginning their own journeys. Life is very busy, but I’ve become very effective at managing my time and commitments. I’ve had to, as without children I would not consider myself successful.”
“As a Māori lawyer and advocate part of my work is supporting organisations to truly fulfil their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. I started this work in 2006 as the Programme Manager Māori at Victoria University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, and since then I’ve worked with organisations from every corner of the public sector. I’m currently working with the likes of Auckland University School of Medical and Health Sciences where I’m supporting a major strategic shift to strengthen the Māori health workforce and ultimately improve health outcomes for Māori. This is largely why I opened my own practice – so that I could devote my time solely to matters that are important to me.
I’m really proud to be representing a number of significant clients within the Waitangi Tribunal Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry – an inquiry into the Crown’s failures to adequately protect the mana of Māori women; a subject that is close to my heart.
These include my clients, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the New Zealand Public Service Association in their claims alleging the Crown has failed to adequately protect wahine Māori from significant inequities in employment, particularly with respect to the gender-ethno pay gap and unconscious bias in the workplace. The Crown has a significant role to play as the biggest employer of Māori in our country and as a procurer of other significant employers, and lastly as the regulator of all employers.
I’m also proud to represent the Wāhine Toa (all female) Chapter of the Mongrel Mob Kingdom who claim that the Crown has failed to adequately protect them from acute levels of inequity such as intimate partner violence resulting in serious harm or death, for example via a system which treats deeply engrained mental health issues, addictions and associated disorders as criminal justice issues. My clients are devoted to working from within their own institution to turn the tide and wish to be supported by Government in their efforts to do so.
Overall, what’s at the heart of my work is my steadfast belief that after 180 years since the Treaty partnership was established it’s not good enough that Māori are still at the sharpest end of every socio-economic statistic. We’re more likely to leave school without higher education, most likely to receive the lowest pay, have the poorest health outcomes and the highest rates of youth suicide, not only in our own country, but in the OECD. We are 15 percent of the population and up to 67 percent of the prison population, with our women being most likely to suffer intimate partner violence resulting in serious harm or death. We need to see those statistics move and they will only do so through true partnership that aspires to achieve equity of outcomes for Māori. My role in all that I do, whether professionally or personally is simply to refuse to compromise on this aspiration.”
Tania Te Whenua (Tūhoe, Whakatōhea) is the Principal of Te Whenua Law & Consulting based in Te Waiariki, the Bay of Plenty. She is passionate about social justice and Te Tiriti o Waitangi and practices as a lawyer within the Waitangi Tribunal whilst also consulting directly to organisations to realise the Treaty in practise.