News & Current Affairs

New Zealand: 21-Year-old Lawmaker, Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, Gives "Maori" a Voice in Parliament

By Azeezat Okunlola | Jan 11, 2024

In recognition of her indigenous heritage, a video of a young lawmaker from New Zealand doing the "Maori haka" during her inaugural address has gone viral.


The 21-year-old Maori woman, Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, became the youngest member of parliament in 170 years. "I will die for you... but I will [also] live for you," she assured her supporters in her inauguration speech, pledging her dedication to them.


The haka was originally performed to welcome other tribes and to excite soldiers before combat. It was a powerful demonstration of cultural pride, solidarity, and perseverance, accompanied by physical prowess.


Despite being called a Māori dance, the haka does not follow traditional dance patterns. "Canting, vigorous movements like stamping, hand gestures, and facial expressions" are the usual components of this collective performance. In many iwi (tribal) contexts, the haka tells the account of pivotal moments in the tribe's past.


Even in contemporary times, the haka is still done at significant occasions like weddings, funerals, athletic contests, and powhiri (traditional welcomes) to honour the deceased and show respect for the living. Resonating once again in the middle of the new government's aspirations to restrict the use of the Treaty and te reo Māori in legislative concerns, she also revisited areas of her Te Petihana anniversary address.


"I truly feel like I've already said my maiden speech outside the steps of Parliament last year," Maipi-Clarke said, referring to her previous speech outside Parliament for Te Petihana's 50th anniversary. Te Petihana is a Māori advocacy group that sought national recognition and the revival of te reo Māori,  i.e., the Māori language


“In only a couple of weeks ... this Government has attacked my whole world... Health, taiao [environment], wai [water], whenua [land], natural resources, Māori wards, reo [language], tamariki, and the right of me and you to be in this country under Te Tiriti,” Clarke said.


"How can I not take anything personally when it feels like these policies were made about me?" she said, reflecting on the fact that she felt the effects of policies that seemed to be designed to harm her.


Along with her dedication to the next generation, she sent a sincere message to her constituents, saying, "To Hauraki-Waikato, I am at your service in and outside of Parliament. I will die for you in these chambers, but I will live for you outside these four walls.”


“Never fit in. You are perfect. You are the perfect fit,” she added.


Following reports by The Guardian, Maipi-Clarke views her duty as a kaitiaki, or protector, of the Māori language, land, and traditional knowledge, rather than a typical politician. She thinks that the voices of the Māori youth need to be heard now more than ever before.


Maipi-Clarke became the youngest member of parliament to enter New Zealand's legislature in 170 years at the most recent national elections, at the age of 21. By winning, she deposed Labour's Nanaia Mahuta, a revered and senior lawmaker who had served for twenty years as the Māori representative for Hauraki-Waikato and was the first Māori woman to hold the position of foreign affairs minister.


Maipi-Clarke is a Māori community garden manager who teaches horticulture to local youngsters using the maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar. She originally hails from Huntly, a town between Auckland and Hamilton. Despite her youth, she has accomplished much; she not only ran a successful company, but she also wrote a book that encourages young people to seek solace in the moon and stars.


Notable figures in her family tree include Wiremu Katene, the first Māori minister to the Crown in 1872; Hana Te Hemara, an aunt, presented the Māori language petition to parliament in 1972; and Taitimu Maipi, her grandpa, gained notoriety in 2018 for vandalising a statue of Capt John Hamilton, the city's namesake, in protest of the colonial legacy and the mistreatment of Mori.


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