Kōrero with Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Posted: May 6, 2022Categories: ,

Kōrero with Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

WATCH HERE: Stacey Morrison interviews Te Pati Māori Co-leader, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer




Health: “Close your eyes and imagine if … we could stop Māori dying earlier… Imagine if we suddenly become well…. Imagine what we’d then talk about. Imagine what we’d spend our time doing. Imagine how we’d be able to contribute. Imagine … this nation’s opportunities missing now because its tangata whenua were so unwell.”


Home. A little word that – unsurprisingly – held a lot of meanings in Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s online kōrero with Stacey Morrison late last month. Being home, Debbie said, is “where you feel safe.” And “de-masking, de-armouring” in the safety of home – after a tiring stint at Parliament – is replenishing: it’s “doing nothing, being out amongst the silence, wearing trackies and not brushing your hair for a week!”

Home for Debbie is South Taranaki – she lives with three generations of whānau, on tupuna land which is back with the whānau for “probably the first time in 170 years.” But her whānau “has always been ahi kā” – the wāhine especially have kept the fires burning of continuous occupation, despite extreme attempts to stamp them out. (Even before the violence that met the passive resistance of Parihaka, 74 tāne, including Debbie’s great grandfather, were shipped off to Dunedin as the Pakakohi prisoners in 1869 for resisting land confiscation.)

Ahi kā, says Debbie, is one of her “greatest strengths and privileges” but it comes with “a responsibility, an obligation … you grow into it.” For Debbie herself, that responsibility has meant fighting against “kaupapa that were threatening our kai, they were threatening our wellbeing, our ability to have certainty, to live calmly and uninterrupted.” As Ngāti Ruanui CEO, she has led the fight in the courts to stop seabed mining, “an atrocious activity.” As deputy mayor for South Taranaki, she fought “to stop the pollution in our awa.” She has also fought to have Māori wards recognised, and to stop “our babies being advertised on TradeMe.” It was the feeling of meeting dead ends in many of these battles for home that propelled her all the way from Taranaki to Parliament: “every road kept leading to this place.”

Her tupuna – who faced so much – give her the strength and courage to carry on. “Can you imagine saying good bye to 70-plus of your immediate hapū and they never came back? … our women had to lead through that…. That’s where we intrinsically dig in from.”

For a little while, as a young woman, Debbie says she was ashamed of what had happened to her people. “How the hell do you hold your head up, where do you go, when you learn that your ancestors were raped, they were left hapū, when they were being removed from Parihaka, …where do you put that as a young woman coming through teenangehood and dealing with her own womanhood?” But whaea Whero O Te Rangi Bailey – then a teacher at Debbie’s school – helped her through: “She was a real feminist, ahead of her time, and she made me own that: this wasn’t our whakamā. Our wāhine survived that and they stood up and they continued to bring whakapapa into us, and we grew, and we grew.”


Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Why she’s not simply overwhelmed with anger when facing inequality Because I have hope and I see the amazing young ones coming through who need us to focus on solutions. And yes, we have to disrupt, and we have to shake things up. … In te ao Māori we have a view: from the darkness, from te pō, can come growth. And not to be scared of disruption or conflict; even the whenua we’re on came out of an eruption.”
Te Tiriti o Waitangi : “When our ancestors signed te Tiriti, they signed it knowing that they needed to help those who had arrived to behave, and to live together in harmony and to work together … they actually signed it as a koha, it wasn’t signed and done as a hōhā …. It’s quite insulting at times when people… imply our ancestors would have just signed something and given it over [tino rangatiratanga]. Why would they? They were the majority here.”


The role of tangata tiriti [My Irish] Mum would be the one who would go to advocate for tangata whenua to the Crown and to officials because they would listen to her more. Our tangata tiriti… are so important. You have rights. Your mana and your wairua and your relationship with us matters. It matters to us because it mattered to our tūpuna. … They thought that the relationship would advance. And I think it is and it does”It’s not tangata whenua who should be calling out racism; it’s actually our partners, tangata tiriti, who have equal ability … to come together and deal with the issues before us, the good, the bad and the ugly…. One of the things I love about Catherine [Delahunty], is that when we’ve been attacked by racists… Catherine and other staunch tangata tiriti like herself take them on. And that’s how it should be… It really silences –  one of your own calling your own out – it has a different impact.”
on Māori strength “There is a resilience within our nationhood [as Māori], within our very DNA that I wish we wouldn’t have to defend, and we could just openly bring out and share. … I saw it during the Covid response. When you left us to our own devices. We were able to show what we’re made of. And I think that’s what’s needed now.”

 Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (left) and  Stacey Morrison (right) in action!

parliamentary strategy We tend to wānanga a lot and then follow our puku.”
passive resistance (like her tūpuna at Parihaka) “Being passive and being peaceful is not about being submissive. And I really urge that wāhine look into that more.”
wāhine atua “I’m a real advocate of our wāhine atua, and knowing our own atua and our own strength, and I think that’s another part of reclaiming our wellbeing as wāhine as well.”


Growth, movement, change: they’re themes in the kōrero, not in contrast to home, but as part of it, just as Debbie herself moves and changes, as part of a larger story, bridging from tupuna to mokopuna. “I was a bridging CEO in iwi to bring the next generation through…, and I’ll do that in politics as well. Just bring them through and make them realise: this is our space, tangata whenua, tangata tiriti, tangata moana. And don’t ever let them think that it’s not. Own our space.”