Kōrero with Qiane Matata-Sipu
“I hope indigenous wāhine really understand how powerful they actually are”
Qiane Matata-Sipu shares how she is changing the narrative for future generations
It was an open, candid, memorable evening of tears and laughter when Qiane Matata-Sipu talked to Stacey Morrison about the successful campaign she co-led with her cousins to protect their ancestral whenua at Ihumātao and her current NUKU movement, amplifying the voices of “kickass” Indigenous wāhine.
Qiane described how her grandparents’ generation were already kaitiaki for their taiao (environment), marae and papakāinga. “We were the privileged generation that got to grow up at their feet, learning directly from them.”
She and her cousins started the campaign to protect Ihumātao because “we didn’t want our tamariki to have less than what we have, knowing that we have less than what our grandparents had.”
But the sacrifices were real: “as a strategist and as a comms advisor in the campaign… I was so consumed by this kaupapa for years. It’s really hard for other people to live with you … when you’re exhausted and angry and your moods go up and down because they’re responding to what the media said today, to what this idiot politician said today. … You hurt those around you unwittingly because you’re in a state of fighting – but you’re not just fighting your neighbour, you’re fighting the government.”
Having a child lit Qiane’s fire even more and gave her hard decisions to make: “do I stay home with my baby or do I go and stand in front of the police? For all of her three years of life I was fighting for [my daughter’s] tomorrow – and I could feel criticism around me. ‘You’re not home enough with your child, you’re not doing this enough, you’re not whatever enough, you’re not enough.’”
But Qiane’s message to Indigenous wāhine, and all women, is that we are enough – it’s a message she repeats every week with the release of a new NUKU podcast.
“NUKU wāhine are magnificent. I believe that every Indigenous wahine – and every wahine – is magic. Because we are born of atua, we are the creators of life. Our whare tangata [womb] is the most powerful thing on this earth. So why shouldn’t we be amplifying those voices?”
With NUKU, she “wanted to show the diversity of Indigenous wāhine, the diversity of success. Not all Indigenous women speak their native language, contribute to the marae, and wear moko kauae. These are not the only things that indigenous wāhine are.”
Systemic change, for Qiane, is behind both her long, hard fight for the whenua, and her joyful celebration of Indigenous women.
“Our system is broken because it is a colonial system. Iwi are made to go through a Treaty of Waitangi process which pits them against each other. The system completely changes the way that te ao Māori operates, because we have to have one person represent 1000 voices.
“When we think about the imperial society, and the patriarchal society that we live in, the privileged that are always prioritised are white men. It just is what it is. No matter how nice some white men are and can be, and no matter how big their hearts are, they will always be at the top of that privilege under the current system. Which means Indigenous wāhine will always be at the bottom. Because Indigenous wāhine are placed after white women. …We’ve been made to take a step back.
“We need that to completely flip. Indigenous wāhine are saving our earth. Indigenous wāhine are standing on the frontlines to tiaki whenua, tiaki moana, tiaki awa, you look across the world you see women leading to protect our environment…. I hope Indigenous wāhine really understand how powerful they actually are.
“So, we need to get rid of Don Brash’s comments on Waitangi Day because who cares what he has to say? I don’t. I wanna know what Indigenous wāhine have to say about Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”
Qiane encourages more real talk in general: “We need to open up and have conversations like the ones we’ve had today … when we don’t talk about our true feelings in this world, we suppress our powers, we suppress ourselves, and we buy into this idea that the patriarchy decides what we are allowed and not allowed to talk about.
“There is always value in every part of your story and your story matters.”