Ngāti Porou women have always exercised leadership in a variety of place and ways. The Maori Women’s Welfare League presented them with a new local and national platform from which to air their views and exercise their leadership, which they grasped with both hands
Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora - also known as The Maori Women’s Welfare League – was formed in September 1951 after many pleas for a response to alarming social and economic problems that had arisen as a result of land loss, the effects of World War Two and increasing urbanization. Maori women throughout the country had an ambition to create an organization that would be an empowering force for Maori women and whanau.
The 1945 Maori and Social Economic Advancement Act led to women’s welfare committees that worked alongside tribal committees. The branches formed by the welfare and liaison officers of the women’s welfare committees combined and adopted a constitution at the inaugural conference forming the Maori Women’s Welfare League. The inaugural conference was held at the Ngati Poneke hall in Wellington with ninety women delegates in attendance. Princess Te Puea Herangi from Waikato became the first patroness of the league and Whina Cooper was elected president. The league originally took the motto ‘Tatau Tatau’ highlighting the importance of unification and fellowship in all of their endeavours.
Although viewed by the government as ‘an agent of integration’, the League would instead strive for everything from the teaching of te reo in schools through to resisting racist rugby tours. “The League” quickly became a platform for Maori women to lobby for themselves, their families and their people. Among other things the league aimed to protect and improve the spiritual, social and economic wealth of Maori. Currently the league has over 3000 members who work toward these goals by initiating programs that aim to help Maori reclaim tino rangatiratanga and to improve the wellbeing of Maori families.
Ngati Porou women were strongly involved in the League. Within five years in the northern Waiapu alone there were four branches: Nati, Tapuhi, Te Uranga (Hinepare), and Ohaki. Their work of upholding cultural and whanau values never faltered. In 1965 the Nati branch worked with the Extension Department of the University of Auckland to organise a “Maori Arts and Crafts School” at Rahui Marae, where they arranged for Pine Taiapa to train people from Ngati Whatua in “traditional arts.” Ngāti Porou women have also been National Presidents, including Dame June Mariu, Jacqui Te Kani and Areta Koopu CBE. Dame Iritana Te Rangi Tawhiwhirangi is a lifetime member of MWWL.
Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora has been a good example of Ngāti Porou utilising available opportunities to take control of our own destiny and to exercise our rangatiratanga. We have never been afraid to exercise our influence at home nor on a national stage, and with “The League” Ngati Porou women led the way once again.