Wahine Toa Leadership Conference and the Strange American Tie.

In my line of work I attend many conferences, most of which I struggle with because presentations are often unoriginal ideas and conversations are just cliché dialogues. I don’t usually go to gender specific conferences either and while at my heart I am completely a staunch feminist, I have never really been drawn to woman only conferences. So I was unexpectedly surprised at how much I enjoyed the Wahine Toa Leader Conference, it was a fresh and raw discussion, and I felt proud to be in a room of so many wonderful and talented Maori woman. It was a great day of tears, laughter, kai and sharing of stories. Maori woman are truly an amazing species of the human race.

What I did struggle with was all the American symbolism attached to the conference, we were blasted with photos of the white house, the  constant powerpoint picture of the American flag and an actual American flag stood side by side the NZ flag on the podium. It grated me.

I didn’t understand why a conference tied to empowering Maori woman needed to be attached to America? It came across (perhaps unintentionally) as patriarchal hero saving, ‘thank you America for helping us to realise how amazing we Maori woman really are, we could not have done it without you’ type of thing.

I am currently not a big fan of Americanism, so much coming out of that country at the moment portrays them as exceedingly superficial, disconnected and lost. The country itself has so much inner turmoil as they battle with themselves to untangle from a culture of misogynist-trumpism ideals, consumerist-driven kardasheian values and corrupt and un-monitored capitalist greed. America has a lot of work to do on themselves.

This theme continues and has recently been aggravated with Standing Rock, where Native people protest against a pipeline being built on their land,  they continue to fight against, to stand up for and say NO to repeated American oppression that disregards them and their values about life and how they want to live. I found this to be an incongruent tension in myself between trying to reconcile ‘America’ celebrating indigenous Maori woman and empowerment with the current struggles occurring in ‘America’ of continued oppression of their own Native people.

Keynote, Karen Diver, Special Assistant to the President Obama for Native Affairs, spoke briefly on her thoughts about Standing Rock and I noticed a bit of social media push back towards her for not doing anything about it or not being there. But as I listened to her remarkable life story of rising above her difficult socio-economic disadvantages and early teen pregnancy there is no doubt that she is passionate about her people and works very hard towards their betterment.

I don’t want to disrespect the intentions of the people involved and Wahine Toa is a great initiative that should continue, but I could just not reconcile the Americanisation of the Wahine Toa Leadership Conference.

4 thoughts on “Wahine Toa Leadership Conference and the Strange American Tie.

  1. Kiri, I love your writing and think you have a good moral lens from which springs your thoughts. I agree that perhaps the symbolism might be a little over the top, but I think as the host they have an obligation to fly the flag and have the Govt seal on the podium. We always have to remember that a a countries govt is one thing while a countries people is quite another. No current government can be blamed for what previous administration s did but the can sure try to put them right. This event was an attempt to take responsibility of past misdeeds to its own people by extending a first of a remedy to other like native races that are likewise been mistreated by their governments of the past. Together we learn. Now why did John Keys not host this event or the Queen of England or Kate Middleton? Why wait for the US to do this. There must be more to the story that your observation of the event. I for one think any dialog is better than none. Who cares if it’s in a room filled with photos of Micheal Jackson or my Tupunas on the Whare Hui, that all symbology and it content. Maori women can see though all that. It’s the content they remember deepest. They know what fluff is.

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  2. Kia Ora John

    thanks for your response.

    1. Firstly just because you fund or support a cause doesnt mean you have to brand it and market your own cause. Altruism doesn’t require the benefactor to benefit.

    2. The people involved were very nice and well meaningful people. I dont disupte that.

    3. Symbols are powerful, they are a hidden language that convey messages and meaning, so the symbols we choose to represent us need to accurately reflect who we are and mirror our own values.

    4. The was no dialogue regarding the relationship between America and Wahine Toa so I was left to try to make the connection myself. Perhaps a dialogue would of helped.

    5. There are other Wahine Toa initiatives out there, MWWL, MWLI, Rise, Huihuinga Wahine, we are not waiting for others to run events for us, we are already doing it.

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  3. Tena Koe Kiri

    Originating from a Wahine Toa bloodline I agree with ur korero t I understand ur point of difference..

    Wahine Toa is Maori not American!

    An interesting read, thank you for sharing!

    Heidi TAU

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