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.