Challenging sexual violence imposed upon & within Māori communities.

This blog is first and foremost an acknowledgement. It is an acknowledgement to all Indigenous women who are at the frontline of challenging the increasing perpetuation of sexual violence against Indigenous Peoples, in particular women and children. It is an acknowledgement of the Indigenous men who stand alongside their sister relations in calling abusers to account and speaking out against abuse of all forms. It is an acknowledgement of those seeking justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. It is an acknowledge of all who stand in solidarity against all forms of violence, sexual violence against Indigenous Peoples and our lands and all that live upon this sacred earth, that our ancestors call Papatūānuku.

This week I sat here on Turtle Island and watched a Marae programme where Chanz Mikaere (Te Arawa) stood, in all of her whakapapa sacredness, and laid challenge to all that enable abusers to continue to be privileged by their whānau, hapū and iwi upon our marae.

In doing so, Chanz re-ignited a wero, a challenge to all of Māori society. I use the term ‘re-ignited’ intentionally as I have seen, over many years, Māori women lay this challenge to our people. Māori women formed Te Kākano o te whānau in the 1980s as a direct response to the exponential growth of lateral violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse within our communities. There are far too many of our women to name who were a part of that movement but they know who they are, and many of those Māori women continue at the forefront of seeking healing pathways for our whānau that experience violence perpetuated both within our own communities and upon our whānau, hapu, iwi and communities by the State.

This blog, Chanz Mikaere, is an acknowledgement of you and all Indigenous women who stand against violence within and upon our Indigenous women and children.

The enabling of known Māori male abusers to take a privileged role within pōwhiri has been actively challenged by many of those that were a part of Te Kākano o Te Whānau and those now working as part of organisations such as Ngā Kaitiaki Māuri, Tū Tama Wahine, Tū Wāhine, Te Puna Oranga and many others. I have seen Māori women stand within pōwhiri and upon marae at significant occasions and challenge directly known perpetuators of violence.

The state of whānau violence within Māori communities has been described as being at epidemic proportions (Kruger 2004). Both whānau violence and sexual violence is perpetrated laterally within our whānau and upon whānau through the violent actions of successive colonial governments. Colonisation has distorted Māori notions of whakapapa, tikanga, wairua, tapu, mauri and mana, and in doing so have disrupted the fundamental cultural templates through which healthy relationships were nurtured and sustained within our whānau, hapū and iwi.
The social position that Māori find ourselves in today is an outcome of both the internalisation of practices of colonial violence and the ongoing violence of the colonial state against our people (Balzer et al., 2007). Colonial invasion is one of violence. Violence against Indigenous Peoples and violence against Papatūānuku (Earth). Duran (2006) speaks of sexual violence within the acts of invasion and colonisation of Turtle Island stating that “the colonial process experienced by these people can be described as a collective raping process of the psyche/soul of both the land and the people” (p.21).

Colonisation creates a context whereby Indigenous cultural structures and relationships are actively targeted for destruction. This is well documented in Aotearoa. The theft of lands, the confiscations of our lands through colonial imposed governmental systems is referred to directly by our people as raupatu, which translates not solely as confiscation but as the experiencing of ‘hundreds (rau) of beatings (patu)’. The intense pain of that concept gives us a much more realistic and deep understanding of the trauma experienced by our ancestors as they were ripped from them lands, and as they watched (and we continue to watch) the colonial forces rape our lands and violently abuse our women and children.

Colonial systems of Mission schools, Native schools and legislative impositions, relative to our lands and rights as Indigenous nations, deliberately and systematically removed our relationships to our lands and reconstituted our relationships to ourselves. The domestication of whānau through the ideologies and practices of the colonial heterosexual nuclear family unit was instrumental in breaking down the collective relationships that sustained our responsibilities, accountabilities, obligations and fundamental care of each other as whānau, hapū and iwi. Violence against each other is not only enabled in this context but is actively supported through the disconnection of our relationships to each other that provided cultural prevention and intervention mechanisms to ensure collective wellbeing. That includes the denial of Māori knowledge, practices, values and behaviours through which our ancestors saw any form of violence within whānau as an act against the entire collective that required swift and immediate response. Higgins and Meredith (2013) state that rape and incest were abhorrent to traditional Māori values. Tikanga Māori did not tolerate sexual violence and the collective dealt directly with these transgressions (Balzer 1997).

Understanding the ways in which our tupuna viewed sexual violences is critical (Pihama 2016). Denise Wilson (n.d.) indicates that sexual violence is a “violation of te whare tangata (that is the house of the people)” (p. 5), which has not only physical and psychological impacts but also causes cultural and spiritual distress. Such abuse is considered, in Māori terms, to be a violation of not only the woman herself but also of past and future generations. This aligns with the concepts discussed by Norman (1992) who highlighted the sanctity of ‘te whare tangata’ and the prioritising of the protection of the life force and spiritual essence the womb of Māori women.

Mereana Pitman (1996) provides a Māori view of abuse that provides one of the few clearly Kaupapa Māori definitions:
“Māori saw rape and especially incest as transgressing the mana, the status, the dignity and the future birth right of not only the victim but also the abuser and his people. Shame was seen, lain, address, actioned and put in its place. People still remember today, in tikanga, the transgressions of sexual violence dating back 1,200 years.” (1996, p. 45)

Sexual violence is not only a transgression against the individual person but is an attack on the persons entire being and mana (Sykes 1996). For Māori women this includes an attack on Māori Wahine as passed down to us from Hine Ahuone. Furthermore, Sykes (1996) makes the following point in regards to Hineahuone and the relationship of her legacy to the position of Māori women:
“She is depicted in our stories of creation with all the obligations of nurturing the health of human kind: Te Whare Tangata; of having the primary responsibility for ensuring the survival of her whakatipuranga, her uri, her descendants, of possessing both power over life and over death as well as being vulnerable to abuse by evil forces and being powerless to protect her eldest daughter from the most evil of those forces, sexual violence, sexual abuse. From her comes the ethos that women are to be protected at all costs.” (p. 64)

Takirirangi Smith (2015) highlights that notions of tapu and mana are central to understanding the impact of sexual violence.
“Both male and female genitalia were considered sacred and perceived of as organs that could influence life and death. The ritual use of genitalia and references in incantations and chants highlight the degree of sanctity attached to sexual organs. Sexual violence, or any other type of physical or psychological assault where a powerful individual violated and/or humiliated a less powerful or powerless victim, was initially responded to with whakamā.” (p. 256-257)

If we are to ensure the wellbeing of our people we must ensure the safety and wellbeing of all Māori women and children. In the regeneration of our relationships we must work to decolonise those misogynist colonial beliefs systems both within Māori society and more broadly that deny the trauma and pain of sexual violence against Māori women and children. That means dealing directly to the ongoing state condoned violence that is perpetuated upon our people daily through the racist colonial heteronomative society that operates upon our lands that consider our women and children as inherently rapable, in the same way that white supremacy considers our lands and people as commodities for sale and trade within their capitalist systems. That includes challenging and decolonising those ideologies and oppressive behaviours that are internalised by our own. It must also include looking to those tikanga and traditional knowledge forms that provide guidance and templates for prevention of violence within our whānau. This is a critical project in the wider regeneration of Māori knowledge, language and culture.

Erana Cooper (2008) has clearly stated the need for us to work take on this issue directly and to take responsibility for addressing violence.
“There is no mistaking that whanau violence is a critical issue for Maori, and there is often a strong deficit approach to the topic. I think it is critical that we are able to determine and describe the positive things we already do and can do in the future, as Maori, taking responsibility for addressing this issue.” (p.130)

What we know is that our tikanga provides us with ancestral knowledge and practices about our relationships. Those understandings within whānau in traditional times were based within collective accountabilities, obligations and responsibilities. Tikanga provides us with parameters of engagement and behaviour. The challenge is about how it is enacted, what it might look like, and figuring out how to maintain critical aspects of tikanga.

For Māori, the marae is a space that we control in terms of how roles and responsibilities and community obligations are fulfilled. It is one of those few spaces where we as whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori determine how things play out within ritual and who takes on critical roles for our people.

Chanz Mikaere is a new generation of young Māori women who is taking on that role of speaking out against the perpetuation of violence within our own spaces. The marae, she is clear, provides us all as Māori one of those last bastions where we must be empowered to practice our tikanga without the fear of abuse and violence. This includes having marae as spaces where those that have survived violence and their whānau, to not experience re-traumatisation through seeing the perpetuator of that abuse sit honoured and privileged within our ceremonies. What Chanz is saying to us all is that for many of our people the marae as a safe, affirming and validating space becomes nullified through not ensuring the wellbeing and safety of all, in particular our women and children. It is a stark reminder that even within our cultural spaces misogyny and abuse often goes unchallenged and that those that reproduce those forms of violence often do so through a manipulated definition of kawa or tikanga.

We need to be clear that abuse is not traditional.

We need to be clear that sexual violence is not and was never acceptable within Māori society.

We need to be clear that the sexist and misogynist manipulations that we hear within our own cultural spaces is not Māori, it is not tikanga, it is not and was never acceptable.

We need to be clear that in giving privileged positions on our marae to those who have perpetuated violence against their own whānau, against our women and children reproduces the trauma for our people, and embeds fear within many.

We need to be clear that any forms of abuse within whānau and hapū are considered a transgression of mana, tapu and whakapapa and was not tolerated by our tupuna and it must not be tolerated by us ever.


Cooper, E. (2008) Mokopuna Rising: Developing a Best Practice for Early Intervention in Whanau Violence, Levy, M., Nikora, L.W., Masters‐Awatere, B., Rua, M.R., Waitoki, W. (2008). Claiming Spaces: Proceedings of the 2007 National Maori and Pacific Psychologies Symposium, 23‐24 November, Hamilton. Hamilton: Maori and Psychology Research Unit. (pp48-51)

Duran, E. (2006). Healing the soul wound: Counseling with American Indians and other Native peoples. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Higgins, R. & Meredith, P. (2013). Ngā tamariki: Māori childhoods: Māori childhood changes. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Available from:āori-childhoods/page-4

Kruger, T., Pitman, M., Grennel, D., McDonald, T., Mariu, D., Pomare, A., Mita, T., Matahaere, M. & Lawson-Te Aho, K. (2004). Transforming whānau violence: A conceptual framework: An updated version of the report from the former Second Māori taskforce on Whānau Violence, 2nd Edition.

Norman, W, (1992) He Aha Te Mea Nui in Smith, L.T. (ed) Te Pua, Vol. 1. No. 1, The Journal of Te Puawaitanga, Auckland: University of Auckland, pp1-9

Pihama, L., Te Nana, R., Cameron, N., Smith, C., Reid, J., Southey, K. (2016) ‘Māori cultural definitions of sexual violence. Cultural and Indigenous Issues In Sex Abuse Practice and Research: Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Pitman, M. (1996). ‘The Māori Experience’. In J. Broadmore, C. Shand, T. J. Warburton & Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (N.Z.) (Eds.), The proceedings of rape : ten years’ progress? : an interdisciplinary conference (pp. 301 p.). Wellington, New Zealand: DSAC.

Sykes, A. (1996). ‘Getting The Case to Trial: Me Aro Koe Ki Te Haa o Hineahuone’. In J. Broadmore, C. Shand, T. J. Warburton & Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (N.Z.) (Eds.), The proceedings of rape : ten years’ progress? : an interdisciplinary conference Wellington, New Zealand: DSAC.

Wilson, D. (n/d) Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Māori and Family Violence, On behalf of Māori Advisory Committee, Ministry of Health, Family Violence Project, School of Health Studies, Wellington: Massey University

2 Replies to “Challenging sexual violence imposed upon & within Māori communities.”

  1. So glad to read! I am part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement her on Turtle Island and will share! Of course the reason for MMIW is the broken family structure, alcohol and drugs, women run away. And THIS is from loss of hope, loss of our Spiritual belief. I recommend the book The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn!I re-read it to give me hope!

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