In 1949 Iriaka Rātana successfully contested the Western Māori seat and became the first Māori woman in Parliament. She held this seat for 20 years. Whetū Tirikātene-Sullivan held the Southern Māori seat and was appointed minister of tourism in 1972, making her the first Māori female cabinet minister.
Sandra Lee won the Auckland Central seat in 1993. She was the first Māori woman to hold a general seat in the New Zealand Parliament.
In 2016 two political parties had Māori women co-leaders – Marama Fox in the Māori Party and Metiria Turei in the Green Party.
In 1958 educationalist Koro Dewes commented, ‘Ko te reo te kaupapa o te Maoritanga ... Kei nga koka o nga tamariki te whakautu mo tenei’1 (the language is the core of Māoriness ... The answer for this is with our children’s mothers). Māori women have been the cornerstone for Māori language revitalisation. Hana Jackson led a petition for the teaching of Māori language and culture in schools, presented to Parliament in 1972. Kāterina Mataira pioneered the Te Ataarangi Māori language movement with Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi. Mataira has been described as the mother of kura kaupapa Māori (Māori-language immersion schools), and has also published books in Māori for children.
Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi was the backbone of the kōhanga reo (Māori-language preschool) movement since its inception in the early 1980s. Kōhanga reo were supported by many mothers and grandmothers along the principle ‘Te timatanga o te reo kei ngā waiū o te whaea – the beginning of language is at the breast of a mother.’ 2
In 1987 the Māori Women’s Welfare League established Māori Women’s Development Inc, a financial institution formed, controlled, managed and operated by Māori women for the economic development of Māori. In 2005 the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Aotearoa New Zealand Report found that Māori women rated third-highest in the world in terms of ‘opportunity entrepreneurship’.