Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Elizabeth Kerekere: Na te mea tuatahi Ko Papatuanuku e takoto mai nei Ko Ranginui e tu nei tena kōrua tena koe e Ruaumoko kia tau te rangimarie mauria mai nga tini aitua kua wehe atu ki te po hei maumahara hei tangihia

Firstly we acknowledge Papatūānuku, our earth mother, and Ranginui, our sky father, who together sustain us on this earth. I acknowledge the youngest child, Ruaumoko, who sits nestled within his mother and expresses his displeasure with the earthquakes we're experiencing.

As we remember and grieve for those who have passed away within our whanau, our families and our communities, we especially send our thoughts out to those people who, in those countries, in those places of crisis, Haiti and Japan, who I believe have paid the price with their lives for the continued defilement of our Mother Earth through nuclear reactors, oil refineries, mining and so-called land reclamation.

I also want to greet the Iwi, the mana whenua, who opened our hui. They lend mana and authority to this gathering, and for me clear the way for all of us to stand and be here.

My greetings to the organizers and the dignitaries, particularly Barry and Gavin, who have made sure I got myself here and got myself organized. I really appreciate it.

I particularly want to acknowledge Kevin Haunui, who has represented the interests of takatāpui throughout the planning and organizing for the Outgames and for this conference.

Nga mihi aroha ki a koe.

Okay, last month, I just have to say, like this week I have met nearly every lesbian I know.

[laughter]

They are in Wellington. It's crazy! Yeah, Wellington you have turned it on. It is so cool.

But last month we held Te Matatini o Te Ra in Gisborne. It's a small coastal town for those at the center of the universe, kia ora. It's my tribal home. I recently moved home there, but up to two years of solid practice throughout the country culminated in the epitome of Māori cultural performance, of kapahaka. And for each group on stage though, it really struck me that there were hundreds more who didn't qualify, who helped organize in the marae, who were feeding people, who were just at home learning all these new waiata, the new songs, composing new things, and just honing their performance. And because of that, throughout the country for those 42 groups on stage competing, overall the standard is lifted throughout our people, and I believe this is what this conference does for our queer communities throughout the AsiaPacific and beyond. And I'm very proud to be part of this.

I said to Marilyn, I feel like a baby before the wisdom and experience of my two panel members, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Okay, three key things to say about me. Okay, so there is a point, one I raised about Matatini, is that therefore to honour that part of my culture and all of those queer people throughout our region for whatever reason couldn't be here today. I've structured my talk... I decided this year and sat up last night rewriting it, so if there's kind of pauses, don't worry. Talk quietly amongst yourselves.

[laughter]

That's why I'm really glad to be speaking first. As each person spoke this morning I was like writing all over my notes – Oh, that's really good! I want to mention that. So, I'm glad to get this done right now.

But I've structured my speech then on the bracket, that when the Matatini come on there's a set process we follow. So, I'm concluding this first part, the whakaeke, where we make that entry and introductions. Three key things about me. My fourth was going to be that I'm Scorpion, because I thought that was really important, but some people would talk to me for five minutes and they'd guess that.

But first and foremost I'm Māori, indigenous to this country, as you introduced:

Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Whanau a Kai ōku nei iwi. And for me, my name Kerekere means one of the layers of the night, the intenseness, the blackness of the night before light existed in the world. Elizabeth: I was named after my grandmother who, yes, was named after the Queen.

[laughter]

I honour my grandmother. And so, I get to live at home now as a full-time artist, writer and storyteller.

Number two: I'm a lesbian, feminist femme. And because of that I get to enjoy a special connection with the butches of the world, but particularly my civil union partner, Alofa Aiono, who, in enjoying the lesbian event last night that I got home at a decent hour from, she got home just before I had to leave to come here. She may not make it for my final words. Okay, but on Monday we celebrated 19 years together.

[applause]

And I just want to acknowledge that as an act of revolution that I highly recommend.

And finally, number three: I'm takatāpui. We've adopted this traditional term to mean Māori who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, trans, queer – let me double check – asexual, queer or questioning, and bisexual. And being takatāpui brings together all the different parts of myself and it gives me a tūrangawaewae, a place on which to stand.

So, after the entry, the whakaeke, is usually the mōteatea. The mōteatea is a traditional incantation, usually dealing with tribal history and quite often whakapapa, a genealogy. And because we're a people from oral traditions, these kind of mōteatea chants were used to ensure that knowledge was passed on from generation to generation correctly. So, when we look at whakapapa, and we know that as Māori, we claim our identity through whakapapa: where we come from, who we're descended from, and that leads us to where our marae are, and that's a key part of who we are.

So, as takatāpui then we search for our predecessors, our ancestors in that past, because that helps cement us in our identity. And so when we look back at the records of takatāpui the earliest ones we have are European, about the 1770s – sailors and traders who came here – and they gave pretty much consistent reports of same-sex and bi-sex attraction and behavior. Of course, some of them partook; very attractive, our Māori men, apparently. It's just rumoured. It's what I've heard.

[laughter]

And so in this quote, "Sexuality was enjoyed in many forms. People chose partners of either sex for pleasure, and same-sex love was not condemned or vilified. Continuing one's line however, having children, was nevertheless a priority." So you could do what you liked so long as you had the kids, okay? It's still like that. Yes.

"High performance, though, and erotic skill were greatly admired, and accomplished individuals, both male and female, feature prominently in the chant poems of their time, their physical attributes and relevant behaviours fondly detailed." That's fabulous – I mean, really.

[laughter]

As a Scorpion I so respect that.

And we have found specific examples within our own oral history narratives. It was through the separate research of takatāpui scholars, Lee Smith and Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku that the term takatāpui was found. Some of you will be familiar with the famous love story of Tutanekai and Hinemoa, Te Arawa and Rotorua, but the first-ever Māori film was actually made about their love story. What is not so much covered is about the relationship Tutanekai had with his best friend, Tiki.

And one of the history papers that we found, that they found, was that when he wasn't with him he said to his father, "I am dying for love for my friend, for my takatāpui, my beloved, for Tiki." And it is said, I've had confirmation from some kuia in Te Arawa that Hinemoa actually let Tiki come and live with them, and the three of them lived together.

And so missionary and court records from the 1880s also show that Māori attach no shame or sin to same-sex or bi-sex behaviour. And so by this time the missionaries had been here for quite some time, and as we learned to write we quickly adapted this new method of storytelling and we recorded our own stories. One particular mint in 1853 for the fallen warrior, Papaka te Ngairoa a youth who was sexual with that woman and with that man.

It is interesting that when Apirana Ngata rewrote and published Mōteatea in about 1928 that the sexual was changed, in the Māori, to affectionate. And so it would lead us to believe that there's a lot of history out there that we have to actually go and cast our takatāpui, our queer eye, on the original – all the original documents of anything that's been translated since.

That missionary influence, though, strengthened. The colonization of Māori came into full force, and because we were annoyingly effective warriors we enjoyed the dubious pleasure of being both the first indigenous people with whom the mighty British Empire entered into a treaty with, but we were also apparently the last people that they colonized. I think after the Māoris they were over it.

[laughter]

But the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was followed by a succession of legislation designed to eliminate our culture. Completely un... not completely unsuccessful, but we remain. We're here and we stand and we represent. So, we abandoned some things – some things quite rightly, perhaps, like ritual cannibalism, that can go (laughter) – and things like diverse expressions about sexual orientation and gender identity went underground.

And so although the English laws active in 1858, that great thing where in one fell swoop we inherited the entire legislation of Britain, homosexuality became illegal in New Zealand, but we find no evidence of any Māori punishment for that kind of behavior. And so for me when I look back on that history and reflect on how our Māori people are with us today, I just wonder if the continued silence of our people around that is collusion with the colonizers and buying into all those Christian beliefs around that, or actually was it a form of protection for us: We won't talk about it. We know you're doing it, but we'll just pretend it's not going on, and then none of us get into trouble.

And so that's something I really, really want to research and actually interview the oldest kaumatua I can find just to see what are their memories, because I know my great-grandmother was born in 1901 and she was quite happy to talk about her aunties and cousins who lived with women, had children, but never had male partners.

So, we move from the past into the contemporary form of waiata a ringa our action songs, and often these are kind of the messy part of the bracket and tell a particular story or focus on a particular topic. In this part I want to introduce issues around perhaps a framework for action and how we might influence what it is we want for takatāpui, for the communities that we represent in our different areas. And for my work I use a framework of expectations, which was originally designed to look at an organization's responsiveness to the treaty by looking at how effective they were for Māori. And I've adopted this tool to use it for queer groups and for youth groups.

And so I understand after a quick word with Marilyn that not everyone shares my excitement about strategic planning and writing policy.

[laughter]

And so out of 11 – I'll spare you – organizational elements, I think my top 3 favorites then are about:

Leadership – How your organization is run right from the beginning and how you lead your group, your people, your organization into the future.

Decision making – Who sits at the table? Who says what's going to happen?

And human resources – We want the world, and we can do that if we're prepared to work for it, find the people and find what we need to get things done. It's not always about money.

But by developing all of these things, the whole point is that for a lot of organizations, whether it's a campaign, starting a new group, or analyzing and trying to change something that's like been stuck forever in a way that's just not helpful for us, is one single thing by itself – appoint a Māori and put them in a job by themselves in a Pakeha organization. It's not going to work. It very rarely has, but it makes the people in charge feel better.

So, one little thing usually will not work, so what we look at is that all these things fit together, they interlock together, and so by doing that our expectation is that to be effective for takatāpui.... And there's a saying in the government sectors of New Zealand: if you do things right for Māori they'll be right for everybody else, they'll work for everybody else in our community who is marginalized. But, to be effective for takatāpui the key things are that we are engaged in all matters that concern us, that services for us are designed and delivered to meet our needs, and that resources, systems and key people are made available to achieve this.

So, rather than go into those in detail let's leave it right there and we'll move into the next excoiting... excoiting: I just made that up. I'm sorry. The next part of the performance is the poi, and some of you people have seen this – little balls on string, then they get really flash, they glow in the dark and all sorts of things. And you can imagine... imagine this poi on my hand, and the poi is, in our very gendered society, or especially in kapahaka, the poi is a tool to show off the grace and beauty of our women, and so quite often the poi is very light hearted and fun, sometimes a bit naughty but sexy, and so I thought, well, with the grace and beauty that's inherent in all of us who live our lives as women, then I think takatāpui have got a very clear run on this one.

So I wanted to look at some of the things we have achieved, and at one end of the spectrum there are those of us for whom cultural identity is everything, it is the mainstay. I was certainly like this before I moved to Wellington 21 years ago, where everything I did was for Māori, and the fact that I love women was kind of irrelevant to my life; it was just a thing, over here. It was quite incidental to my politics until the Homosexual Law Reform started, and I think I was 19 or 20 when that kind of got happening for me to get involved in.

However, I still want to acknowledge those that we would call takatāpui who were involved in key development and renaissance of their Māori culture. This includes the contemporary form of kapahaka that all Māori practice today. In the 1930s this form was developed by Tuini Ngawai, who is still hailed as a genius, celebrated every year and at all Māori festivals, but no mention, of course, of her female partner. And development of the Māori Women's Welfare League, there's all sorts of Māori organizations, leadership in the feminists, Māori feminists. And I have to say, too, I'm quite prejudiced. I just know more about the lesbian side of things, but even the establishment of Te Taurawhiri, Te Reo Māori , the Māori Language Commission, the establishment of Māori television and the takatāpui show – all of these things that we've been part of.

And on the other end of that we've had those takatāpui who have been strong enough to go out and represent the issues related to our sexual orientation and gender identity.

And two particular ones I want to acknowledge are Professor Alison Laurie, who's here, who was a leader in lesbian feminism in the 1970s, has spearheaded women's studies, gender studies, around the southern hemisphere, and today is Chair of LAGANZ amongst the many other things that she does.

But also of course, Georgina Beyer, who was a revolutionary, became the first Māori MP as well as prior to that being the first trans MP and the first trans Mayor in the world.

And of course there are many more – many, many more who have achieved great things. And I think in honouring our ancestors who have gone before it is our responsibility to record that to make sure that that's available for people who are coming after us.

This is the part where I've written all over it. Bear with me. Five minutes – okay. We can do this, people. Right!

But since the term takatāpui came into usage, it was found about the late '70s, early '80s, and it has increasingly gained traction, not just as a term to refer to Māori who may be identifying as queer in whatever way, but as an actual identity, which seeks to bring all those parts of ourselves together and focus on issues specific to us so that we don't always have to choose in any given circumstance: Are we Māori today or are we queer today? And you'll find that in most services that are offered in this country in terms of health, education, we often have to choose, just in life. When we go home we're being like the good Māori girl, and when we're in the city we can go to lesbian things and hang out with the cooler crowd.

[laughter]

I keep getting in trouble.

And I specifically wanted to mention the one and only book that exists about takatāpui: "Sexuality and the Stories of Indigenous People." The fabulous Huia Publishers I do want to acknowledge for wanting to publish the book, but didn't want the word takatāpui on it.

So that comes to the next... this is like the second to last thing: the haka, traditionally done by our men. I'm fortunate to come from a tribe where the women traditionally have composed and performed haka, but it is a challenging, physically demanding performance.

And here we have so much to be proud of in Aotearoa. We are privileged compared to many other countries – people who are represented here are – but as Grant said earlier we have to resist complacency. It's really important that those of us who are older, who are employed, who have got into that comfort of owning our own homes, or all sorts of things, where we don't get hassled when we go to work, that we use that privilege to support those who are not in that position, particularly our young people who are still putting up with things that we haven't had to put up with for a long, long time.

And so even though many of us are accepted by our home people, we know that from the research, from our experience in the community, that not all Māori are accepted by their family. We still know of young people being kicked out of their home when they come out; having trouble – where do you fit on the marae if you're trans? What role you play, and how that fits with the life that you lead and who you are inside. That takatāpui feel pressured between being Māori and being queer, to marry and have children; that takatāpui youth are significantly more likely to experience bullying, unwanted sexual attention and sexual and mental health problems that both their heterosexual and queer counterparts do not, or they experience it more so, more likely. Yeah. This culminates in a negative body image and things about increased risk-taking and suicide and self-harm that are prevalent in our communities.

But sadly our Māori elders haven't been really great about being supportive of us, and I won't go into the negative things that some of our Māori Party Members have not voted and supported us on, or ridiculous marches to Parliament for ridiculous heads of ridiculous churches.

[laughter and applause]

I've got two minutes. So finally, at the end of each performance, is the whakawatea. It's the conclusion; it's to clear the way and come off the stage. And for those of us from minority cultures, we're well aware that the dominant culture is not going to just hand things over.

We can decide to take things by force. Being that fabulous, loving people we are, we go: hmm, let's take a bit more time and we'll use our influence and use all of the skill, knowledge and resources we have on hand to influence things in a way so that we are not actually repeating the discrimination that is often used against us.

What does the future hold? Okay, I've got three: the experience of takatāpui; kaumatua, our Māori leaders; that it will be good to research how the impact of colonization on Māori sexuality has manifested itself in Māori culture; by developing effective strategies to reduce homophobia and trans phobia in contemporary Māori life, that we can create a safer environment for takatāpui, particularly our young people; and by connecting the past to the present we honor the memories of those takatāpui ancestors in whose footsteps we follow. And amongst ourselves we strive to create meaningful intersections of our culture, gender and sexuality, because can we create spaces of acceptance, safety and love which do not require silence and sacrifice? I believe so. We have done it here. We will keep doing it.

No reira tēna koutou tēna koutou kia ora huihui mai tātou katoa

Have I got time to do a quick song? Okay.

Okay, like auntie June said, it is traditional that we do a waiata. I thought I would get my tiwhanawhana people to join me in a little waiata. You may hear it at different times in this conference.

Ka Waiata Ki a Papa

Hine i whakaae Whakameatia mai

Te whare tangata Hine Purotu

Hine Ngakau Hine rangimarie

Ko te whaea Ko te Whaea

O te ao (o te ao)

[applause]

Transcript by cyberscrivener.com