Enigma of a strong Kingitanga woman who's staying staunch

By Yvonne Tahana

Tania Martin. Photo / Supplied
Tania Martin. Photo / Supplied

It's been a difficult time for Tania Martin, the Waikato-Tainui leader who bounced back last week from a political crisis sparked by her scathing November report about executive tribal spending.

King Tuheitia fired her as a chairwoman of the tribe's parliament, Te Kauhanganui, shortly after.

However, she refused to distance herself from her report which asked for greater transparency and a review of Te Arataura's (Tainui's executive board) activities.

In an iwi where kingitanga membership comes with an expectation by some to fall into line, Ms Martin held hers. She's been bolstered with quiet support from some of the tribe's more visible leaders. The marae she represents, Hiiona, refused to dismiss her as their parliamentary representative.

Her position was reinforced when Te Kauhanganui members voted to confirm her continued leadership last week, an embarrassment for the king and Tuku Morgan who leads Te Arataura.

Because Ms Martin has remained largely silent, except for one interview with Maori Television, she remains an enigma to those outside of Tainui.

She politely declined to be interviewed for this piece and few were willing to talk on the record about her, including whanau members.

Te Kauhanganui member Carmen Kirkwood's reluctance is indicative of supporters' predicament.

Mrs Kirkwood is a respected kuia who is known for her fight to protect the Manukau Harbour and northern Tainui's environmental interests.

In a short interview she reveals approval. "I think the vote says it all. The result of the vote talks about her integrity."

Mrs Kirkwood cites a media policy not to talk outside of meetings as the reason for not expanding on her support. But her reticence cuts much deeper. As the author of three kingitanga books published by the tribe, and her day-to-day work on behalf of it, her devotion to the movement isn't at question. But there's a tacit concern that speaking out could further damage the king who was so embroiled in the spat.

Ms Martin, a mother of four, has worked for Te Wananga o Aotearoa as a tutor. Nearing 50, she's had health troubles and last week was in hospital recovering from an operation.

In her Native Affairs interview she spoke of being mentored by tribal giant Sir Bob Mahuta, her passion for Te Kauhanganui and how she was asked to stand for the chair.

"I've always been a boisterous and quite inquiring member of Te Kauhanganui. I'm not sure I gained a lot of support but there was a need, I guess, for some order; and I think me being as questioning as I was may have given some people some confidence I could perhaps give that order."

A woman with a zero profile before this, she's employed a sharp strategy. Her first leaked report and successive updates were released directly to Te Kauhanganui members without passing through tribal governance or bureaucracy levels.

That's kept Te Arataura on the back foot even as Mr Morgan has continued to publicly criticise Ms Martin's papers as inaccurate and mischievous. Publicly she's refused to say how she's dealt with the pressure which increased when the king's senior orator Hone Haunui died last month.

In correspondence she writes: "Uncle John mentored me in silence, and the last words he said to me were 'You be strong, girl! Your position is not for you alone, but for the people. Stand up for the people'."

She also writes about feeling unwelcome at Mr Haunui's tangi.

"Due to an incident that evening, which was prompted yet again by the King's behaviour, I have thought it better not to return to Waahi Paa until Uncle John's burial on Saturday."

Others in a minority camp believe Te Kauhanganui's support is less a case of ringing endorsement for Ms Martin than a mini-rebellion against Mr Morgan's leadership of the under fire Te Arataura and his associated political management of the report's aftermath.

The ugliness associated with allegations directed at Ms Martin for historic financial mismanagement was a risky ploy - which didn't pay off at last week's meeting.

Mr Morgan has warned he intends to take those allegations to the police on the basis that a person who is calling for greater accountability should be squeaky clean themselves.

Still, tribal member Angeline Greensill represents a large group who are grateful for Ms Martin's report. Ms Greensill's an outspoken rarity, often getting offside with tribal hierarchy.

Now it seems she's been joined by another whom she characterises as a strong, staunch kingitanga woman.

"I think she's refreshing. She's keen to do the job that the people have put her there for."

She believes the balance of power between the tribe's parliament and board is swinging.

Te Arataura voting pay rises to themselves irked many, she said.

"I think [parliament members] have been rethinking 'what is our power? How did they become the power?'

"Let's flex some muscle and say you are accountable to us and let's see what you've been doing."'

But the instability is far from over, and will continue while the boundaries between Te Kauhanganui, Te Arataura and the kingitanga remain mutable, she believes.

The controversy

* Tania Martin's report alleged an increase in honorarium payments to Te Arataura members by $15,000.

* It also claimed there had been a 100 per cent increase in meetings' fees against a backdrop of "phenomenal" operational costs, and a declining rate of distribution to Waikato-Tainui beneficiaries.

* The report recommended a review of Te Arataura's activities, the role of Te Kauhanganui officers and parameters for a constitutional review.

* The report's accuracy was disputed by Te Arataura and King Tuheitia.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 16 Sep 2014 20:14:22 Processing Time: 510ms