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‘A lot on the line’: New Zealand’s youngest MP looks to Māori ancestors to build new future | New Zealand politics

On her first day in New Zealand’s parliament, the country’s youngest politician Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke beelined to a wall of photographs to seek out an image of her ancestor – the first Māori minister to the crown.

“I felt so relieved after seeing that picture,” Maipi-Clarke tells the Guardian. “[parliament] house is very overwhelming for women, for Māori and especially for young people – there is a lot on the line for us.”

“His photograph was a good sign – I said, you gotta have my back up in here,” she said.

At just 21 years old Maipi-Clarke became the youngest MP in 170 years to enter New Zealand’s parliament in last week’s national elections. In the process, she unseated Labour’s Nanaia Mahuta, one of the country’s most senior and respected MPs, who was the first Māori woman to become foreign affairs minister and had held the Hauraki-Waikato Māori electorate for 20 years.

But the novice Māori party – or Te Pāti Māori – politician is no newcomer to politics: it is in her blood.

As well as Maipi-Clarke’s great-great-great-great-grandfather Wiremu Katene – who was the first Māori minister to the Crown in 1872 – her aunty, Hana Te Hemara, was responsible for delivering the Māori language petition to parliament in 1972, and in 2018 her grandfather, Taitimu Maipi, made headlines for vandalising a statue of Capt John Hamilton – the namesake of Hamilton city – in protest against Hamilton’s colonial legacy and brutality towards Māori.

Maipi-Clarke hails from Huntly – a small town between Auckland and Hamilton – where she runs a māra kai – a Māori community garden that educates local children about gardening to maramataka, or planting in line with the Māori lunar calendar. Her resume belies her years, as well as being a business owner, she has also written a book that encourages rangatahi (young people) to take an interest in the stars and the moon to heal themselves.

Maipi-Clarke does not see herself as a politician – rather she sees her role as a kaitiaki (guardian) for Māori language, the land and for traditional knowledge, and believes it is time for a new generation of Māori voices to be heard.

With 20,000 followers on Instagram and another 18,500 on TikTok, Maipi-Clarke knows her audience. “Whether you’re Māori, Pacific, non-Māori, we’re really missing the translation to the public who may not have any understanding of politics,” she says.

But Maipi-Clarke is quick to add that her campaign on social media is just half the story.

“The amount of gas I used to go around our whole electorate to meet face-to-face with the older generations … I truly believe I was running two campaigns with two different strategies and they were equally important.”

‘They voted for a party that looked like them’

Maipi-Clarke’s win in the Hauraki-Waikato Māori electorate came as a surprise to many: opinion polls predicted Mahuta would hold the seat. Mahuta’s confidence in retaining her seat was such that she didn’t run for Labour as a list MP – those MPs who fill seats from the party’s preference list as opposed to an electorate – and consequently, her 27-year career in parliament has ended.

“It was a surprise, because Nanaia Mahuta has held the seat for many years now and is a political legacy,” says Mihingarangi Forbes, a veteran Māori broadcaster, television presenter and political journalist.

But Maipi-Clarke’s win was not entirely unpredictable, Forbes adds. Not only is roughly 75% of the Māori population under 40, the median age for Māori in the Hauraki-Waikato electorate is 23.

Maipi-Clarke also represents the first generation of Māori who have been educated through the three stages of Māori language immersion schools.

She is “absolutely the example” of who is coming out of this movement, Forbes says. “Like unions and the Labour party, like business and the National party, Māori immersion is becoming the movement behind Te Pāti Māori,” she says. “I hear it, I see it on T-shirts, I see it on TikTok – people are talking about this movement, and Hana-Rawhiti has ridden that wave in.”

Te Pāti Māori had a strong showing in the election – taking out four of the seven Māori electorate seats. The party could also nab another two with a close margin, once the special votes – those made overseas or from outside a voter’s electorate – are counted. Te Pāti Māori’s success is less about punishing Labour’s Māori MPs, and more about a greater appetite for change, Forbes says.

“We’re good at deciding how to pick leaders and making sure your vote works – they voted for a party that looked like them, talked like them.”

Forbes hopes that Maipi-Clarke – who faced threats and home invasions during a campaign that was marred with accusations of race-baiting from other parties – will be protected by more senior MPs. “I would hate to have my children in parliament, but [Maipi-Clarke] comes with a fighting spirit from a whānau that has always stood up.”

After a frantic week of inductions, media-appearances and meetings, Maipi-Clarke is ready to face the future.

“A huge priority for me is building my electorate … but importantly … I think it’s a prime opportunity for Māori in and out of parliament to put together our plan for the kind of government we will face.”

This article was amended on 23 October 2023 because an earlier version of this story mistakenly said Nanaia Mahuta was the first Māori foreign affairs minister; she was the first Māori woman in that role.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/20/a-lot-on-the-line-new-zealands-youngest-mp-looks-to-maori-ancestors-to-build-new-future ‘A lot on the line’: New Zealand’s youngest MP looks to Māori ancestors to build new future | New Zealand politics

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