1 Jun 2019

Qiane Matata-Sipu - Kickass indigenous wahine

From Saturday Morning, 9:35 am on 1 June 2019

Qiane Matata-Sipu (Te Wai-o-hua, Waikato-Tainui) is a South Auckland-based journalist, photographer and social activist.

She is currently producing NUKU, a creative and social impact story-telling project profiling 100 "kickass indigenous wahine".

The project includes creative portrait photography, an audio podcast and will culminate in an exhibition and book.

Qiane Matata-Sipu

Qiane Matata-Sipu Photo: supplied

“When we think about, in today’s context, what is an indigenous woman, often we’re put into a box of; you’re not indigenous enough if you don’t have your reo or you don’t have ta moko or moko kauwai, or you don’t affiliate with your marae, your hapū, your iwi, your village, your island, and actually, that’s not true. You’re an indigenous women purely because of your whakapapa.”  

NUKU explores what being an indigenous woman means to different women.

“I think back to Hillary Clinton a few years ago, when she was running for president, and she made this comment about you can’t be what you don’t see and so when she ran for president, young American girls believed that they could one day be president. By interviewing and profiling such a diverse range of indigenous women, we can show our young indigenous girls that they can grow up to be anything and that all they need to be indigenous is to have their whakapapa.”

Matata-Sipu has worked in Māori and Pacific media and in journalism and says we aren’t telling enough of our indigenous women’s stories. “Where are our voices?”

“When we look at mainstream and we look at issues around Waitangi Day or around Matariki or around te reo we’re often talking to European men and asking for their opinion, like the Don Brash’s of the world, or we’re talking to other people outside of an indigenous female voice. I was sick of that.”

When she finished the first ten wahine she looked at her family and said ‘Why did I say I’d do 100’. “It’s taken longer than I’d thought.”

She works off a list of women that she’s wanted to meet or profile for a number of years, and allows for people to nominate others of whom she may not be aware.

She has also been documenting her papakāinga, Ihumātao for the past twelve years.

Her six-image social documentary series about the campaign to protect land next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere from development as a Special Housing Area (SHA) won her a 2018 New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year award.

“I’ve grown up in an around a papakāinga, pā lifestyle and ten years before I started documenting the pā I had seen so much change and I really wanted to start documenting my lifetime so that we could document all those different changes that my tamariki and mokopuna can see what the pā once looked like or who was there and what the children were like.”

Matata-Sipu grew up with her grandparents sharing stories about their experiences and about Ihumātao and how they used to gather kaimoana from the sea and explore the stone fields even though they weren’t allowed to, she says. 

“I have a photograph of my grandfather when he was 3-years-old sitting in a tin bucket having a bath and it’s a very small photo, a bit smaller than a credit card size and it’s black and white, and it’s one of my most favourite, most precious images because it tells me about a time that I was never able to be a part of and I never ever got to witness for myself.”

She wanted to show what children in her lifetime do.

“In our papakāinga the children have always ruled, they ruled the streets if they’re playing in the middle of the road you’ve got to drive up on the path to get to your driveway.”

When the street lights turn on, you’ll hear parents calling their children back home, she says.

Ihumātao and pā life is unique, she says.

As of 6 May, Fletcher building and Auckland Transport have all the required permissions to close Ihumātao Quarry Road. They’re able to come in any time over the next 14 months. “It basically signals the beginning of the development.”

“During that particular period, the 6th of May, there was a presence at the top of the street; we were planting gardens and we were having salsa dance lessons and doing Zumba and kaumatua and kuia were singing songs and having a good old time.”

They’ve now been told there are various transport plans that need to be done before Fletchers moves onto the land.

“Yes the population is growing, yes cities are growing - there are so many options for housing that don’t have to include desecrating a whenua.”