Nanaia Mahuta responds to racist backlash after her appointment as Foreign Affairs Minister

Headlines 05/11/2020

The appointment of Nanaia Mahuta as Foreign Affairs Minister is a landmark moment in our country's history, as it is the first time a Māori woman has held the role, and a Māori woman adorned with moko kauae at that.

Such an achievement should be widely celebrated, and for the most part it has been, key words being "most part". Because it seems as though whenever we make huge steps towards progress, Aotearoa's racist tendencies float to the surface for all to see.

As soon as the announcement of her appointment was made, she faced instant backlash, mostly of a racially-motivated nature.

Kiwi author Olivia Pierson was one of the most vocal opponents of her appointment, citing Mahuta's moko kauae as a problem area for a foreign diplomat.

"Facial tattoos are not exactly a polished, civilised presentation for a foreign diplomat in the 21st century," she said on Twitter.

"Facial tattoos, especially on a female diplomat, is the height of ugly, uncivilised wokedom."

Pierson has been heavily criticised for her comments, with online retailer Mighty Ape pulling her book from their stocks in response.

When approached by the Herald, Mahuta opted to not comment on the matter. However she did speak to Te Ao Māori news, and when asked for a response to the criticism.

"I am not intimidated by the criticism that I've received and I'm not surprised either" she said.

"But as people get used to the reality that more indigenous people want to contribute in a positive way to the way in which their country looks for different solutions, I hope that I can exemplify that."

Mahuta also went on to say the negative comments she has received weren't just race based, with some cruelly offering up "weight loss tips."

Despite facing a wave of negativity, Mahuta remains stoic and steadfast in her role, showing a kind of resilience and strength so many of our Māori woman possess.

"I'm not gonna get hung up on that stuff, what I'm going to do is focus on the job at hand and look forward to ensuring that not only Māori, but New Zealand, can present itself strongly, in a different way, to create those new conversations and it's so urgently needed" she said.

This is a problem that Māori are constantly battling, and have been battling since James Cook and his boys first brought the Coloniser Express to our shores. Fitting into a pakeha world has always required Māori to conform to western ideals and practices, often at the expense of our own traditions.

Any challenge to that conformity is deemed "uncivilised" or "ugly" as Pierson so eloquently put it. This kind of rhetoric raises the question, why is moko kauae deemed uncivilised and ugly, when in actual fact the cultural sterilisation and genocide of Māori is by far the ugliest and most uncivilised thing this country has ever done.

There is an incredible irony to people not accepting a Māori foreign diplomat, because after all, Māori were the ORIGINAL foreign diplomats of Aotearoa. 

If belittling the culture of the indigenous people of this country is considered "civilised" then perhaps we ought to seek out an alternative way of moving forward? Like appointing indigenous people into positions of power where they may be able to influence and implement real systemic change? Just a thought.