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Iriaka Rātana, OBE
Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi
Iriaka Matiu Rātana, the first Māori woman to enter Parliament, was born in 1905 at Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the Whanganui River.
In the early 1920s, as a young woman with her whānau she visited Rātana Pā, where Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana had established his spiritual and healing centre. She joined him and followers on an overseas tour in 1924 and, in 1925, she became his second wife – becoming known as Te Whaeaiti (the little mother). She worked as a leader of the women in the church and after Rātana’s death in 1939, she married Matiu Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana – a son from his first wife.
The church had been growing as a political force since the early 1930s, aligned with the Labour Party. Matiu Rātana became the MP for the Western Māori electorate in 1945, and after his death in a car accident in 1949, his widowed, pregnant wife put herself forward as a candidate.
Despite opposition from many sides at a woman taking such a role, Iriaka Rātana was elected with a large majority and became the first Māori woman MP, going on to serve in Parliament for the next 20 years. In this recording from the 1954 election campaign, she makes a radio broadcast in te reo Māori, urging voters to think carefully about their choice on election day.
A lifelong supporter of the Māori Women's Welfare League, Rātana was active in improving living conditions for her people, particularly in relation to housing. She retired from political life in 1969 and passed away in 1981 at the age of 76.
Find out more about Iriaka Rātana:
Read a full biography of Iriaka Rātana on Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
View the profile for Iriaka Rātana on NZHistory.net.
Image: Iriaka Matiu Rātana (left) on her retirement from politics, with Labour leader Norman Kirk and fellow MP Mabel Howard, 1969 (Dominion Post Collection). EP/1969/4717 Alexander Turnbull Library.
Catalogue Reference 35259
New Zealand Broadcasting Service