Of mice and nurses: The life and times of a fighting woman

September 1, 2021

She was the woman in black, and shooting from the lip.

Donna Awatere Huata (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Hine, Ngapuhi) has shared a lifetime of experiences with the audience at the Indigenous Nurses Aotearoa Conference 2021.

Awatere Huata delivered an extraordinary, brutally honest and inspiring speech, while dressed in black from head to toe – including a cowboy hat.

“You’re here to share your wairua, to inspire one another, to organise… so you can go home refreshed, not because of anything anyone said up here, but because of how you connect together.”

She thanked the audience for its work to help Māori through a system not designed by them, for them or with them.

“And for those of you who work for Māori providers… let’s all get behind Kerri [Nuku, NZNO kaiwhakahaere], and push for pay equity. It’s not an accident that you are paid less.”

Māori nurses faced challenges working as a minority in the Pākehā system, but were forced to “suck it up” so they could pay their bills and look after their whānau.

Awatere Huata has taken on a raft of high-profile roles – including as an activist with the likes of Ngā Tamatoa, an ACT Party MP and Māori Climate Commissioner.

It was 58 years since she took her first stand against injustice.

She took on a summer job with her mother and noticed male colleagues were paid more, despite doing less. “I thought it was such an injustice, so I went to see the manager – I was 15 at the time.”

Her advice was ignored, and she discovered a “good lesson”.

“Little did I know that injustice is brought to the system to privilege certain people. In this case it was to privilege men.”

Injustice remained today – worsened by a National Opposition looking to fan racial animosity.

The Labour Government, while not perfect, would still craft “very useful” legislation for Māori – such as upcoming health reforms covering the Māori Health Authority (MHA), and strengthening of Te Tiriti in last year’s Public Sector Act.

But once back in power, National would “slam” Māori, she said.

“The health authority will be crushed, the funding will go down; the Pākehā Health NZ [replacing district health boards] will go back up.

“Oranga Tamariki, if it goes the same way, will be minimised down… and we will be struggling to maintain the gains we will make over the next few years.”

National would campaign on racial hatred. “They are going to foment racial hatred… they’re going to do a Trump on us.”

Awatere Huata ended by calling for the audience to stop being like mice, to be more strident, and fight harder.