Looking back on the annual conference of the Maori Women's Welfare League in Wellington last April, the most remarkable achievement is that the discussions again rose above the smaller day-to-day issues of branches, and were concerned chiefly with the greater general problems of the Maori race. Attendance of delegates and observers was, as in previous years, enthusiastic; it was obvious that the general airing of subjects like housing, health, education, and other social matters satisfied delegates.
The delegates, when at home with their branches, spend most of their time, of course, on the house-craft competitions, money-raising functions, and the cultural activities encouraged by the league. Yet general problems of the people, such as were discussed at the conference—housing, education, health, employment—underlie everything the branches do. In organising a jam-making or taniko-weaving competition, a branch is not merely amusing itself; it is working for a general purpose which may be the raising of housekeeping standards or reviving Maori culture. We may be sure that not so many branches would be active throughout the country at present, if these general aims did not drive them on.
Annual conference is the time to think about these greater objects. It is also the time for making representations to the Government, and by far the greater number of conference remits concerned these. Such airing of popular feeling is extremely desirable, and usually welcome to the Government. To the league delegates it provided a common ground and a community of interest which bound them closer together.
Mrs Whina Cooper, Dominion President, lost no time in firing the first round. In her welcome address to the Minister, she said: ‘We all know that without your help we would never have succeeded to such an extent,’ rapidly
The Minister, in his reply, did not lose his chance of returning the compliment: ‘I would not like to disappoint Mrs Cooper,’ he said. ‘I know what she wants. She wants me to give her the opportunity of a kanikani.’ He praised the results achieved by the Maori Women's Welfare League in such a short time. ‘I have no doubt that the foundations have been well and truly laid, that a sound course has been set, and that achievement cannot be denied. Mr Carroll mentioned that such a conference as this should be made available to the Maori men. That will be done. I shall give them all the help I can.
‘I have been agreeably surprised to see more than one mixed school where either the head boy or the head girl has been a Maori. If that standard can be attained at the age of adolescence, it can be claimed in our future life. It is the duty of government to see that the opportunity to reach these high realms is kept open.’
In the Dominion President's report, proud reference was naturally made to the Auckland housing survey, which had resulted in the doubling of the State housing allocation to Maoris in Auckland. ‘I should like to see that work spread throughout New Zealand,’ Mrs Cooper said. Further points she made were:
‘Travelling around I noticed a lack of pride in many maraes. I want to stress that marae maintenance can and should be done by the leagues. I have in mind general renovations of meeting-houses, mat-weaving, looking after the kitchen and beautifying the maraes.'
‘Men generally are supporting the leagues. One particularly fine achievement resulting from co-operation between men and women has been the forming of a 2 ½-mile road from Te Huahua to Motukaraka Point in the north. The women hired a bulldozer, and the men cleared the scrub on the route. There are other instances.’
‘It is essential for district councils to meet monthly, and it is essential also that they have the monthly reports of all their branches before them at those meetings.’
The main work of the conference was done by four sub-committees—on housing: Chairwoman, Mrs Paki; education, Mrs Logan; general, Mrs Te Tau; and health, child welfare and employment, Mrs Tahiwi. In the discussions of remits in these sub-committees women from all parts of the country were able to meet in the common struggle to improve Maori living conditions. Representations to the government followed the same main lines as those of last year. It would seem that at last year's conference the league had mapped out a comprehensive programme of help to be asked from the Government, and that discussions mainly reaffirmed last year's representations.
In the housing discussion great interest was shown in the Special Housing Fund, and the ways in which it could be used to help in the solution of the housing problem.
Other items expressed disappointment on the representation of the Maori race at the Coronation and pressing for a ‘full and proper’ part for the Maori race at the Royal visit.
An interesting discussion was held on establishing a home for the care of orphans in New Plymouth with the help of the Maori Women's Welfare League.
Sensible and healthy also was a recommendation to the Child Welfare Branch to try to place Maori children with relatives wherever possible, and another recommendation to the Vocational Guidance Branch to give some attention to Maori primary school children. The Rarawa-ki-Hokianga District Council asked for an X-ray unit for the Tokerau district.
Here and there the remits showed promising signs of collaboration between the MWWL and other women's organisations. There is no doubt that the MWWL can be a real support to those organisations in issues of national interest. We are thinking of such remits as the one asking for a national standard of heating in schools.
There was also a resolution passed that Te Ao Hou should give a review of scholarships available to Maoris. As it happened, such a review had already appeared in the Spring 1952 issue. For those who want this review a limited number of copies of that issue is still available at 1/6 per copy.
Some of the remits aimed at strengthening the leagues inwardly. Improvements were made in the constitution. It was decided to print the constitution, together with a guide on conducting meetings and suggestions for useful and progressive programmes for league members.
Other remits were:
Maori people should take responsibility for Maori welfare children.
The league should begin in a small way with the establishment of mothers' aids; South Hokianga District Council suggested that the best way would be through co-operation with church organisations in finding and training staff.
Special attention was given at this conference to the branches' annual reports. Messrs Charles Bennett and J. M. McEwen were the judges. This accent on reports will probably stimulate branches to take careful stock of what they have done each year, what has been achieved, and what part of the programme is still weak. Heretaunga District Council won the competition with a fine report, which gained 90 out of 100 marks: 60 (out of 65) for drive and scope of activities plus 30 (out of 35) for the form of the report. Heretaunga was praised by the judges for presenting its report under clear headings.
The following officers were elected at the conference for the period 1953–54:
Dominion President: Mrs Whina Cooper (Auckland). Dominion Vice-presidents: Mrs P. Tahiwi (Wellington) and Mrs F. Paki (Huntly). Dominion Secretary, Treasurer and Representative for the Tokerau District: Miss M. Petricevich. Waikato-Maniapoto representative: Mrs N. Swainson. Waiariki representative: Mrs R. Royal. Tairawhiti representative: Mrs M. Tamihana. Aotea representative: Mrs T. Love. Ikaroa representative: Mrs W. Bennett. Te Waipounamu: Mrs J. Moss. Assistant Secretary: Mrs E. Garrett. Government representatives: Miss F. J. Cameron (Health Department) and Mrs R. Wright (Maori Affairs Department).