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No. 35 (June 1961)
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USING OUR INDEPENDENCE

Assistant Secretary, Maori Women's Welfare League

For years the league looked longingly at independence—it had all the enchantment of the distant view, now the dream has become reality and reality is a down to earth matter. Now that we have Independence how are we going to use it? We have justified our claims, but how are we going to justify the continuance of Government support to the tune of £2,000 per year? Some say we deserve now, and will certainly deserve in the future, an increase in that allowance.

The cost of administration of the League can be measured fairly accurately in terms of salaries of its servants and rent for office space—Maori Affairs Department is saved this expenditure by League Self Government. But the overall saving cannot even be surmised, and it is in this field that the League must by increasing its membership and thus its influence, justify its right to self-government financed by public monies. The value of the League's work has been recognised by the appropriate authorities but it remains for the members themselves to explore the full potential of the movement.

Our Independence then, is a physical reality. We have our own office and paid servants—we are running our own show. The Government grant roughly covers the cost of salaries, rent, lighting, heating and some stationery, the remaining incidentals being met by subscriptions. The money for furnishing and equipping the office came from Day of Giving funds, the first use made of this money so wisely set aside against the realisation of the dream of Independence.

So much for the independent body. What is needed now is an independent mind—a critical approach to our organisation, and a practical solution of our problems within its framework. We must not allow ourselves to be blown by the four winds but rather must we decide on our course and steer by compass. Let us take our Constitution as our compass and our pledged landfall the achievement of better health, housing and education among our Maori people. Let each member read and understand her Constitution and try to carry out the letter and the spirit of it.

WHOLE MEMBERSHIP MUST KNOW AND FOLLOW LEAGUE IDEALS

The League was designed to be and has become an educational movement for the uplifting of the Maori people. Each League should be a living example of the vision of those who laid its foundations and initiated its formation. Every League should have among its members a cross-section of the community, the leaders, the followers and those who are gathered by the wayside. Within the movement there is scope for all kinds of people and rewards tangible and intangible. On those who are leaders must fall the dual responsibility of running their branch with inspiration and efficiency, and of representing their people by working alongside the Pakeha in community projects. Both jobs are important but leaders must always bear in mind that they are nothing without their iwi and their first loyalty must always be to their own people.

There is no doubt that the League has its quota of leaders, the truth of this is clearly recognisable at the Annual Conference, but it is open to question whether those able people give sufficient thought to the needs of their followers, the main body of the branch. It is important for Maori women to take their rightful place in modern democratic society, but it is also necessary for those who have received the light to pass it on to those still in the shadow. Can we be so sure that within the League itself there is not the cancer of self advancement rather than the healing hand of kindly teaching?

LEAGUE IS UNIQUE ORGANISATION

The League has no parallel in Pakeha society, rather is its place taken by many groups each covering specific aspects of League Constitution. There are many social workers outside the framework of Child Welfare Department, most schools have close liaison between parents and teachers and there are few mothers who do not avail them

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selves of the services of the Plunket Society. A Pakeha Women's Welfare League would be redundant.

Our League is rather like a Gilbert and Sullivan character, everything and everyone rolled into one. From the habits and the problems of the Maori people arose the need for their own organisation. The League belongs to Maori women and although it welcomes Pakeha members, it has essentially a Maori flavour. It has to do with Welfare—anything and everything that effects the well-being of the race. And so we come back to our Constitution—so broad in the conception of its aims, and so wide in their application and, it may be added, so difficult to apply.

LEAGUES SHOULD SEEK COMMUNITY SUPPORT

The latest figures show that League membership has fallen. Why? Let us each look into our hearts for the answer. Are the aims too high, the concepts too broad? No! Has the period of greatest need passed? No! Could it be that our ideas have become rusty or our ideals dusty? Effective League leadership demands certain abilities and certain disciplines plus a belief in the work. It is necessary to understand the aims of the League and to implement the carrying out of them. Understanding comes first, planning second and execution third. At each stage, intelligence, confidence, organising ability, tact and energy are required, but above all these there must be a faith and a hope in the future of the Maori people. We must all use our brains to the best of our ability, follow up our ideas with hard work and add to these something of the missionary zeal that was displayed in the early days of the League.

Here is an idea and a set of ideals, worth fighting for, worthy of sharing, a fellowship of women who are all part of the family that is the Maori people. It is up to members to believe in the aims of the League and to convert others to that belief. The true strength of any organisation lies in its membership. Only through a strong following can the League approach its potential as a living force, able to voice its opinion on matters concerning the race and by reason of its achievements be listened to with respect.

Enthusiasm is needed in this year of Independence and it must come from every member. Let the able help the unable within each branch. The League is for all Maori women, bring in the elite and the illiterate, and naumai! Women who are well adjusted and comfortable in their own lives need to look with aroha on those less fortunate ‘There but for the Grace of God, go I’. Qualities of understanding, sympathy and wisdom backed by practical help are needed among our members if they wish the League to gain in strength.

The aims of the League are high but not unattainable, to fulfil them, and justify our independence, we must be prepared not only to stand firmly on our own feet, but also to steady and lead others in the march of progress.