Poroporoaki: Miriama Rauhihi Ness

Māori Development

He maire tūwao, mā te toki e tua.

The maire standing, in the forest must be felled by the adze

Māoridom is mourning the loss of a true wāhine toa and fighter for Māori rights Miriama Rauhihi Ness, who passed away Monday, Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson says.

Miriama, epitomised the meaning of wāhine toa and never wavered in her pursuit of justice for Māori.

The former wife of musician Tigilau Ness and mother of singer Che Fu, was born in 1951, and grew up in the small settlement of Shannon, 28km southwest of Palmerston North.

“Miriama got an early taste of the injustice Māori faced during her schooling. When her name was changed from Miriama to Miriam, because she was made to feel embarrassed to be Māori. Miriama was told there was nothing good about being Māori and remembered Māori being portrayed unfavourably on television,” Willie Jackson says.

In the 70’s the 18-year-old moved to Ponsonby to work in a sewing factory. It was here where her fight for injustice began. Miriama was elected union delegate and just six months into her job, had her work mates out on strike. This was because Māori and Pacific Island workers were made to work through their designated breaks for no pay. Due to her dogged determination and the comradery of her peers, the workers came out on top.

“Standing up and fighting for those who were being taken advantage of, gave Miriama pride in her culture and set her on the path to fight for the rights of Māori,” Willie Jackson says. 

The former Ngā Tamatoa and Polynesian Panther member became a well-known advocate for Māori and Pacific people, having witnessed their exploitation in central Auckland factories.

The Ngāti Whakatere/ Ngāti Taki Hiku descendant was one of the key organisers of the epic land march led by Dame Whina Cooper in 1975, where she was responsible for the March’s logistics. Spending months visiting every marae on the route, from the top of the North Island all the way to Wellington.

Miriama was held in high regard in the Ponsonby community, Pacific Island community and Te Ao Māori, Willie Jackson says.

No reira e te tuahine, moe mai, moe mai, moe mai ra