June 06, 2018
By Emma Himmelberger
Pauline Tangiora will be honored with the Sacred Fire Foundation Wisdom Fellowship Award on July 26, 2018 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. Tangiora, a Māori elder of the Rongomaiwahine Tribe on the Māhia Peninsula on the North Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand), has devoted her life to advocating for environmental justice, peace, and Indigenous rights, both in her local and global community. According to the Sacred Fire Foundation, “the Wisdom Fellowship Award is presented annually to honor the work of an elder who has demonstrated lifelong achievement in bringing wisdom, leadership and learning to their people and their community.” Throughout her life, Tangiora has done just that.
In 2016, Tangiora’s land rights campaign that she started 30 years prior came to fruition. Tangiora worked with a team of seven other negotiators over Māhia land settlements against the Crown, gaining 100 million NZD as well as a formal apology. This settlement has deepened the sense of cultural pride in her community and eased the financial burden on families, leaving children free to explore their Indigenous heritage and history. Tangiora has also been integral to efforts to maintain the Māori language.
Tangiora leaves no one behind in her advocacy work, standing up for and supporting the underrepresented, whether that means speaking up for Māori children taken into State care, or bringing books to prisoners. She has been fighting for those in the prison system for nearly 50 years and her work and attention are especially important as the Māori people are disproportionately incarcerated in New Zealand.
The reverberations of her positive impact reach around the world. Spanning continents, Tangiora has supported vulnerable communities including Indigenous people targeted by the military in Mexico and chemical weapon child victims in Iraq. She has campaigned for water protection in Brazil, stood in solidarity with those at Standing Rock, United States, and helped preserve and revitalize Indigenous culture with the San people in the African Kalahari and the Aborigines in Australia. On receiving the Wisdom Fellowship Award, Tangiora tells Māori Television, "it means that Indigenous peoples around the world are acknowledging each other and it's very humbling for me to be accepting this award because it's our people who have made it happen."
At home, Tangiora currently serves as the vice president of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Aotearoa, ambassador to the Earth Council International and the 13 International Indigenous Grandmothers’ Council, as a member of the World Futures Council and the Māori Women’s Welfare League, as well as a patron of the Peace Foundation. A mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Tangiora envisions leaving the world a better place for her children, yet recognizes this vision requires determination and dedication. She says, “working in peace is hard work. But there are also many wonderful things: the friendliness, kindness, and warmth of people, and the trust they put in me.” Throughout decades of advocacy work, Tangiora has demonstrated the power of peaceful protest. In her advice to children, Tangiora emboldens them to, “dream a dream, and you will get there, but it won’t come without hard work.”