He Whare Takata: Wāhine Māori reproductive justice in the child protection system


  • Kerri Cleaver (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha), University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand


Mana wāhine, Indigenous, settler colonialism, reproductive justice, child protection


Reproductive justice in Aotearoa must be centred in Indigenous reproductive justice, challenging social and government systems that seek to maintain control of wāhine Māori[i] bodies in contradiction to our role as ‘he whare takata[ii], the house of humanity.

Through centring our atua wāhine pūrākau knowledge, I look at the shift from wāhine as the holders of whakapapa[iii], through birthing practices and knowledge keepers, to the focus of the Aotearoa[iv] colonial project where women and children are controlled and punished. This paper is a reflective historical and contemporary analysis of complicit social work and settler state intervention on Māori bodies, with particular focus on wāhine and the child protection system.

The paper draws on the research and knowledge collected by wāhine researchers in the last 30 years, alongside my doctoral study locating Kāi Tahu wāhine narratives post child protection system. Attention is paid to the colonial agenda which started prior to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the clearly scripted story that usurped wāhine and continues today in multiple forms, including the child protection system.

Key words: Mana[v] wāhine, Indigenous, Settler colonialism, Reproductive Justice, Child Protection


[i] Wāhine Māori will be referred to as wāhine from herein. This term in inclusive of our tākatapui Māori in line with our traditional ways and acknowledged acceptance of gender fluidity and self-identification. Non-Māori wāhine will be referred to as woman/en.

[ii] Kāi Tahu dialect is used throughout the document. This replaces ‘ng’ with a ‘k’. Other dialectal differences will be defined in the glossary.

[iii] Whakapapa is defined as our relationships to animate, inanimate, living, and past, to each other and the environment. It includes genealogy that is both human and non-human.

[iv] Aotearoa is used as one traditional name for Aotearoa.

[v] Pere definition of mana “psychic influence, control, prestige, power, vested and acquired authority and influence, being influential or binding over others, and that quality of a person that others know she or he is”.


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How to Cite

Cleaver, K. (2023). He Whare Takata: Wāhine Māori reproductive justice in the child protection system. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 35(4), 16–30. Retrieved from https://anzswjournal.nz/anzsw/article/view/1135