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Iriaka Matiu Ratana (25 February – 21 December 1981) was a New Zealandmarker politician and Ratana morehu who won the Western Māori seat for Labour in 1949. She succeeded her husband Matiu Ratana in a by-election to become the first woman to represent Maori in the New Zealand parliament. She held the seat until her retirement in 1969.

Early life

An entertainer from an early age, Iriaka Ratana was a member of the Ratana haka, poi, and waiata groups and travelled with them throughout New Zealand and overseas. In 1925, she married Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana to become his second wife and had two children. Hamuera, the oldest died from tuberculosis in 1934, and the second, Raniera Te Aohou Ratana later became head of the Ratana church.

Following her husband's death in 1939, Iriaka Ratana married Matiu Ratana, a son of T. W. Ratana. The couple farmed until the death in 1945 of Matiu's elder brother, Haami Tokouru Ratana who was Member of Parliament (MP) for the Maori seat of Western Maori. Matiu Ratana was elected in the 1945 election and held the seat until his accidental death in 1949.

Political career

Iriaka Ratana's decision to stand for parliament was opposed by those supporting traditional leadership roles, with Te Puea Herangi speaking out against her claim to 'captain the Tainui canoe'. Only the strong backing of the Ratana church and her threat to stand as a Ratana Independent secured her the Labour Party nomination.

As an MP Iriaka Ratana was concerned with welfare issues for Maori. She worked hard to improve living standards, particularly at the church settlement of Ratana Pamarker.

Iriaka Ratana was awarded an OBE in 1971.


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