Co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, talks about putting herself in uncomfortable spaces, rebelling against conservative capitalism, and uplifting takatāpui.

It was not easy to get an interview with the Co-leader of Te Pāti Māori Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, but boy, was she worth the effort.

One of the most down-to-earth politicians we spoke with. In seconds, we’re chatting like we’ve known each other for years, as she tells us that her youngest son is making her go grey and that she’s off to buy hair dye following our interview.


Things take on a more serious tone when I ask what she thinks is the biggest misconception about Te Pāti Māori.

“I’m often called a separatist and a racist. Māori values are about being tūturu, which is about living true to who you are. We’re just trying to empower everyone to be themselves and make the world better, but there is this perception that we only care about Māori… We all suffer from this as minorities,” she surmises. 

“I just think, ‘Are you for real?’ I’ve been raised mainstream,” Debbie tells us, pointing out that she is the daughter of a Māori father and an Irish mother.

“I speak English better than I speak Māori. Never in my life have I seen or been raised to think of anything exclusively,” she says, highlighting that that way of thinking is not the Māori way.

“If you go on to a marae, the doors are open for everyone. It’s our responsibility as the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa to look after everyone, to make sure everyone lives well.”

Debbie is insistent that ‘everyone’ includes takatāpui, but admits that, from a policy perspective, Te Pāti Māori may have been ‘remiss’ for not including takatāpui more in the past.

“Now we have a population of Māori that’s 70% under 40, including a huge takatāpui whānau that we have to push through and put into leadership and governance positions,” she states, making it clear that no decisions about takatāpui should be made without takatāpui.

“We don’t try to pretend that we know what our takatāpui community need. We now need to bring in our ope to create policy and tell us how we authentically represent them and use this sphere to help better their lives,” she says emphatically.

The biggest issues facing queer Māori are discussed at the Hui Takatāpui in Auckland. This year, many issues raised stemmed from disconnects with whānau hapū and iwi due to being ostracised for their queerness.

“It’s absolutely the feedback that we’ve had too,” agrees Debbie with concern. “The hardness of trying to be accepted in places of Te ao Māori that seem to be run as patriarchal conservative spaces.”

Debbie is realistic about the best way to create fast-moving change around this. “They are still entrenched in colonisation. We can’t change that. So what we need to do is create spaces that our takatāpui communities are running. We need to allow them to resume their space how they want, help make that happen, and then just get out of the way.”

It’s an attitude that highlights how different Te Pāti Māori are now from the party that supported John Key’s National government. Debbie believes that the fight for both Māori and Rainbow communities has evolved as we have grown and “learned more about ourselves.”

“Our children and our mokopuna do not share the views we see coming from really conservative politicians and leaders,” she tells us, highlighting the need to oppose conservative capitalism.

“Capitalism is so anti-change. Often bigots’ primary drive for their resistance to change is money. Because a government department will have to split some of its funding to look after our community, which is a threat to those who do really well from how the system looks now,” she says, quickly raising an example of the queer community being held back.

“The revolting debate about trans people playing sports. It’s got nothing to do with anything other than the commercialisation of sports. Everyone should be able to participate,” she says with authority.

Polarising debates are being used as tools this election, and Debbie believes that standing up for what we believe in is more important than ever.

“It’s not accidental that Julian Batchelor’s tour is in the 90-day period before the elections. We have to be an active alternative voice to some of this crap that’s being spun at the moment. We need to stop being apathetic and stop thinking that my neighbour’s got it covered. We’ve got to call back to what we did with apartheid and unite on the frontlines.”

Strategically, Debbie says that taking power back means getting our voices heard in all areas. She wants to see takatāpui voting on the Māori roll, leading in schools, on boards of trustees, and in local councils. 

“We’ve got to put our queer takatāpui communities into multiple positions so that we have a balanced view in our nation,” she says, acknowledging that pushing yourself into a space where no one else looks or sounds like you isn’t easy.

“We have to put ourselves out there. This is not a comfortable position for me to be in. If anyone’s going to have a story written about them, it’s always going to be me, because I’m that person who’s cousins are having a scrap on the road. I live that life, and so I get why people don’t want to put themselves out there, but it’s not just if your style fits [politics]. Everything you represent is all your vulnerabilities… Take that vulnerability to those big decision-making tables so that we can make it better and less vulnerable for our next generations to come through.”

Article | Tux Hika & Oliver Hall.
Photos | New Zealand Woman’s Weekly.

To find out more about Debbie and her team, visit

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