New Zealand Prime Minister Appoints Country’s First Indigenous Female Foreign Minister

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed the country’s first Indigenous female foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta. (Courtesy NZ Labour Party)

Not only will Nanaia Mahuta be the first woman to serve as New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, she is the first Indigenous female woman ever to do so.

“We’re the first country to give women the right to vote, the first country to ensure that we are progressive on issues relating to women,” Mahuta told Radio New Zealand. “So I follow in the line of a long legacy of firsts for women, and I hope many other women of Māori and mixed descent across New Zealand will see this as lifting the ceiling once again on areas that have been very much closed to us in terms of professional opportunities.”

On Monday, November 2, Mahuta was among cabinet members announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who may be building one of the most diverse parliaments out there — almost half of the country’s lawmakers will be women. The global average sits at only 25 percent. About 10 percent of Ardern’s incoming parliament will be members of the LGBTQ+ community as well.

“This is a cabinet and an executive that is based on merit that also happen to be incredibly diverse and I am proud of that,” Ardern said Monday, November 2 as she announced her cabinet. “They reflect the New Zealand that elected them.”

Mahuta has spent two decades in parliament, and is currently an MP for Hauraki-Waikato. She also holds ministerial positions in local government, Māori development, and an associate portfolio in trade. While serving as foreign affairs minister, Mahuta will retain her position in local government, as well as an associate role in Māori development.

Though an unexpected choice, Ardern told New Zealand’s stuff that it was Mahuta’s impressive relationship-building skills that got her the position.

“She is someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly, and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said. “You only need to look at the difficult work that she has had to conduct over, for instance, her local government portfolio and that to me demonstrates those diplomacy skills that we need to represent New Zealand on the world stage.”

Mahuta told stuff she was “absolutely privileged” to be the next foreign affairs minister.

“What we know more than ever before in the Covid context is that, as a small country, we need to develop our relationships and remain committed to a multilateral rules-based trade system that works for New Zealand,” she said. “And in a recovery context, we need to ensure that all the benefits are deepened to many more in our society, and a progressive trade agenda achieves that.”

The previous New Zealand foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, was also Māori but Nanaia Mahuta is the country’s first woman serving in the position.

This won’t be Mahuta’s first first while in parliament either. Four years ago, Mahuta became the first member of New Zealand’s parliament to wear a moko kauae, a traditional tattoo on her chin.

Rukuwai Tipene-Allen, a political journalist for Māori Television, told CNN how hugely significant Mahuta’s appointment is for Indigenous people.

“The first face that people see at an international level is someone who speaks, looks and sounds like a Māori,” she said. “The face of New Zealand is Indigenous.”

Tipene-Allen also said the fact that Mahuta wears a moko kauae is empowering.

“It shows that our culture has a place at an international level, that people see the importance of Māori, and the point of difference that being Māori brings to such a role,” Tipene-Allen told CNN. “Wearing the markings of her ancestors shows people that there are no boundaries to Māori and where they can go.”