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Iriaka Matiu Rātana OBE (25 February 1905 – 21 December 1981) was a New Zealand politician and Rātana morehu who won the Western Maori electorate for Labour in 1949. She succeeded her husband Matiu Rātana to become the first woman to represent Maori in the New Zealand parliament. She held the electorate until her retirement in 1969.

Iriaka Matiu Rātana

Iriaka Ratana.jpg
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Western Maori
In office
1949 – 1969
Preceded byMatiu Ratana
Succeeded byKoro Wētere
Personal details
Born(1905-02-25)25 February 1905
Hiruharama, New Zealand
Died21 December 1981(1981-12-21) (aged 76)
Wanganui, New Zealand
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Matiu Ratana

Early lifeEdit

An entertainer from an early age, she was a member of the Rātana haka, poi, and waiata groups and travelled with them throughout New Zealand and overseas. In 1925, she married Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana 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 Rātana church.

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

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1949–1951 29th Western Maori Labour
1951–1954 30th Western Maori Labour
1954–1957 31st Western Maori Labour
1957–1960 32nd Western Maori Labour
1960–1963 33rd Western Maori Labour
1963–1966 34th Western Maori Labour
1966–1969 35th Western Maori Labour

Iriaka Rātana'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 Rātana church and her threat to stand as a Rātana Independent secured her the Labour Party nomination.

She won the Western Maori electorate for Labour in the 1949 general election. She succeeded her husband Matiu Ratana to become the first woman to represent Maori in the New Zealand parliament. She got a similar majority (6317) to her husband in 1946 (his majority was 6491), but no less than seven independent candidates stood against her; they got 116 to 326 votes each.[1]

She held the electorate until her retirement in 1969.[2]

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

Iriaka Rātana was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Māori people in the 1971 New Year Honours.[3] She died on 21 December 1981 in Wanganui Hospital and was buried at Aramoho Cemetery.[4]


  1. ^ Norton, Clifford (1988). New Zealand Parliamentary Election Results 1946-1987: Occasional Publications No 1, Department of Political Science. Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington. p. 402. ISBN 0-475-11200-8.
  2. ^ Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. p. ?. OCLC 154283103.
  3. ^ "No. 45264". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 1 January 1971. p. 40.
  4. ^ Ballara, Angela (1 September 2010). "Ratana, Iriaka Matiu - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  • Henderson, James Mcleod (1963). Ratana The Man, The Church, The Movement (1st ed.) A.H & A.W. Reed Ltd ISBN 0-589-00619-3.
  • Women in Parliamentary Life 1970-1990: Hocken Lecture 1993 by Marilyn Waring, page 34 (Hocken Library, University of Otago, 1994) ISBN 0-902041-61-4
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Matiu Ratana
Member of Parliament for Western Maori
Succeeded by
Koro Wētere