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Profile: Qiane Matata-Sipu

The activist, journalist and documentary photographer talks to Emily Wilton about running her own business, all the while protesting and fighting for marginalised communities.

Sitting down with Qiane she takes a relaxed sigh as she rests on the sofa inside the media room at Ihumātao. Cozily tucked away out of the wind, she begins to tell me her story.

Qiane grew up in a family with strong creativity and equally strong opinions and it’s perhaps this mix of things that led her down her path as a successful journalist and photographer. She’s an activist and though she says her work in activism hasn’t dominated her career, it’s been an undeniably dominant force in her life over the past few years.

Qiane was raised in Ihumātao and Mangere, where she attended marae meetings with her grandparents, learned about governance and was taught what could be considered ‘old school’ values.

She says it was at an early age that she began learning about the power of her voice, largely due to the incredible and supportive women around her. She says it was this that paved the way for her journey of using her voice in any way she could; whether it be in print, images, or even just standing on a picket shouting. The strong women she grew up surrounded by were teachers and businesswomen and they taught her to stand up for what she believed in.

Qiane has been involved in her neighbourhood her entire life, often advocating for others or for certain causes which include cleaning up local awa. She says her Māori and Pasifika background made her automatically a part of a lot of things.

“I've been really lucky because I've had a family who've raised me in an environment where that's just been part and parcel of our lives, all of my family have been involved in community groups and schools and marae so it just is part of who we are."

Growing up she says she had all the local news and gossip around her neighbourhood so it’s unsurprising that storytelling was something that would eventually become a job for her.

Her work also didn’t just stop when she discovered the power of her own voice, as she’s since put a heavy focus on encouraging the voices of marginalised women she meets along the way.

She appears to have the ability to take on multiple roles and responsibilities at once and her work to ensure safety for the sacred grounds of her home at Ihumātao has captured national attention. She created the group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape), which she started in her kitchen one night many years ago with six others and it has since evolved immensely. It now works with many to ensure a message of protection and unity is broadcasted through the media team.

Qiane says the key to her work is always the people she inspires and the people who impact her personally. Having the ability to tell the stories of people in the community is her purpose above all else.

"Everything I do is about the people. When you get to meet some really phenomenal people in this world, it not only drives you but also reminds you of what's really important.

"If you are able to help people understand different situations and if you're able to use your storytelling skills to help raise awareness or help give people a better understanding of situations/issues then that's really the key," she says.

Fans include the likes of the Green Party’s Marama Davidson, who says Qiane has built a movement that celebrates indigenous and young women as well as a strong formation of relationships and networks across those communities. Davidson points out how Qiane has a knack for reaching out to those that don’t have access to platforms and shining a light while creating a collective movement that "heralds women in a way traditional media would ignore".

Qiane’s work on Ihumātao, which won the NZ Geographic People’s Choice Award, stemmed from the idea of documenting the visual changes to Ihumātao, not necessarily the landscape, but the people. It had been part of a larger series taken over 12 years. She says she wanted to document who the people were and the kind of lifestyle they had because it's truly unique, a living breathing papakāinga.

In between Qiane's busy schedule and everything that she does, she also runs a separate project on the side called NUKU. NUKU works to shed a light and share the stories of 'kick-ass indigenous wahine', educating them, inspiring them and motivating them. By challenging them, they then take some of that kōrero and apply that to their own lives, changing their own behaviour and influencing their children which, like a domino effect, then affects their wider families and communities and their marae and iwi.

Qiane believes that things as simple as a good story can have a great impact and can potentially change the world. She says that for NUKU in particular, women are the drivers of change in society.

Qiane wants anything and everything that she does to challenge people’s thinking, disrupt systems, break the status quo, smash stereotypes and change the narratives out there that aren't inclusive of Māori or Pasifika people. She wants to be able to ensure that we are amplifying the voices of those that are the most marginalised, because that's how the narrative can change and create equity. She’s doing a pretty incredible job.

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