Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, of Te Rarawa, was born in the Hokianga district. Her husband, Hamiora Mangakāhia of Hauraki, was elected Premier of the Māori Kotahitanga parliament in 1892.
At a meeting of the parliament in Hawke’s Bay in 1893, Meri Te Tai presented a motion requesting that women participate in the selection of members. She later addressed the parliament on her motion – the first woman known to have done so.
During her speech she urged that women should not only be allowed to vote, but also to sit in the Māori parliament as members. Many Māori women owned land in their own right and were entitled to have their say in decisions affecting them. The matter lapsed, but Meri Te Tai remained involved in Māori politics and welfare, and probably took part in the women’s committees of the Kotahitanga (Māori unity) movement, forerunners of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. Meri Te Tai died of influenza in 1920, aged 52.
Adapted by Jamie Mackay from the DNZB biography by Angela Ballara