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From tribal politics to the world stage: New Zealand’s pioneering foreign minister

Nanaia Mahuta grew up surrounded by family fighting for Māori rights and has promised to bring her indigenous perspective to foreign affairs

Nanaia Mahuta is sitting in her office, on the upper floors of New Zealand’s parliament. It’s a squally autumn day, but the sun is bright outside the window. The bookshelf behind her is filled with artefacts and mementoes, many of them gifts from around New Zealand and the Pacific. “Ask about any of them,” she says. “There’s a story behind each.”

On the lower shelf rests the carved walking stick that belonged to her late father, Sir Robert Mahuta. It was from him, and her mother, that Mahuta first learned the practice of politics. She says her earliest political memories are of her father battling the construction of the monolithic Huntly power station, when she was around eight years old. “I was grown and nurtured in an environment where tribal politics, and tribal aspirations, tribal development and opportunity through economic development was very much the norm,” Mahuta says. “[It was] the discourse that we had within our household,” she smiles, “and around the dinner table.”

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