This week in New Zealand, politician Nanaia Mahuta made history when she became the first indigenous female foreign minister in the country's history. This alone is an impressive achievement but Inked doesn't often end up covering global politics, that is, unless there is an angle related to tattoos. Mahuta has the traditional Māori Tā moko (tattoos) on her chin and lips, making her the first foreign minister to follow the tradition.
Mahuta had previously become the first Member of Parliament with Tā moko when she received the facial markings in 2016. Each individual's design tells the story of their ancestors, connecting them to those who came before them. With this in mind at the time she went through the ceremony, Mahuta never fully considered the groundbreaking act she made by getting the tattoo.
"You know what, to be able to do this, I haven't really thought about that," Mahuta told Radio New Zealand in 2016. "I've just thought about more a longer projection of my walk in life and kind of the way I want to go forward and make a contribution. That's the main thing for me."
Part of what makes her new role so notable is that as a foreign minister, Mahuta will be representing the entire nation of New Zealand to the world. Just a decade or two ago it would have been completely unthinkable for an indigenous woman with traditional tattoos to be in such a role. It shows how far the country has come from its history of colonization and brutal repression of the Māori people.
Tā moko began to disappear among Māori men during the 1860s, but it continued among women until the early 20th century and the adoption of the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907. In the 1990s, a resurgence of the practice began as Māori people were looking to connect to their culture and it has expanded from there.
Rukuwai Tipene-Allen, a political journalist who also has a traditional moko upon her face, explained to CNN why Mahuta's appointment was so meaningful.
"The first face that people see at an international level is someone who speaks, looks and sounds like a Māori," Tipene-Allen told CNN. "Wearing the markings of her ancestors shows people that there are no boundaries to Māori and where they can go."