Respected Ngāi Tahu kuia and former Human Rights Commissioner, the late Dr Erihapeti Rehu-Murchie now has her own entry in the Dictionary of NZ Biography. Erihapeti is one of 25 influential wāhine added to the collection to celebrate 125 years since women won the vote in New Zealand.
As well as her many contributions to health, education, the arts and the public sector, Erihapeti served as a part-time Human Rights Commissioner from 1988-1995.
In this role, she made a significant impact on human rights, both within New Zealand and internationally. Along with other Māori human rights advocates, Erihapeti travelled to the United Nations in Geneva numerous times, where she was part of the United Nations Working Group that drafted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). The Declaration, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, is the most comprehensive human rights instrument concerning indigenous peoples. Erihapeti herself described the Declaration’s significance as follows:
“As Ngāi Tahu and as a Māori I see the Declaration as an international expression of the rights we have through whakapapa and the Treaty. As an indigenous woman I see it as the first ever international statement about the minimum human rights standards that apply to Indigenous Peoples, including indigenous women and children.”
During her time as a Commissioner, Erihapeti also led the establishment of a bi-cultural governance model for the Commission. Although she retired from the Commission in 1995, she continued to provide support and guidance as its kaumātua until her death.
Erihapeti posthumously received New Zealand’s highest honour, the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for her work promoting Māori health and human rights issues.
Her inclusion in the Dictionary of NZ Biography provides an opportunity for a new generation of New Zealanders to learn about a woman of incredible mana and her role in our national and human rights history.