There’s a Facebook page, iQ Talanoa. It’s closed. What is it about, we wondered? Sounds as if it could have something to do with adult and community education. Several attempts to find out failed, then we emailed Labour MP Anahila Kanongataá-Suisuiki, who had a Facebook entry that showed up in a search: It was about hosting a visit by iQ Talanoa to parliament. Anahila kindly passed the message onto Maureen Fepuleai. So we got in touch with Maureen and asked her, what is iQ Talanoa? This is what she told us:

“When I was about 40, I returned to the Manukau Institute of Technology as a mature student. I hadn’t done so well at school, so it was terrifying. I didn’t feel I could ask for help outside of the classroom, and also, I was so busy – a single mum of five, the eldest in a Samoan family, busy with church and community commitments, so I had other responsibilities, as well as having to work. But there were other mature students there, and we supported each other.

“I enrolled in a Certificate in Communication because I thought it was about social work. I completed this and moved onto the Diploma in Communication, but it wasn’t anything to do with Social Work, so I left and later returned to do a Certificate in Social Science. I loved this! I completed the certificate and promptly enrolled into the Diploma of Counselling (Children & Young People). After completing this the Applied Social Science (Counselling) arrived at M.I.T and I completed this as well, alongside many of the other mature students that I had started the certificate with.

“In my final year of the degree, a supervisor asked me why I was limiting myself to a career where it would only be 1-1 contact, where with my talents, she said I should aim for 1-many contacts. I left the supervision session thinking that my supervisor didn’t think I would make a good counsellor. Later, reflecting on her words, I realised what she was really saying and, in that moment, there came a huge shift in my thinking. I graduated and landed a job with the (then) Blind Foundation of New Zealand, in the Pacific Services Team.

“During my second year with the Blind Foundation, the opportunity to study for a Masters of Indigenous Knowledge with Te Wananga o Aotearoa came up. I was accepted, and for two years, travelled to Hamilton (from Auckland) every 9 weeks for 5-day noho wananga. The rest of the study time in those two years was longdistance. I was the only Samoan in my cohort and studying at TWoA was like nothing I had ever experienced before, or since. It was like studying with my family, in a safe and glorious space of alofa (love), fealofani (unity), fa’amalosi (empowerment) and blessed knowledge gifting and sharing.

“I graduated and sadly left this campus and my He Waka Hiringa family that had been my happy place for two years. The opportunity then presented itself for a PhD with the University of Waikato. This is where I am currently attempting to navigate the doctoral pathway with the Faculty of Māori & Indigenous Studies.

“Being here made me think about my own journey. Me? Doing a PhD? No way! I remembered being told years before, that I was stupid, I was ugly, I was useless, and that nothing I would do would ever amount to anything. And yet, here I was on a PhD journey.

“I was talking with my girls about it. I have always brought them up to be strong and courageous, and they said to me, Mum! Why don’t you start a group or something? You’ve been there! So I thought, why not? Church groups had already been asking to come and talk about careers, education and self-empowerment, so I looked around to see where we could meet. When the Manukau Public Library heard that it was about education, they said it was free. So I posted ads on Facebook and about 15 women turned up. It became a monthly meeting, a safe space where women told their stories. That was in 2018.

“Then one day, I was doing a presentation, and I wrote IQ, Intelligent Quotient, on the board. One woman was very angry. She said it was a western construct and brings our people down. I said, absolutely! Why don’t we take ownership of it, and give it a different name? So that’s when we came up with Indigenous Queens. It rolls off the tongue!

“One of our earliest story-sharers was MP Anahila Kanongataá-Suisuiki who generously gave us time out of her weekend to share her amazing story. She invited iQ Talanoa to visit her at the Beehive, and we jumped on this invitation and started fund-raising to get to Wellington and take her up on this fabulous offer. This trip to the Beehive was empowering. Anahila and Sandra treated us like iQueens! The messages we received from Anahila during our visit to the Beehive in November 2019 were: You have every right to be in the Beehive. The sky is the limit for our Pasifika Women.

“When Covid-19 hit Aotearoa New Zealand, the lockdowns put a stop to our regular iQ Talanoa monthly sessions. My daughters talked about video conferencing as a way to stay in touch with our iQueens, so I applied to the Manukau City Covid-19 community grant and they sent me the money to pay for a Zoom subscription and Zoom iQ Talanoa 2020 was initiated, yay! This expanded our iQueens attendance from Auckland to Wellington and Tauranga, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Tauranga!

“What I see emerging in iQ Talanoa, is that this safe space creates a bridge for each person upon which they can safely navigate their way to a learning pathway and that we will be with them on their journey. Some of our iQueens have started degree studies including Masters and PhDs.

“The other big issue is unresolved issues with family violence.”

“One of the things that got me through when I was experiencing family violence as a young mother was writing poems. I would stay awake all night to make sure that the children were safe as they slept. And I would write poetry, songs, and short stories. So I told our group, we are going to have a poetry writing night next Monday. A lot of them said, but I am not a poet! I said, you don’t have to be, the space is there. You can just click in and not say anything.

“That turned into a fascinating space. We found that we all have poems to share. So on Queen’s Birthday Weekend our Indigenous Queens ran a poetry share. Everybody wrote something.

“These poems – they have made me cry, they have made me mad, they have made me so excited! We decided that they had to be published.

“To access funding to help us with this, we had to be a registered entity. After a lot of headache causing paper-work etc, we are now a registered charitable trust. We were blessed with a grant from the Ministry for Women Aotearoa New Zealand to help us publish our collection of poems and to set up a space for us on Planet FM (still working on this part) so we can have another platform to share our stories, poems and educational journey.

“I am hoping the poetry book will be ready to sell for Christmas. It will provide ongoing funding for iQ Talanoa. It is an acknowledgement of these amazing, courageous women: Man! That’s my mum! That’s my daughter! I just want them celebrated in their communities. Indigenous Queens.”

Niava Pili-Tavita
Niava wrote from Melbourne:
iQ Talanoa has made me consider deeply what it really means to seek further education. There has been thought provoking conversations I hold dear to my heart. For example, the roadmap to being able to sit at the decision-making tables where you can be a good influence for your people and community.

It has been great to meet other iQueens from all walks of life and learn from them too. Here is a safe space where we can also share our thoughts and feelings. Here, I trust wholeheartedly the websites or services shared. I do forward them onwards to family and friends I know who might need them or can benefit from them. The most recent being the scholarship opportunities.

Maureen has been very inspirational, insightful and at the same time very strategic, steering iQ Talanoa to reach out, in ways that may be minute and insignificant but have influenced each one of us iQueens (I’m sure), leaving a lasting imprint, as we continue to navigate, to empower and uplift one another. I hope iQ Talanoa continues to grow to achieve its hopes and aspirations.