National | Hīkoi

Mayor backs down in face of hikoi protesting Māori wards delay in Manawatū

A hīkoi to Manawatū District Council headquarters by Te Kōtui Reo happened earlier today, in response to the council voting against the establishment of a Māori ward until 2023 last week, with Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer joining in support.

The hīkoi follows a hui between marae, hapū and iwi representatives in Feilding on Sunday night to discuss the decision. As a result, the group decided to relinquish its full cultural support for the Manawatū District Council until further notice and hold a march.

“Manawatū District councillors have shamefully voted to uphold Pākehā dominance and undermine Māori rights to representation on local government. Once again we have a Pākehā majority deciding that they know what is best for Māori,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“We have heard all the excuses in the book: fears of backlash, fears it would lead to more discrimination.

'Political cowardice'

"One councillor even claimed to support Māori wards but decided the community wasn’t ready for it. That is political cowardice of the highest degree. Our communities have been ready for 180 years."

She says it is a leap backwards and an insult to everyone who has stood up against racism and fought hard for Māori wards.

"It goes totally against the trajectory of what we are seeing elsewhere in the country. It has been truly sad to listen to the pain and indignity suffered as a result of this council’s lack of courage,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“Whānau turned up to the chambers full of hope and left in tears. Now we have returned full of resolve. I am proud to be standing among such staunch and vibrant leaders who are committed to uplifting Māori voices and improving our socio-economic circumstances.

"We are calling on the Manawatū District Council to reconsider its decision and stand on the right side of history,” she said.

Council responds

Meanwhile, Mayor Helen Worboys and deputy mayor Michael Ford have responded saying they are prepared to bring forward the date for the decision on the establishment of the Maori ward to 2022, before the next election and that they will both vote in favour.

In a statement, Worboy said, "We assure you that your voice is being heard and that your coming together today is an expression of the generational pain and loss that iwi have endured over the many years. But today is also about hope and I see hope in your voice.

"As your mayor and deputy mayor, we have publicly given our commitment to ensure iwi a Māori ward seat.

"The council and I are humbled about today, being the beginning of a new opportunity for us to build bridges to advance the interests of both our iwi and our community together."