Council elections prime opportunity for Māori candidates

Northland local government leadership faces seismic leadership change with two of its mayors not seeking re-election this year.

Far North Mayor John Carter and Whāngārei Mayor Sheryl Mai will both step away from their respective roles, and Te Aupōuri chief executive Mariameno Kapa-Kingi sees it as an opportunity for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes.

“We should take it with both hands, and make it work for us.”

Kapa-Kingi, who campaigned for the Te Tai Tokerau seat for Te Pāti Māori in 2020 says the region has capable Māori already in the chambers of power who could become great candidates, including Far North District councillor Moko Tepania.

“We have some young Māori in our councils and they are making a noise. They are pushing back, they are part of the design and they are objecting to the old white way.”

“He [Tepania] is a classic example of what we call whanaungatanga, and what Pākehā call succession development. He and others who aren’t necessarily in council but in and around our tribal groupings and leader lines.

Breakthrough coming

“You’ll see them in our iwi and our hapū and our marae and they’re active and unapologetic and are wired. They’re Māori wired, but they can see and appreciate enough of how the Pākehā side of things works and functions, and they can manage it.”

She believes those voices are really going to break through into the next five years beginning with this year's local government elections, and the 2023 general election.

“I can see it in a range of different in a range of hui I am in. Māori and Pākehā hui. You can hear the resounding Māori voice, like ka nui tēnā, enough is enough!”

A major discussion point leading into this year's elections is the three-waters reforms proposed by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta in an effort to address water issues across the country by creating four publically owned regional entities to manage drinking water, stormwater and wastewater.

Far Northj and Whāngārei District Councils have both voiced opposition to the reforms. Kapa-Kingi says change is needed and is welcoming the proposals.

“What we have come to learn is the train has left the station. Let’s just take it by the horns and turn it into something that works for us.

Based on whakaaro

“I think take the bloody water off them, thank you very much. It’s like yeah, we own the water and I’m happy to have that discussion.

“Systemically if this reform set provides the opportunity to take it, own it and operate it be prepared to succeed and fail forward, then my oath hand it back. Koutou ko ngā councils, cry at your behest. Cry somewhere else.”

Kapa-Kingi says she will be backing Māori candidates who put their hats in the ring for the councils in Te Tai Tokerau as much as possible. She adds there an increased mood among Māori for change in the north, but says non-Māori do not need to be afraid of more Māori seeking positions of influence.

“We’re not horrible people. We’re good and kind people. We said yes back in 1835, and again in 1840 so we’re still inclined to say yes to anyone who decides to live here. But the rules of engagement must be fundamentally based on our whakaaro and aspirations and our future.”

Additional reporting by James Perry.