National | David Seymour

Seymour seeks Waititi apology over karaka berries joke

ACT Party leader David Seymour. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Act Party leader David Seymour is demanding an apology from Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi after he joked about spiking Seymour's drink with poisonous berries.

Waititi made the comments at Te Pāti Māori's conference held in Rotorua, where he joked about using karaka berries to poison Seymour.

He told the audience about a karaka seedpod necklace he was wearing, saying the poisonous seeds were still in it.

"These are karaka berries and they've still got the poison in them. So next time I go into Parliament this is what I'm going to do. When David Seymour's not looking, I'm going to go like this into his water." He tapped a seed pod over an imaginary glass. "There you are, re-indigenise yourself with some native seeds."

Apology wanted

The manner of delivery was comedic and everybody laughed, including his fellow co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer sitting next to him.

However, Seymour, who was in Rotorua for a national Act campaign last week, said he didn't believe Watiti's comments were a joke.

Seymour told the Rotorua Daily Post Waititi giving an apology would be the right thing to do.

"Well first of all you've gotta put it into context. Last week the president of Te Pāti Māori said that Act was the white settler party and should leave New Zealand.

"That is extremely dangerous rhetoric.

"For them to apologise and say they don't support the rhetoric of people being excluded from our society based on race would be the most acceptable thing to do.

Poisonous joke

"I don't think it's funny to joke about poisoning people."

Seymour acknowledged his whakapapa to Ngāpuhi after his uncle did some research into their genealogy during the 1980s.

"My ancestors are British and also Māori from Ngāti Rehia in the Far North," Seymour said.

"I do identify with my Māori side and you've gotta think carefully about where you've come from because it informs where you're going.

"I've got multiple interests in New Zealand's history."

The karaka is traditionally highly revered by Māori as it is an important resource, or mahinga kai (food gathering place). When told this, Seymour responded: "Well, I think the point is, he's saying that I want to poison you."

'Fight fire with fire'

The karaka was known as one of the most important wild staples traditionally eaten by Māori. The outer fleshy pulp of karaka fruit was eaten as was the kernel, despite its toxic qualities in its raw form. The treated kernels are nutritionally dense akin to oatmeal, making it a highly valued source of food.

The Post asked both Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere and Waititi for comment.

Tamihere previously said he had nothing to say about Waititi's joke "because that was definitely in the Kiwi vernacular of taking the mickey".

He did not regret the white settler comment, saying it was made in the context of Seymour's opposition to the Māori Health Authority.

"I do regret having to say that, but I don't regret it in the context of the conversation he is fronting. You have to fight fire with fire sometimes," Tamihere said.

Public Interest Journalism