Far North Council's new lineup welcomed at Treaty Grounds Pōwhiri

New Far North mayor Moko Tepania with Te Kura o Te Kao students at the council pōwhiri. Photo: LDR/ Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

By Susan Botting, Local Democracy Reporter

Hope came to life at Waitangi yesterday as 500 people gathered to pōwhiri New Zealand's first mayor to have also stood for a Māori ward, and his Far North District Council.

A who's who of Northland Māoridom gathered to welcome Far North District Council (FNDC) Mayor Moko Tepania, Deputy Mayor Kelly Stratford and fellow elected representatives to their new three-year term in a formal welcome at Waitangi Wednesday.

Tepania is one of six newly elected Māori mayors across New Zealand's 78 councils, and the only successful mayoral candidate to have also stood in a Māori electoral area - FNDC's new Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori Ward.

"I am totally overwhelmed. I only found out on Friday at 10pm I was mayor and here we are today," Tepania said at the end of the pōwhiri.

FNDC's new council team - also including Ann Court, Felicity Foy, Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, Babe Kapa, Penetaui Kleskovic, Mate Radich, Tāmati Rākena and John Vujcich - sat on the ātea (front verandah) of Waitangi Treaty grounds marae wharenui for the pōwhiri. Councillor Steve McNally was absent as he was attending an unveiling.

FNDC's new council includes (from left) Cr Babe Kapa, Cr Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, deputy mayor Kelly Stratford, mayor Moko Tepania, Cr Tāmati Rākena and Cr Penetaui Kleskovic. Photo: LDR/ Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

Crowds filled with kuia, kaumātua, babies, and students who got up as early as 5am to attend the pōwhiri, from as far north as Te Kura o Te Kao near Cape Reinga, were among those present - universally celebrating the huge moment in history represented by having a Far North Māori Mayor and Māori ward councillors.

Iwi from across the Far North were represented, pledging their support for the newly elected councillors in a council that is now predominantly Māori.

The pōwhiri was conducted almost fully in te reo, being translated into English by a live translation service via a Kaitāia Māori language specialist present at the event, and sent electronically on request to councillors and media via a small personal receiving box and earphone.

Kuia (from left) Mereama Schreurs, Alice Hirini, Wini Williams, Joyce Baker and Patu Sigley on the wharenui atea (front verandah). Photo: LDR/ Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

Whaingaroa kaikōrero (speaker) Raniera Kaeo was one of several speakers who acknowledged the day as history in the making.

"The writing is on the wall Taitokerau. The North is here. Today is history," Kaeo said.

He said those present had come to witness and be part of history.

Ngāpuhi leader Beaumyn Wihongi said the newly elected council was the future.

"We must follow the sun, look into the horizon to a new dawn," Wihongi told those present.

"Tomorrow is your day."

Emotion, colour and highly skilled waiata, haka and oratory marked the pōwhiri, as local government history unfolded on the grounds of Waitangi Marae.

Tepania was bestowed the description of kahika, the tall and strong native kahikatea tree. His Deputy Mayor, Kelly Stratford, was similarly bestowed the description of kowhai.

The council's introduction of its first Māori ward was acknowledged by those present, those against it asked to take note of the overwhelming support it had brought to the council, as clearly evidenced at Waitangi.

Ngāti Hine leader Waihoroi Shortland said the introduction of a Māori ward had been positive.

Shortland said elected representatives were there for all people Māori and Pākehā and it was time to move on from those who made racist comments about Māori wards.

"Show them the way of working as one," he said.

Shortland said Tepania had long been a leader. He was fulfilling the wishes of his forebears in his new leadership role.

Tepania's ability to connect with people in all walks of life came alive as he spoke briefly towards the end of the pōwhiri and those present erupted into delighted cheers and clapping at times as he spoke.

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe Year 13 student Koby Kelleher said Tepania had been an inspiration as a teacher at his school.

"It shows us what might be possible," Kelleher (17) said.

Te Aupouri kaikōrero (speaker) Eru Kapa-Kingi said the pearl of the light beam was now shining the way out of the darkness to a new horizon.

Te Rarawa chair Haami Piripi said the new council showed the importance of voting.

The FNDC pōwhiri was held in an auspicious place, Piripi said - He Whakaputanga - the Declaration of Independence had been signed on the same site.

Piripi acknowledged the more than 100 kura students from at least half a dozen kura across the Far North who were part of the pōwhiri.

"In the words of Whina Cooper, let our children hear, see and listen to what is in front of them," Piripi said.

"It is a new day. We must be one - iwi, whanau, hapu," he said. "In the old days it was like when the fog has settled upon us, but now we can see the fog lifting. We must uplift our councillors.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting