Regional | Nanaia Mahuta

U.S. politician tears up at Beehive pōwhiri

Deb Haaland, U.S. secretary of the interior and foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta hongi during a Beehive Pōwhiri yesterday. Photo / Supplied

Visiting U.S. secretary of the interior Deb Haaland has spoken of the resilience and importance of indigenous communities, and pledged her government’s support to the Cyclone Gabrielle clean-up, during a Pōwhiri in Wellington.

Haaland is in the capital to discuss how Aotearoa and the United States might work together on shared challenges like the mitigation of climate change, and the advancement of indigenous communities, she will attend Te Matatini later this week.

"It's always overwhelming to me that ancient cultures have survived through so many eras of colonisation, of government — in our country, the worst possible assimilation policies that anyone could imagine.” Haaland told attendees including foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta and Māori development minister Willie Jackson.

"When I think about the people of my grandparents' era, when assimilation policies were particularly overwhelming for a lot of native communities, my grandparents worked incredibly hard to preserve our culture for me.”

"I don't speak my language because my mother was beaten in school whenever she spoke her language. So some of those things we haven't been able to remedy all the way."

Haaland teared up during what she reflected as a ‘very powerful’ Pōwhiri.

"Even though I didn't understand the words, you get a feeling about what that means to the people who are singing.”

Haaland, a Native American of the Laguna Pueblo tribe said she was grateful to have finally met Minister Mahuta in person, saying mātauranga and Native American knowledge could be pivotal in tackling climate change, and issues facing the two countries more broadly.

"As communities here in Aotearoa New Zealand and back home in the US continue to face the worst impacts of climate change, our shared partnerships and international collaboration will prove invaluable to help us prepare for the next five, 10 and even 50 years of climate resilience."

Haaland said she was also "particularly eager to learn more about New Zealand's ongoing work to strengthen indigenous communities".

Alongside US ambassador Thomas Udall, Haaland reiterated America’s commitment to support Aotearoa in the recovery from Gabrielle ‘the United States stands with you’, she said.

High-resolution satellite imagery of the disaster zone was amongst the support offered so far.

"It's very important that we hear from the Government and hear what they need. We wait to hear from the Government of New Zealand." Udall said.

"It's a very very heart-searing kind of experience to see what's happening."

Haaland will attend Te Matatini on Wednesday as part of the final leg of her tour of Aotearoa.

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