Photo: File / NZ Herald
By Tamara Poi-Ngawhika, NZME
A Māori academic says the chorus of indigenous voices asking for an apology from King Charles before his coronation is living in a “pipe dream”.
On Friday morning, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi joined an online Zoom meeting of indigenous leaders from several Commonwealth nations asking King Charles for unspecified monetary reparations, the return of all indigenous artefacts held in Britain and a public apology for the atrocities of colonisation.
When Waititi addressed the group, he said the crown brought war upon every continent in the world and inherited power based on stolen wealth.
“The indigenous have been collateral damage to the British royal family’s insatiable appetite for superiority."
However, Dr Paerau Warbrick (Mataatua, Te Arawa), a senior lecturer at Otago University, said technically iwi across the country who had settled their treaty claims had already received an apology from the crown.
Warbrick said the call was a "pipe dream" in any case because King Charles had no real power.
“They should be directing their comments to the British prime minister. The reality of it is King Charles is just the prop. He's just a puppet," Warbrick said.
Labour's bad week
The petition from Commonwealth indigenous leaders comes at the end of a week that has put the spotlight on relations between Labour, the Labour party's Māori caucus, Te Pāti Māori and the government's achievements on Māori issues.
Former government minister Meka Whaitiri left the Labour party and managed to retain her seat in parliament thanks to a parliamentary manoeuvre that blindsided both prime minister Chris Hipkins and other members of the Māori caucus like Willie Jackson.
On Friday, New Zealand's recently appointed high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Phil Goff, held a coronation event for the NZ delegation at NZ's embassy, NZ House, but forgot to open the welcome with a karakia and later made a remark that no one in the room had witnessed a coronation before.
One of the guests in the room was Kīngi Tūheitia who had his coronation in 2006 when Goff was a senior member of the opposition Labour party.
Goff's remarks prompted a spiky rebuke from Ngira Simmonds, Tūheitia's chief of staff.
"We honour these prestigious and honourable offices of our nation time and time again but our government does not return that favour to us," Simmonds said.
The events of the day prompted yet another wave of responses from PM Hipkins.
On the Kīngi Tūheitia snub, Hipkins expressed regret at the incident in an interview with RNZ's Morning Report.
"It was a mistake. I think it is important, you know, in these sorts of events that we do acknowledge the crown-Māori relationship, and Kīngi Tūheitia clearly has a relationship with the crown over here – we should acknowledge that.
On the call for an apology, reparations and a return of taonga Hipkins told RNZ the country already had a process for issuing apologies for specific wrongs.
"We've still got a way to go, but I think we've made progress on that, so that, that's New Zealand's process."
Paerau acknowledged the cluster of embarrassing events this week but said much of what happened in London was to be expected.
"Well, it's definitely been a challenge for Labour with Meka Whaitiri. But with the King incident in London, well what do Māori expect nē rā? You're in the heart of British colonialism. Māori have never been treated right in London, and by the government, so why is this such a big surprise?
"Under tikanga Māori, if it's that much of an issue just come home.
"The crown are always snakes, so you've always got to expect the worst."
'We, the indigenous, are rising'
On the Zoom call with indigenous leaders, Waititi called the British crown "thieves", "murderers" and "cowards".
“To expect those climbing out from beneath generations of colonial violence and oppression to celebrate the British crown's latest succession, you cannot ask us to be complicit in the ongoing rape of our own nations.”
Waititi said the inter-generational harm is irreparable as indigenous blood stains the throne where the king sits.
“We do not consent; we do not surrender. We do not cede, we do not. We, the indigenous, are rising.”
Warbrick said it was a political play to keep Te Pāti Māori in the media because everyone's fighting for attention, and so this is designed to try and capture the media before the big day.
He could understand the facade in regard to symbolism as many indigenous groups around the globe were subjected to the shocking rule of the British Empire.
“Here's this particular king who is the symbol with his whakapapa (genealogy) that goes back to his ancestors, who were the head of that particular empire, so I can understand they want an apology.”
The Zoom call included attendees from Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Belize and Jamaica.
Australian independent senator Lidia Thorpe was among those attending and said the British crown had "deliberately engineered" the displacement of Australia's first peoples.
“We remain the sickest people in our country. We remain the poorest people in our country. We remain the most incarcerated people in our country. We are more likely to die from suicide. We have no treaty lands, and our cries are often overlooked and ignored," Thorpe said.
'It just won't happen'
Warbrick said Māori had petitioned the British crown many times and had come away very disappointed.
“Ngāpuhi and Tainui sent delegations to Queen Victoria in the 1880s and to petition Queen Victoria to fix all the issues in New Zealand as well as to honour the treaty.
“Ratana did the same in 1926. He wasn't allowed to even have an audience with King George, the Fifth – the late Queen's grandfather. He visited on the year she was born.”
He said reparations and an apology just would not happen unless the British PM ordered it.
Warbrick instead advised indigenous groups to have ongoing conversations with those who have benefited over the years holding these assets, like the British Museum and wealthy landowners.
“It’s far better to keep that process going constantly, to demand the British Museum return all the artifacts.”
Warbrick felt uneasy about the government settlement payouts as the cash given was taxpayers’ money.
“That money that the crown is giving over includes Māori taxpayers’ money."
He said the wealthy families that benefited from land accumulation within these nations needed to be held to account, too.
“They've got the land and they've got cash and have been able to build resources. And they still do because wealth accumulates wealth.”
He said it is an “absolutely uncomfortable” conversation to hear but was needed if real change were to happen.
John Tamihere, Te Pāti Māori president, said it was a constitutional conversation.
"Te Pāti Māori is political and will participate in developing our own constitutional framework where our sovereignty is defined by us, not someone sitting in London."
He said, when Māori petitioned the crown, that was the only game in town.
"We now have the UK aligned to Europe," Tamihere said. "Now, how relevant is a King in Europe to Aotearoa in the Pacific / Asia."