Regional | Kaipara

Iwi ‘flabbergasted’ Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson claimed they were consulted about te reo exclusion

The mayor has pushed back saying his commitment is to represent his community equally.

Māori leaders say they were never properly consulted over Kaipara Mayor Craig Jepson’s directive to remove te reo Māori from council documents and the decision is the latest to smack of separatism.

But the mayor has pushed back, saying his commitment is to represent his community equally.

Last week, Jepson confirmed he had instructed an English-only version of the Kaipara District Council’s Annual Plan be created, after which a bilingual copy would be crafted using AI to translate words into te reo Māori.

His motivation was to create an easier-to-read document for residents and that more te reo would be available in the bilingual version than if there were one document.

When questioned by the Advocate over the controversial decision, Jepson said it had not lacked respect as he and council chief executive Jason Marris had consulted representatives of Te Roroa iwi and Ngāti Whātua hapū Te Uri o Hau.

Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust chairman Reno Skipper said he had a “fairly casual conversation” with Jepson over the phone in which he spoke against separate documents from a hapū perspective.

Te Roroa general manager Snow Tane was “flabbergasted” a chat on the sideline of a children’s rugby game was considered consultation.

“That’s not the way we consult,” he said.

Marris told the Advocate, after Jepson’s initial comment, the conversations regarding the directive were informal.

At last week’s Kaipara District Council meeting, Jepson told councillors the feedback from his consultations with iwi was that “if we are going to do it, then we’re going to do it properly”.

But Tane said his board’s response was that they supported one document with both English and te reo Māori present.

Same with Te Uri o Hau, Skipper said. The Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngaringaomatariki principal put on his teacher’s hat to explain why.

“If you go on to the Māori dictionary, you look at the word ‘Māori’, but what it says is normal, usual, natural, common, ordinary. So for us in terms of having it in the one document, it makes the language a normal part of our everyday language.”

Skipper said separating te reo stopped it from becoming a “common language” for all New Zealanders.

Tane had asked for written context for the mayor’s reasoning so he could present it to his board and elected members could then respond formally.

“Te Roroa supports the one document that has the official languages of New Zealand in there, and to remove one of those languages is indicative of where the council has been since the election of local bodies.”

Tane said from his perspective, the strategy from the majority of Kaipara District Council’s elected members has been focused on “removing or reducing Māori participation relationship or partnership” in Kaipara.

“Unfortunately, they have shown a lack of acknowledgement even to the New Zealand founding document, Te Tiriti [o Waitangi].”

This claim is denied by Jepson, who said the council is aware of its obligations under the Local Government Act 2002 to meet requirements intended to facilitate participation by Māori in local authority decision-making processes.

“However, the council is also conscious of the fact that there are other provisions in the act that require it to act in a ‘democratically accountable manner’ and ‘have regard to the views of all of its communities’.”

Skipper said he felt as though Māori were being put at arm’s length and their voice being lessened.

He noted the council’s karakia ban, the dismantling of the co-governance arrangement for the Dargaville landmark Pou Tu o Te Rangi Harding Park, and then the annual plan.

“I think this just really feels like a bit of separatism, rather than coming together.”

But Jepson said the council had to be careful that in giving preferential treatment, it did not breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act.

He said the issue of the karakia was “simply a matter of compliance with standing orders” mandated by the Local Government Act. He decided splitting the committees at Pou Tu o Te Rangi Harding Park best served both parties and involved community consultation.

And the decision to create separate annual plans should be viewed favourably.

“The intention to provide increased inclusion of te reo Māori in a dedicated document should be celebrated,” Jepson said.

However, Tane shared Skipper’s sentiments.

“The mayor did say he wasn’t trying to shove it up to Māori and that, but I see that with the amount of things that are happening [regarding] the removal or reducing of things Māori, this council is on a mission.”

But Jepson said he is just fulfilling his duty as Kaipara’s leader.

“My commitment is to represent all my community equally.”