‘Put the bravado aside’ - challenge to government from Waitangi

Waitangi National Trust Chair Pita Tipene. File / Whakaata Māori

Leaders from every political party are planning the annual pilgrimage to mark our national day at Waitangi next year but the reception each party gets could vary wildly.

Asked by the Tova Podcast how he thinks the Prime Minister and government will be received at the annual commemorations, Waitangi National Trust Chair Pita Tipene said, “I don’t think it’s going to be good”.

“In the best of circumstances, our people get really worked up about how the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi has not been honoured. So I encourage the prime minister, and other political leaders to start having those talks now and put the bravado aside and talk in earnest.”

Labour’s Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson went further, “it’s gonna be a bloody shambles”.

The Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says his intention is to go to Waitangi but a decision is yet to be made and he wouldn’t be drawn on how he thinks he might be received.

“People may project onto us a whole range of things, and me personally, but the bottom line is my job is to model out what I want to see in this country, which is more unity,” said Luxon whose first week in parliament as prime minister has been dominated by protest and scraps over his government’s apparent assault on te reo Māori.

Waitangi is an opportunity for Māori in Te Tai Tokerau to raise issues directly with politicians, the majority of whom seldom visit Northland.

It has been host to a long legacy of protest and demonstration - a wet t-shirt was thrown at the Queen in 1990, a dildo thrown at National minister Steven Joyce in 2016, fish thrown in the path of Prime Minister John Key in 2014, mud thrown in the face of National leader Don Brash in 2004 and, every year, a peaceful hīkoi up to the Treaty grounds.

Tipene says there is an underlying vibe of frustration and anger felt by Māori in the north about the government’s approach to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and that it’s only going to get worse unless the government makes more of an effort.

“There’s far too much heat at the moment and it’s only going to rise unless people sit down and talk.”

He believes ACT Leader David Seymour in particular is pouring kerosene on that fire of division.

“I thought he was being really condescending and patronising - and then even cheeky - towards what people were trying to express on the streets,” referring to the nationwide protests encouraged by Te Pāti Māori.

“I think Te Pāti Māori is responding to what I call race baiting,” said Tipene, who would like to see a framework put in place where people can debate and discuss the Treaty, “And it won’t be done through what this coalition government, particularly David Seymour, is pushing.”

Seymour says he is planning to attend Waitangi commemorations and expects to be well received, “there’s always people who want to spread misinformation, who want to prejudge, but actually I think this government has a positive agenda for all New Zealanders including Māori”.

Seymour, NZ First Leader Winston Peters and Deputy Shane Jones are all affiliated with north island iwi, Ngāpuhi.

Jones says he and the caucus will also be attending Waitangi, “Absolutely yes, and I’m still having - much to my cost - a great party on the 4th,” in reference to the annual bash he puts on in the lead up to the day.

He has been critical this week of Te Pāti Māori, “It is preposterous that the Māori Party should think that they are the authentic voice for Māori New Zealanders. I remind everyone again that party got less than 3 percent of the vote and a lot of their party voters were not Maori, a lot of them were hippies.”

Tipene believes the review NZ First secured in the coalition to repeal or replace references to the Treaty in legislation will set back progress, “Well, the hard won gains over many years are going to be lost.”

“Underneath it all, Shane Jones is a very respected man up here in Tai Tokerau in terms of Māori language, Māori history, whakapapa etc,” says Tipene, but that it’s not just the Māori Party raising concerns about the impact this government could have on Māori, “We’re talking about all of the Māori people, we’re talking about swathes of Māori people who are really frustrated and angry.”

Jones was asked by Stuff how he thinks NZ First will be received at Waitangi alongside the prime minister and said, “I don’t want to catastrophize, people have already told me they’re hoha with the things that I’ve been saying but they know where I come from, my track record, as someone from Tai Tokerau, is beyond cavil and, in my view, beyond reproach.”

“There’s a lot of sting around at the moment but the things that people are fearful of, we haven’t done anything actually at the moment. Yeah, we’re going to clean out the Augean stables of Wellington but I think people are using too much hyperbole and exaggerating,” said Jones.

Tipene recommends the government not just make the usual hasty day trip to Waitangi - arriving the afternoon before, staying for the dawn service before boosting straight out of there - but instead take a leaf out of Jacinda Ardern’s book, who in 2018 spent five days in the north in the lead up to the main event.

“It would be a good sign for the government to show that they’re spending quality time on the ground, meeting people, understanding how people are feeling and working with people.”

“So while there’s a risk of things being really inflamed, I think we also have a great opportunity to bring people together and defuse what could be a very trying period of time,” said Tipene.