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A voice for Maori

Opportunity for joint decision-making and partnership.

Gisborne's representations review was dominated by debate over rural residents when it should had been about what was best for Māori.

That was the view of Te Kahui Patu Kaikiri anti-racism committee representative Tina Ngata when she presented her submissions to Gisborne District Council's extraordinary meeting last week.

Councillors decided by just seven votes to six that the model of a district-wide general ward with eight councillors and a district-wide Māori ward with five councillors go forward for adoption at the council meeting of November 4.

The public debate over the representations review has been dominated by rural residents arguing for strong and direct rural through the retention of stand-alone rural wards.

Ms Ngata, making her submission to councillors by Zoom, said what was in the best interests of Māori, rather than rural residents, was the key issue.

Equitable representation for Māori had to be prioritised to address shameful disparities and racism.

The time it had taken to establish Māori wards was an example of the failure of colonial governance.

Tairāwhiti today had the highest rate of deprivation and for failing Māori in health, education, income, housing and employment from racialised division, not urban versus rural division.

Māori must have a say in their destiny and “layered over that” is provision of tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty, independence).

Ms Ngata said Māori-mandated organisations should speak for themselves in order to overcome disparities.

She knew of no Māori group who wanted to be defined over urban and rural lines.

Such division would be unjust without a clear mandate from Māori within Tairāwhiti.

Tina Karaitiana, in her submission, said she supported general wards for both Maori and non-Maori.

Councillors represented the entire district, she said.

She understood Federated Farmers had good reason to relitigate the matter.

Mrs Karaitiana said there had been claims of racism and separatism regarding Māori wards, but she believed people were “sophisticated enough to realise that separate voting for Māori and non-Māori was not a new phenomena”.

Māori had, in the past, voted on different days, sometimes in different weeks, she said.

It seemed some thought only rural communities needed their own voice.

Councils, through the Treaty of Waitangi, had obligations with Māori concerning land and water, flora and fauna and other taonga.

Were they taking over this responsibility?

“I think not.”

Māori “whakapapa” to all areas, city and rural, she said.

‘A step in the right direction’

Moera Brown, representing Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust, offered congratulations to councillors for proposing Māori wards.

It was “a great step” despite some consternation in the community.

The iwi supported the concept of Māori wards as a representation of manawhenua (territorial rights).

Rongowhakaata had a significant role in history since the process of assimilation and the arrival of the Treaty partner.

Māori made up 53 percent of the population in the rohe and manawhenua was “part and parcel of who we are”.

This was an opportunity for joint decision-making and partnership with the council and for manawhenua to have a bigger say.

The eight general ward councillors and five Māori ward councillors was a step in the right direction, but not the preferred solution.

There was a minuscule chance of it happening but five Tainui could stand in the Māori ward.

Local Māori wanted local iwi and manawhenua, Ms Brown said. The Crown had confirmed Rongowhakaata held the authority to speak on behalf of hapu and whanau.

Pehimana Brown, representing Te Aitanga a Mahaki Trust, said a large part of the iwi's financial base came from fisheries quota. That had originally been controversial but “the world did not stop overnight”.

He compared that to the contemporary debate over Māori wards.

The trust supported a Māori ward and a general ward. It allowed groups of voting populations to “aggregate the concerns which are important to them”.

The groups would be able to garner as many votes as possible and not be “restricted to an artificial boundary”.

Owen Lloyd, representing Nga Ariki Kaipātahi Iwi o Mangatū, thanked the council for its work.

He asked how did the council propose to satisfy the Treaty's article 2 of tino rangatiratanga?

“Under the structure you are proposing, all those in favour say ‘yea' . . . there are eight who say ‘yea' and five say ‘no'. Sorry, you lose.”

Agnes Walker, submitting as an individual taxpayer and a Māori involved with incorporations, supported the council proposal.

The region was a small district in a time of huge changes, she said. There was a need to realise everyone wanted what was best for the district.

Collaboration between urban and rural residents was important.

Karen Pewhairangi said hapu needed consideration, representation and engagement with the council, as well as iwi.

She supported Maori wards.

Gisborne Herald file picture