Demands not to touch Te Tiriti o Waitangi are increasingly becoming the central messages Māori are sending to the Government, with leaders at Rātana adding to growing opposition to the proposed Treaty Principles Bill within te ao Māori.
The Government’s alleged “meddling” with the Treaty – through the bill which proposed to redefine the Treaty’s principles – would not be accepted “without a fight” according to Kīngitanga spokesman Rahui Papa, while others who spoke during the annual celebrations at Rātana Pa claiming the Government was the enemy and a three-headed taniwha.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon tried to assure Rātana and other Māori leaders he had no plans to “amend or revise the Treaty” but refrained from ruling out National supporting Act’s bill into legislation, repeating how he had made no commitment to do so.
The bill was a central concern at the national hui convened by the Māori King on Saturday – attended by more than 10,000 people – and looks to be a main topic of contention at Waitangi in less than two weeks’ time.
New Zealand First’s Shane Jones, who may have become the first politician to be booed at Rātana, set the stage for this while also warning those wanting to enter the debate.
“Come to Waitangi but please, please do not think that the volume of language denouncing either me or my leader [Winston Peters] is going to cause Matua Shane Jones to shut up.”
Hundreds gathered in Rātana near Whanganui today for the political part of the annual celebrations used to honour the Rātana Church movement’s founder Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana.
It was Luxon’s first in-person, public event facing concerns from Māori about the coalition Government’s proposed policies, including the scrapping of the Māori Health Authority, limiting te reo Māori use in the public service and reducing the Treaty’s influence in legislation.
Just days after thousands mobilised at the home of the Kīngitanga movement in response to those policies, Luxon spoke on the atea at Rātana of his desire to improve life for Māori by enabling “equal opportunity” for all New Zealanders without “handouts”.
Key themes included Luxon’s priority to improve school attendance levels and localising public services, empowering local iwi providers.
Reaction to his speech was tepid in contrast to the reception Jones and NZ First leader Winston Peters received as they were both jeered at by some in the audience as they argued they had a mandate for their policies through the election result.
Luxon told journalists afterwards he welcomed the engagement, saying he “really enjoyed it” and believed he was continuing to “deepen my relationships with Māori leaders up and down the country”.
Depsite being labelled the enemy and a three-headed taniwha in some of today’s kōrero, Luxon said he trusted the messages he was receiving from leaders behind closed doors.
“I have a number of conversations about a broader set of issues that actually I found very stimulating and actually gave us a good basis for continuing to work together to find ways forward to make the country forward.”
He was repeatedly asked to clarify whether National would support Act’s Treaty Principles Bill past select committee. Luxon maintained he couldn’t “be any clearer” in stating National had no “intention or commitment” to support it beyond that.
Act leader David Seymour did not join his coalition partners at Rātana today, a fact some Māori leaders criticised.
Seymour told the Herald last week he saw Rātana as a church event and considered Waitangi to be the official start of the political year.
Luxon said he had not asked Seymour to attend Rātana, saying it was his decision.
The bill was referenced by several speakers who sat alongside Rātana leadership today.
Papa, speaking on behalf of Kīngi Tūheitia who was in attendance, was diplomatic in his kōrero and drew laughs when he suggested Māori would be quite happy to provide clarity if the Government was “confused” about the Treaty.
His tone sharpened while referencing attempts to rewrite the Treaty – a clear reference to Seymour’s bill.
“We will not sit idly by and let that happen without a fight.”
He said Māori didn’t care about changing road signs or names of Government agencies, but were instead more concerned with matters of self-determination.
Rātana’s Kameka Manuel doubted Luxon’s claims of creating better outcomes for Māori when the Government’s agenda had largely involved removing and reducing things.
“It is honest to say we are finding it very hard to see that at this time,” he said.
”What we do see is the first part of the word ‘outcomes’ – or like ‘Māori out’ – and we’re left with the last part: ‘how come’.”
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi believed Luxon’s kōrero was compromised by earlier speeches from Peters and Jones.
“It was very hard to hear a message when New Zealand First infiltrated the pōwhiri for the Government with their rhetoric.”
Waititi acknowledged Luxon’s speech was largely focused on positivity and vision, but Waititi felt it lacked clarity about what the relationship between Māori and the Government would look like and was concerned more with telling Māori what would happen rather than genuine engagement.
Labour leader Chris Hipkins agreed with the description of the Government as the enemy while also challenging Luxon to be clearer on the coalition’s agenda.
“Christopher Luxon needs to take responsibility for what his government is saying,” Hipkins said.
“Fear of the unknown, uncertainty around the future of Crown-Māori relationships always bubbles around. The goal is to not play to that, but to fix divisiveness.”
Hipkins’ speech included an admission that Labour, which had historic ties to Rātana, “didn’t get everything right” ahead of last year’s election in how it failed to take non-Māori with it on Māori issues like co-governance.
He pledged to “redouble” efforts to do so while in Opposition.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.