More training wanted on how to use karakia, Malcolm says

A councillor at the centre of a row over karakia wants more training on how they should be used, saying everyone is at different stages of their te reo journey.

Otago regional councillor Kevin Malcolm came under fire earlier this month when he walked out of a meeting to protest an opening karakia.

At the time he told the Otago Daily Times "I’ve had enough of being told what I have to believe in".

He said karakia as openings had not been the norm at the council, and had been "imposed upon us by the chair".

His comments drew criticism from several councillors.

About half a dozen people gathered outside the regional council building in central Dunedin ahead of a council meeting yesterday to show their support for mana whenua and the use of karakia.

A group of protesters show their support for mana whenua at an Otago Regional Council meeting...
A group of protesters show their support for mana whenua at an Otago Regional Council meeting yesterday. PHOTOS: LINDA ROBERTSON
Councillors were asked to note a report allowing discussion on the opening and closing of council and committee meetings.

Cr Malcolm said he had not left the previous meeting during the karakia but after, and had not disrespected it.

"We need to respect that there are people on so many different parts of the journey," he said.

There needed to be a way to bring people together on that te reo journey rather than forcing them, he said.

He said his issue was with the change to the meeting process not being discussed with councillors beforehand, and he felt councillors needed more information and training about the use of karakia.

"I have no issue with a karakia.

"This issue I have is when and where we should use it.

"If I sit up there as a chair, the first thing people will say if I do not start with a karakia, will be labelling me."

Most councillors said they were happy with the current standing orders, which allowed meeting chairs to open or close with karakia if they wanted to.

Cr Alan Somerville was "delighted" karakia had been introduced to meetings as it was important to acknowledge mana whenua, while Cr Alexa Forbes added that using karakia declared openly that meetings were a safe space for Māori to come and engage.

However, Cr Michael Laws took issue with having karakia "imposed" on councillors, and suggested those who objected for personal reasons should be allowed to leave meetings when karakia were said.

He said karakia were about religion and the supernatural, and he was opposed to that having a place at a regional council meeting.

The use of karakia in that setting was "the worst kind of tokenism".

A point of order was raised by Cr Bryan Scott saying that karakia was not being imposed, but that standing orders enabled meeting chairs to use them if they wished.

Otago regional councillor Kevin Malcolm responds to Alex Gorrie’s submission to the regional...
Otago regional councillor Kevin Malcolm responds to Alex Gorrie’s submission to the regional council.
Cr Laws responded "I’m sorry that you don’t understand the English language, Bryan", and said karakia were being imposed on councillors at the will of the individual meeting chairs.

At the beginning of the meeting chairwoman Gretchen Robertson opened by introducing herself with a mihi and acknowledged mana whenua.

Protesters sat in on the start of the meeting, and kaitiaki (guardian) Alex Gorrie said they wanted to show their support for those who had been upholding the mana of the Treaty of Waitangi.

He had spoken with Cr Malcolm and acknowledged his view that respecting Māori culture should not be a box-ticking exercise.

Mr Gorrie later addressed the councillors during the meeting’s public forum in te reo, and led a rendition of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi.

All councillors except Cr Laws voted to note the discussion paper.

Cr Kate Wilson was not in attendance.