Disquiet over moving PM's welcome

Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Getty Images
Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be formally welcomed to Waitangi today but there is some discontent about the decision to remove the powhiri from Te Tii marae.

Ms Ardern's powhiri will be held at what is known as the "upper marae'' on the Treaty grounds, rather than at Te Tii marae.

While there are still powhiri at Te Tii marae, it will not play host to the politicians. The decision to move it to the upper grounds was made after protests and other incidents at Te Tii marae which resulted in a succession of former prime ministers - Helen Clark, Sir John Key and Bill English - deciding to avoid it.

Te Tii elder Kingi Taurua said he would be at the powhiri for Ms Ardern but was unhappy about the decision to move it, saying it would deprive Ngapuhi of the chance to raise issues of concern with the Government of the day.

"In Waitangi [at Te Tii] they challenge the Government about their policies. Here [at the upper marae], they don't. They massage the Government's back and so it's quite different.''

One example was the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Mr Taurua has previously spoken against and the Labour-led Government is about to sign.

Mr Taurua said he had been asked to speak in the powhiri for Ms Ardern but Pita Paraone, former chairman of the Waitangi National Trust, said no invitation to speak had been issued.

"That's news to me. If he's going to use it as a platform - the same he has used in previous years to incite those of our younger people to protest in the way they have done in recent years - then I'm not sure that's a good thing.''

He said there was nothing wrong with raising specific political issues but the powhiri was not the place to do it.

"This part of the whole weekend is about welcoming people to Waitangi. It's not about presenting our visitors with what are really political issues.''

He acknowledged the people of Te Tii were unhappy about the decision.

"But I don't think they should be surprised, given the reaction from the people of the North over recent years. It was timely the decision was made.''

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy was welcomed to the upper marae yesterday without incident and said it was a "new dawn''.

However, she was diplomatic about Te Tii, saying the powhiri for her there the year before had been "wonderful''.

After the powhiri, Ms Ardern will visit a local school for a picnic before attending the Navy's Beat Retreat. Tomorrow she will attend the dawn ceremony, before hosting a barbecue for the public.

- By Claire Trevett


364 days are available for Te Tii to raise issues and it decides to raise their issues on the most commemarative day between Maori and the Crown.

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