Peace and love at 'best' Waitangi commemoration

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on the veranda of Te Whare Runanga on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on the veranda of Te Whare Runanga on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo: Getty Images

There's a new dawn for Waitangi Day commemorations in the Bay of Islands after peace, love and hangi replaced protest and tension.

The pre-Waitangi Day powhiri for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a raft of other MPs deviated from tradition this year as it was held at Te Whare Runanga on the Upper Treaty Grounds instead of Te Tii Marae.

Ms Ardern was escorted from the Treaty House to Te Whare Runanga by Ngapuhi kuia and activist Titewhai Harawira — the pair held hands the entire way.

A series of rau (a symbol of peace in the form of a leaf) were laid down and accepted by representatives of the three parties which make up the Government.

Green Party Leader James Shaw - who later joked he could be called Hemi Takutai (takutai meaning shore) — accepted the first, New Zealand First Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters accepted the second, and Ms Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford, accompanied by Peeni Henare, accepted the third on Ms Ardern's behalf.

Pita Paraone, the former Waitangi National Trust chairman who was instrumental in getting the Prime Minister's powhiri shifted away from Te Tii Marae, said he hoped the event could continue at the Treaty Grounds after the agreed two-year trial was over.

''A number of comments have already been made to me that we should continue to have the event here if this is an example of what can be done,'' he said.

''As people realise that this sort of event can happen in the way its has this year, you'll find that more people will come to Waitangi to help us commemorate the signing of the Treaty.''

Mr Paraone said the change of venue came about after a series of incidents at Te Tii Marae prompted a number of people to approach the Waitangi National Trust board to ask whether it would consider hosting the formal welcome on the Treaty Grounds.

''Since then, however, a number of trustees of the marae have expressed some angst about the decision, because it's had an effect on their planning and their budgeting for what happens on the marae...That aside I think we've witnessed what can be done, and what should be typical of Ngapuhi hospitality in terms of welcoming guests to Waitangi.''

Mr Paraone was pleased with yesterday's atmosphere, though that was in part a reflection of the community's ''sense of joy'' at having a new government.

Assistant Commissioner Wally Haumaha - New Zealand police deputy chief executive of Maori, Pasifika and Ethnic services - has been attending Waitangi Day commemorations for the past 15 years, and said yesterday was "the best in all the years I've been here".

"It's a proud moment for all of us and just the dignity of Ngapuhi in terms of hosting this has been an occasion for the nation.

"I was here in the days of protest around the pole, cops everywhere, and today I am so overjoyed. I can retire gracefully and know that we saw this day where the Government was treated with respect and dignity."

Mr Haumaha said this year was different. In previous years protesters have arrived at Te Tii Marae in time for the powhiri for dignitaries.

Some years the protest has been peaceful and other years it has not. This year there was no protest to be seen or heard.

"Protest is not a bad thing so long as it's not protest in the form of abuse. Everyone has the right to protest but there is a way of doing that and I never heard any abuse which was fantastic to see."

Mr Haumaha is responsible for iwi liaison officers across the country. Every year at Waitangi Day commemorations the officers swap their uniforms for a polo shirt, shorts, sneakers, and a sun hat as a way to break down barriers.

Meanwhile, speakers of the day included Hirini Henare, Moka Puru, and Waihoroi Shortland.

On the visitors' side National MP Steven Joyce, Green Party leader James Shaw, New Zealand First MP Shane Jones, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also spoke.

It is the first time a female prime minister has spoken during a powhiri at Te Whare Runanga.

Mr Joyce, who got some laughs with a reference to his visit in 2016 when he was hit by a dildo thrown by a protester, spoke of the beauty of Waitangi.

He said the Ngapuhi settlement needed to be progressed, saying Minister of Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson saw the settlement as the "one that got away".

Waihoroi Shortland responded to that comment later saying "the Ngapuhi settlement didn't get away, as Clarke Gayford would say, it just hasn't landed yet."

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