Protesters out in droves; call for Māori parliament

Protesters on Auckland's Queen St today. Photo: RNZ
Protesters on Auckland's Queen St today. Photo: RNZ

By Lauren Crimp

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country today to oppose government policies toward Māori, while Te Pāti Māori declared its plans to establish a Māori parliament.

It is the second time Māori have mobilised around the country, after the first protest in December 2023. This time, it coincided with Budget Day.

Some were on foot as part of hīkoi, while in Auckland there was a series of 'carkoi' - or hīkoi on wheels.

Crowds were large and loud. Tamariki held signs as big as themselves reading Toitū te Tiriti, and tino rangatiratanga flags were flying high, and draped over the shoulders of kuia.

Once again people turned out to object to the coalition government's policies - like axing Te Aka Whai Ora the Māori Health Authority, taking away local councils' right to decide to set up Māori wards, removing reference to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in legislation, and the Act Party's bid to redefine the Treaty principles.

Those law changes and proposals were "really harmful", a protester in Auckland said.

Many told RNZ they felt the coalition was quickly dismantling things they had fought long and hard for.

"All of a sudden they just come along with the click of a finger and change some of these laws," Aucklander Ethan Smith said.

"We want them to have a sit down with us, have a bit of a deeper kōrero, so we can thrash out these issues and come to a better resolution for everybody."

There was something wrong with a country that kept having to learn the same lessons, Denise Messiter said in the capital.

"We thought that we were together as a country, as a democracy, that we're prepared to look after and protect our mokopuna. Now they're here on the streets marching for us, that's how dangerous this country is."

Whānau had "had enough" and were "fired up" said another in Christchurch.

Strength in numbers

The response to Te Pāti Māori's call for nationwide protests was heartening, Northland Māori ward councillor Phoenix Ruka said.

Whangarei's hīkoi of more than 1300 people was almost double the size of last December's protest, he said.

"I was blown away by the amount of whānau that was here today, getting photos and updates from all the hīkoi up and down Aotearoa and it's immense, the presence is immense and so we're proud, we're grateful, we're humbled."

At Parliament grounds in Wellington. Photo: RNZ
At Parliament grounds in Wellington. Photo: RNZ
Pākehā - or tangata tiriti (people of the Treaty) - also turned out to support Māori.

It was important they too stood up for the cause, Christine Moriarty in Wellington said.

"I'm here because this government has no social conscience, and I think [it] has misread the feeling of the country over Māoridom."

A North Shore man said: "I think Māoridom and Māoritanga is one of the most unique and special things about New Zealand, and if we lose that, then what are we really doing?"

Time for a Māori parliament

Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi addressed the thousands who gathered on Parliament's lawn.

"It's the biggest honour of our lives to serve you," Ngarewa-Packer said through tears.

Parliament had let Māori down, she said.

"This place ... has dismantled the hard work that our tupuna ... our leaders did before us."

It was time to create a Māori parliament, Waititi said.

"The time has passed, and we have been late to the game, but we are here now," he said.

"It is time for us to step comfortably and courageously into rangatiratanga."

The pair asked people to sign their Declaration for Political Independence, which they would take to a hui taumata at Omahu Marae in Hastings on Friday.

A poster for the hui said leaders from across Māoridom would meet to "decide how we meet national Māori unity".

Greens, Labour offer support

Among those meeting protesters at Parliament were Green and Labour party members.

"It's just magnificent. We love to see this sort of gathering and it's appropriate because this is a government that is not prioritising Māori funding," Labour MP Willie Jackson said.

"Today is about unity, is about people coming together and dreaming of a better future and a different system," Greens' Kahurangi Carter said.

"People really showed up today, we can see how strong we are in unity."