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Even before New Zealand’s national day — Waitangi Day — arrived it was again embroiled in controversy with various pressure groups laying down separate rules.
Prime Minister Bill English will avoid Te Tii Marae at Waitangi because, although it invited him, marae chairman Ngati Kawa Taituha would not allow him to speak.
Now, reports have emerged of the leadership of Te Tii being accused of extortion and conducting a cultural shakedown in its bid to charge $10,000 for exclusive broadcast coverage by New Zealand’s two main free-to-air television networks. Both are refusing to pay.
Former MP and now Pacific Economic Development Ambassador Shane Jones, of Aupouri iwi, hit out, saying charging was outrageous. The Waitangi marae must never use the national day as an opportunity to shake down the media for putea (funds).
Te Tii Marae is a traditional working marae at Waitangi, and is sometimes referred to as the lower marae, which dignitaries visit tomorrow as part of their schedule before Waitangi Day on Monday. Waitangi National Trust Board chairman Pita Paraone, a New Zealand First MP, said the situation was ridiculous and he expressed shame at being a descendent of Ngapuhi. The greed and a lack of nous in terms of creating an amicable atmosphere between Te Tii Marae and the rest of the community, not just the media, is disappointing.
Nothing can be done this year, because the damage has been done even if Te Tii retracted the condition for media coverage. In contrast to the undoubtedly tense atmosphere on Monday, hundreds are expected to converge on Otakou marae for Ngai Tahu’s Treaty of Waitangi festival.
Te Runanga o Otakou will host this year’s celebrations with iwi members from throughout the takiwa expected to attend. The marae is accepting anyone who wants to be there and is encouraging families to attend. There will be two parts to the day; a formal ceremony at 10am with a powhiri followed by speeches, including from Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Christopher Finlayson and Ngai Tahu kaumatua Sir Tipene O’Reagan.
The second part of the day will be festival family activities which run from 1.15am to 2.30pm. Activities are being planned in Oamaru and Queenstown — both with a festive air to them, a way of mixing together to celebrate an important part of history.
Otakou will provide a chance for those in the South who feel they want to be part of tradition to attend what will undoubtedly be a moving ceremony. The invitation to everyone to attend is what many expect to happen on Waitangi Day. There have been grievances, there still are, but these can be dealt with through existing channels.
The chance for all New Zealanders to remember the history of this country is too important for grandstanding. During the speeches, there may be mention of the past when Maori were badly affected through the arrival of settlers. However, those were harsh days for all and remembering those times together forges the type of partnership most want for this comparatively young country.
It is time to stop the nonsense at Te Tii. Labour Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis says next year something different will happen; it has become embarrassing for everyone. Mr Davis is a strong voice for Maoridom and if he is embarrassed it is time to start seriously reviewing what Waitangi Day has become. Many people, sadly, are turned right off what should be a national day of history and celebration — a genuine and heartfelt tribute to all those who developed this country, not a grandstanding opportunity for a few. Turning people away from Waitangi is no way to make progress. It is time for change.
Every New Zealander must be allowed to celebrate Waitangi Day in whichever way they choose. For the South, it is simple. Otakou marae has provided an open and warm invitation.