Call to bypass Te Tii Marae

By Mikaela Collins

Calls have been made to move the annual pre-Waitangi Day powhiri for Crown officials away from Te Tii Marae  to the upper marae. Photo / John Stone
Calls have been made to move the annual pre-Waitangi Day powhiri for Crown officials away from Te Tii Marae to the upper marae. Photo / John Stone

Calls have been made to bypass Te Tii Marae in the wake of this year's squabble over the Prime Minister's visit to Waitangi.

Pita Paraone, chairman of the Waitangi National Trust, has raised the issue after being approached by people who suggested the upper marae would be better placed to host the annual pre-Waitangi Day powhiri for Crown officials.

Former Labour MP Shane Jones has come out in support of Mr Paraone.

"It is disappointing that the leader of the Opposition would only be welcomed if he sang Pokarekare Ana," Mr Jones said.

A hui held at Te Tii Marae last week saw attendees vote 14-38 in favour of banning Prime Minister John Key from the marae.

However, marae trustees later decided to overrule the vote and invite Mr Key under the condition he would not talk politics. As a result, Mr Key refused to come.

"No tribe in the North gave the mandate to the trustees to decide the Crown can not come," Mr Jones said. "When the Crown comes to Waitangi, they come to the North."

He suggested the powhiri could be held at other marae such as Otiria's Tumatauenga, built in memory of the legendary 28th Maori Battalion, as it had been many years ago.

"I'm sure the [Te Tii] meanders along for 11 months and then in February it is like a possum in headlights. The idea that a hui comprising 52 people who voted should bind the entirety of Te Tai Tokerau - that's not Waitangi, that's wairangi (unbalanced)."

Mr Paraone said Te Whare Runanga, at the Upper Treaty Grounds, may be a better place to host the welcoming because the Waitangi National Trust was apolitical.

"I think it is all about leadership and at the moment that is lacking in the whole tribe," he said.

The lead-up to Waitangi Day may have focused on whether or not Mr Key was welcome at Te Tii Marae, but the day itself was filled with food, whanau, fun and culture.

Treaty Grounds visitor experience manager Mori Rapana urged New Zealanders who had not yet been to Waitangi on February 6 to "embrace their national day".

"It's easy to jump on the bandwagon of what you see in the media, the protests and a few minutes of disruptions, but you really have to come here to form your own impression of the experience and feel the wairua (spirit). You'll see it's completely different," he said.

Mr Paraone said about 25,000 people attended on Saturday and Mr Key's absence did not overshadow the successful day.

The day began with the dawn ceremony at Te Whare Runanga (the carved meeting house) on the Upper Treaty Grounds.

"I was pleasantly surprised just under 1000 people turned out [to the ceremony].

The wairua was very good," said Mr Paraone.

The turnout to this year's Waitangi event was down on last year's 35,000 visitors, however Mr Paraone said that was largely because of the weather.

Those who did attend told Mr Paraone, and Mr Rapana, they enjoyed the day.

By 10am about six waka lined Te Tii Beach, including Ngatokimatawhaorua, as the kaihoe (paddlers) lined up to perform a mass haka.

A crowd of about 200 people had gathered to watch. Kaihoe Ethan Smith had been participating in the waka fleet for 26 years. "It's a tradition and it's about remembering our tupuna," he said.

This year's hikoi focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Up to thousands of protesters made their way from Te Tii Marae to Te Whare Runanga at about noon.

Of those taking part in the hikoi, few had come further than James Tahere. Originally from Opononi but now living in Takaka in Golden Bay, Mr Tahere left home 13 days earlier with the self-styled "Wizard of World's End" to protest the signing of the TPP trade deal.

The pair travelled by a combination of walking and hitch-hiking, picking up a few more supporters at Ratana Pa and taking part in the huge rally in Auckland on February 4, before finally reaching Waitangi.

Mr Tahere said their aim was to raise awareness of "what the TPP is really about", which he said was overseas corporations taking over New Zealanders' rights and freedoms.

It is believed no arrests were made during the two days of Waitangi Day festivities.

- Northern Advocate

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