Northland could be hosting delegates from indigenous cultures from 120 countries if an ambitious plan to bring the World Indigenous Festival to the country in 2019 comes off.
Musician Billy Te Kahika (Billy TK Jr) has set up World Indigenous Festival New Zealand and has enlisted Northlander Tui Shortland as the company's international diplomacy and relations director to get the festival to come to the country in 2019. He anticipated around 6000 people would attend the festival from around the world.
The pair have already gained plenty of support. Last month, they and the company's sports and games GM Paora Te Hurihanganui, visited the United Nations and got the support of UN Development Programme head and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Mr Te Kahika said the idea was also well received by many UN delegates and so far he had indigenous representatives from 60 countries already expressing interest in attending.
He also had the support of regional development body Northland Inc and last week made a presentation on the plan to the Northland Regional Council. Other councils, business and community groups would also be approached.
Mr Te Kahika, who lives in Whangarei, said he attended the World Indigenous Games in Brazil last year and felt it was a great event, but it could be expanded into a wider ranging festival celebrating all aspects of indigenous culture, such as art and music. Twenty Northlanders were in a team of 50 Maori who took part last year.
If the plan is successful, the festival would be held in May 2019 in Northland, Auckland and Waikato, bringing major benefits to those regions and exposing thousands of people to New Zealand culture.
"At the UN, Helen Clark said this would be an amazing project for New Zealand to have. Last year's games were focused just on indigenous sports, but I want to expand on that and look at all aspects of indigenous culture. And this has the potential to be a massive event," Mr Te Kahika said.
He said Northland - as the birthplace of the nation - would feature heavily in the festival.
"I see Whangarei being the regional hub of the festival with delegates from the various countries being shown around. We can take them to Waitangi and other important cultural sites and link with Maori tourism operators. Whangarei Harbour is magnificent and I would like to see it hosting the waka ama competition," he said.
"Whangarei Harbour could have a massive fleet of waka ama and ocean-going waka, and there are just so many perfect viewing spots around it that it would make a spectacular sight. We could link in with the planned Maori cultural centre on Hihiaua Peninsula and really expose these other cultures to our culture."
A memorandum of understanding had also been signed with the First Nation of Canada, which represents that country's native peoples.