Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Maori leaders clash over flag's new role

Maori leaders are divided over whether the Tino Rangatiratanga will be officially flown at Waitangi. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post
Maori leaders are divided over whether the Tino Rangatiratanga will be officially flown at Waitangi. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is now the official symbol of Maoridom, but Maori leaders disagreed yesterday over whether it will ever fly officially at Waitangi.

Prime Minister John Key and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples have announced the flag will fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, at Parliament and at Premier House, the PM's official residence, on Waitangi Day.

It will also fly at the Governor-General's official residences in Wellington and Auckland. An official said that would be "in the spirit of the Prime Minister's announcement".

Former New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, who is the new chairman of the Waitangi National Trust Board, which administers the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, said the trust had yet to discuss the new flag and its role there, and he could not say whether it would fly on Waitangi Day.

"It's still possible but at this stage, I wouldn't want to commit the trust to a decision."

Kingi Taurua, from Waitangi's Te Tii Marae, said the flag was more representative of the Maori Party than Maori in general and would not be allowed to fly at his marae.

"It's a political symbol that shouldn't be flown from the Harbour Bridge either.

"Why should their political flag fly from our marae? John Key and his cohorts can fly it anywhere they like but it will never fly at Waitangi."

Mr Taurua said many Ngapuhi Maori supported the 1835 independence flag above any other.

Dr Sharples was more confident about the Tino Rangatiratanga flag's future at Waitangi.

"Ultimately, it will. I'm not saying it will next year, but it will."

But he conceded some might have reservations about its association with the sovereignty movement.

"People do have their own opinions, I know some of the Cabinet might have had that opinion as well."

But he believed it would eventually become widely accepted as a Maori flag.

"Flags are a symbol of rallying and being strong. This shows the Government is recognising a relationship with tangata whenua and that's going to be good for Maori and race relations in the long run."

Dr Sharples said he hoped the new flag would be flown on other occasions.

Mr Key also sought to distance the flag from its links with Maori activism, saying the flag meant different things to different people.

"The meaning I take from it is potential and hope."

He accepted it did not have unanimous support from Maori, but of 1200 submissions, 80 per cent favoured the Tino Rangatiratanga ensign as the preferred Maori flag.

The decision met a mixed response from other political quarters.

A spokesman for Labour leader Phil Goff said the party believed there were bigger issues to be dealt with, "such as rising unemployment and the pressure on hard-working Kiwi families' budgets".

Labour MP Shane Jones, who is from the North, said the flag's activist associations could not be removed by renaming it the "Maori flag".

"What I'm wary of is that this flag doesn't further morph into a symbol of dissension and divisiveness."

He said the flag decision was a pay-off for the Maori Party's support of the emissions trading scheme, which included a deal with Ngai Tahu and four other iwi for forestry rights others did not have.

"The Maori Party's entire style of politics is trophies and trinkets. It is a trinket showing how easily the Maori Party can be bought off."

The flag will fly at other sites - including Government departments.

Mr Key said he would tell the New Zealand Transport Agency to fly the flag on Auckland Harbour Bridge.

That's a change from the agency's policy of allowing only national flags on the bridge.

- NZ Herald

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