Claire Trevett

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

Key waits on 'Granny-gate'

Scrap over privilege of escorting Prime Minister on to marae reignites after welcome.

Prime Minister John Key was eventually welcomed on to Te Tii Marae at Waitangi yesterday, accompanied by Titewhai Harawira. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Prime Minister John Key was eventually welcomed on to Te Tii Marae at Waitangi yesterday, accompanied by Titewhai Harawira. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It was, as a highly amused Shane Jones observed, the year that will go down as "Granny-gate".

The turbulence that usually bubbles over when the Prime Minister arrives at Te Tii Marae at Waitangi was over before he even arrived, and had nothing to do with his competence or lack thereof.

It forced him to circle the streets for over half an hour waiting for news that the big issue of the day was settled and he was ready to be welcomed on.

That big issue was over who would hold the Prime Minister's hand - and there were two contenders for the job. The first, Titewhai Harawira, had done the job since time immemorial.

The second, the tiny Ani Taurua, was the choice of the marae itself, which claimed she had earned the right by dint of decades of washing dishes and cooking the kai compared to Mrs Harawira's effort of swanning in every year, grabbing the limelight, and leaving.

As the rest of the Government ministers stood there, waiting for Mr Key to be allowed in, the two women stood at the gate with their support crews.

There was Mrs Harawira's family, some marae organisers and a troupe of negotiators, including Superintendent Wally Haumaha and Ngati Whatua leader Naida Glavish.

Onlookers happily chipped in, all but laying bets on who they thought would win.

"Kia kaha, Aunty," one of Mrs Taurua's backers yelled, before sighing at Mrs Harawira's apparent breach of tikanga (custom).

When marae kaumatua Kingi Taurua dared to suggest a compromise, Mrs Harawira told him to "go away".

He replied in kind, telling her to "shut your bloody mouth".

Two minutes later the situation was resolved - an apparent compromise by kuia.

It takes a brave person to stand up to the Harawira family en masse, and the result was inevitable. Although Mrs Taurua was in the front line, it was Mrs Harawira who walked next to Mr Key. The two women were separated by Ms Glavish.

The impasse served to take the attention off the Prime Minister - giving him the rare treat of a visit to Te Tii without being yelled over, hit or jostled.

Despite the apparent compromise, the battle of wills continued afterwards.

Mrs Harawira called Mr Taurua and others who wanted to stop her doing the role "women bashers" for interfering.

In reply, Mr Taurua pointed out that both Mrs Harawira and her daughter had been arrested in the past "for violence".

He also pointed out Mrs Harawira had defended marae protocols years ago to prevent former Prime Minister Helen Clark speaking on the marae - but did not seem to think they applied to herself.

"It seems to me, it's all right for Titewhai to break our laws, but it's not all right for pakeha to break our laws."

Key himself wisely steered clear, saying it was up to the marae to decide who accompanied him and adding, for good measure, that Mrs Harawira was "a reasonably gentle old lady" when performing the duty.

- NZ Herald

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