Claire Trevett

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

Official powhiri dragged forward

By CLAIRE TREVETT

Ngapuhi elders are warning politicians who do not go to an official powhiri on to Te Tii Waitangi Marae this morning that they may miss out altogether.

MPs and other dignitaries are usually welcomed on to the marae on the morning of February 5, and last year another last-minute powhiri was organised when Prime Minister Helen Clark arrived about 5pm.

But activist Titewhai Harawira told the Herald yesterday that kaumatua had decided the official powhiri would be held this morning and there would be no powhiri tomorrow, the day Helen Clark was expected to arrive.

Ms Harawira had informed the Government of the decision.

"If they want to come they will come with the rest of the people for a general powhiri at 10am [today.]"

She said that tomorrow "everybody will be busy having conferences and pulling things together in the marquees".

It is considered offensive to visit the treaty grounds across the bridge from the marae without first being welcomed on to Te Tii.

Kaumatua Nuki Aldridge said yesterday that the elders had always been forced to hold a powhiri on the day before Waitangi Day.

"People come along and force the hands of the elders and put them in a predicament that embarrasses them.

"The elders are saying, 'No, we have had enough'. Why should we be treated like that? Why should we go out of our way after making the agenda?"

Last week, kaumatua Bruce Gregory accused Helen Clark of bad manners for her late arrival last year, saying it had been made clear that politicians would be welcomed only in the morning.

Dr Gregory said the elders had opposed inviting the Prime Minister when they heard she was coming late in the day, but an invitation was eventually given "by devious rather than by correct channels".

Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels said it was ridiculous to announce the plans just three days before Waitangi Day and expect everyone to arrive a day earlier than usual.

"Most MPs, including the Minister of Maori Affairs, have already made plans to come to Waitangi on the day before and have other commitments before then," he said.

But Ms Harawira said she was "not interested in the lower-grade politicians".

Helen Clark is expected to travel to Waitangi tomorrow afternoon to attend a reception hosted by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright. The PM said she would "go with the flow" regarding plans on Te Tii.

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