One of the first elected Maori councillors in Masterton, Jim Rimene, has come out against appointing iwi representatives to the council despite also being one of few Maori ever voted into civic office in Wairarapa.
The 85-year-old kaumatua of Rangitane O Wairarapa had served a single term on the then Masterton Borough Council after being elected a councillor in 1986. The first Maori elected to the council was the late Annabel Baker, who likewise served a single term after being voted into office in 1983.
Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa brothers Owen and Edwin Perry had served as Masterton district councillors after the amalgamation of borough and county authorities in 1989, with other Maori councillors in Wairarapa including Joseph Rewi, who served as a six-term borough councillor in Greytown from 1959, and Mac Carter, who was a borough councillor in Martinborough.
Georgina Beyer was the first Maori to win mayoral chains in Wairarapa, being elected mayor of Carterton, and later Ron Mark became the second Maori elected as a Wairarapa mayor, also for Carterton.
Wairarapa archivist Gareth Winter said there were 336 councillors and mayors in the Masterton borough and county from 1877 to 1989. The only two identifiable as Maori were Mr Rimene and Mrs Baker.
Mr Rimene, a self-described man of "the old school", said he was aware of the controversy over the move to appoint the two iwi representatives, with full voting rights, to the policy and finance and the audit and risk committees.
The motion to do so was carried by seven votes to two, with councillors Gary Caffell and Brent Goodwin opposed.
Mr Rimene said he had been told "before and after" he was elected to council that he could have taken his place as an appointee "by right" under the Treaty of Waitangi.
"I said, 'Look here, I don't agree with that. No.' When we got Annabel on, I said let's go for the vote," he said.
"I come from a generation where I knew a lot of Pakeha people and we got along very well. We never had this sort of trouble in my day, and the Pakeha people we worked with were good friends and good people.
"But today that has changed and going on council by right is up to them. I'm from the old school, let's put it that way, and a lot of our people are very clued-up these days.
"This is a challenge that can be taken up, it's a challenge where you say, 'I'm as good as you'. There are a lot of educated, high-achieving young people who are good enough to face that challenge today.
"I was brought up amongst our old people and they taught that if you're good enough, go for it," Mr Rimene said.
"I enjoyed being on council. It felt really good because I didn't go on there by right. I walked through the same door as every other councillor, and I was proud to do it.
"We drank together and ate out of the same fish and chip packet, and we didn't look at the fingers and whether they were brown or white," he said.