“We are protecting the mana of our language and the mana of our culture” in a “mana battle”.
That is the view of Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley as he mobilises iwi and supporters at Whareroa Reserve tomorrow for a protest aiming to hinder traffic on Hewletts Rd/State Highway 2, a major commuter and freight route in Tauranga.
The move is among a series of iwi-lead protests nationwide expected to cause disruption on North Island roads tomorrow morning. Te Pāti Māori called for a National Māori Action Day in response to the Government’s “assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
Party secretary Lance Norman said “every city will have some sort of protest, roadblock, march”.
Hundreds – potentially thousands – of vehicles were expected to join convoys heading slowly into Auckland’s city centre along the state highways.
He said the protests, timed for the opening of the 54th term of Parliament, would likely cause “millions of dollars in lost productivity”.
“We are sending a clear message to Government on day one that we are not happy.”
Last month National agreed to support Act’s policy for a binding public referendum on defining the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi through its first stage.
The commitment does not ensure there will be a referendum, as National and NZ First have not pledged any support beyond the committee stage, but does ensure a national conversation about the issue.
The protests were in response to the National, Act and NZ First coalition’s policies around Te Tiriti o Waitangi - also including scrapping the Māori Health Authority and Oranga Tamariki policies and repealing the smokefree generation law.
Not all protests have been organised by the party, but the party is helping to facilitate and advertise the different actions
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Trust was one of the first to issue a pānui to whānau advising of a protest.
Stanley told the Bay of Plenty Times it would join “Māori organisations in a mana battle”.
“Ngāi Te Rangi will contribute its part with other iwi in slowing down traffic on Hewletts Rd.”
Protestors would gather at Whareroa Reserve at 6.30am to march down Hewletts Rd.
Stanley said the iwi was exercising “our democratic right to show our dissatisfaction and disdain of what the Government is doing at the present moment via a protest.
“All of our protests have been peaceful and non-eventful but they have got the message through.
“We are protecting the mana of our language and the mana of our culture. It is one of those things you cannot lose … it’s one of those things that is so important.”
Ngāi Te Rangi had spoken to Te Pāti Māori but Stanley said its protest was “our own gig”.
“This is just one of the things we can do as an iwi and just one thing we can collectively do as a people to object to the tenet this Government has taken.””
The iwi had issues with many of the Government’s proposed policies including disestablishing education institute Te Pūkenga, legislation to ban gang patches and stopping taxpayer funding for section 27 cultural reports.
He said the Government should not underestimate who it was “battling”.
“We are seasoned, well-backed, focused corporate and ground warriors.”
Stanley said the iwi had been liaising with NZ Police.
“The deal we have with the cops is if it gets out of hand by, you know, holding up too much traffic we shut up and go home.”
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, who was the Te Pāti Māori Rotorua electorate candidate in this year’s election, said she would attend the Rotorua march. Protesters would mobilise at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre at 7am.
In a statement to the Bay of Plenty Times, a Te Pāti Māori spokesperson said the protests would unite tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti for a common cause.
“We’ll send a signal to the Government that te iwi Māori won’t be silent and accept this assault on Te Tiriti or Te Reo Māori.”
The spokesperson said the coalition had “decided to come after te reo Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi” which was “an assault on the rights of tangata whenua”.
“Te iwi Māori simply won’t accept that, stand back and let that happen. We will rise.”
Asked about the protests at the post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Christoper Luxon said the coalition Government was “deeply committed” to improving outcomes for Māori and non-Māori.
Luxon said he did not actually know what the protests on Tuesday were about.
He said for the past six years under the Labour Government, “outcomes have not been good for Māori”.
“We’ve seen economically Māori have been really challenged by a cost-of-living crisis that’s got out of control. We’ve seen Māori in terms of participation in welfare, on social state house wait lists, education, healthcare, all of those things have gone backwards.
“We are going to be a Government that’s going to deliver for Māori, period. That is a big focus of ours.”
“It is unacceptable to me that we’ve actually got … 30 per cent more Māori on welfare. We’ve got 50 per cent of Māori kids now not going to school regularly. We’ve got 50 per cent of the social house wait list are Māori.”
Luxon said everyone had the right to protest but encouraged participants to be lawful, peaceful and respectful.
Police Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables said in a statement police would put “measures in place to prevent protesters putting themselves and motorists in harm’s way” in some locations.
”Te Pati Māori protest action is scheduled to take place between 7.30am and 9am and is likely to disrupt traffic in a number of areas.”
These included Rotorua, Tauranga and Tokoroa as well as Auckland, Wellington and beyond.
Motorists were advised to plan ahead.
Venables said police were giving protest organisers advice on lawful protesting, and health and safety implications.
Police would be “highly visible” and any unlawful behavior would result in enforcement action at the time or afterwards, she said.
The Act Party and NZ First have been approached for comment.
Carmen Hall is a news director for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, covering business and general news. She has been a Voyager Media Awards winner and a journalist for 25 years.
- Additional reporting Megan Wilson, NZ Herald