“It’s about all of us.”
That was the feeling expressed by one protester who, along with more than 1000 people, marched down Hewletts Rd in Tauranga holding aloft placards and Māori flags that flapped in the breeze.
The protest in Tauranga was part of Te Pāti Māori’s call for nationwide action against Government policies labelled “anti-Māori”. Thousands of people across the country turned out to similar events in main centres.
Traffic reduced down to one lane on Hewletts Rd as mothers pushed tamariki in prams, others carried their children or held their hands during the hīkoi which started at 7.30am. They walked alongside kuia and kaumātua; people from all walks of life and ethnicities. Chants for Tauranga Moana and honour united the crowd as motorists yelled messages of support, drivers tooted and truckies blew their horns.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley, who had been mobilising people to take part, described the protest as a “mana battle” in response to the Government’s “assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
And come they did.
Pirini Edwards said the protests were “about all of us, and my mokopuna”.
“They say mokopuna are the future but they are the now.”
George d’Emden wanted to support Māori.
“Our ancestors signed the treaty and now they want to get rid of it”. His wife Colleen who was by his side affiliated to iwi on Matakana Island.
Today Liam Van der Driff wanted to make a stand.
“I got up this morning to stand with our people and help reform an injustice. This is not only about ourselves and kaumātua but it’s for our mokopuna to set the foundations for them.
“So we can honour our founding document that is really important to the history of our country.”
Kharis Jeffery said in her view the Government was attempting to take away a people’s culture and that drove her to the hīkoi with her dad.
“I just think it is absolutely disgusting. I think we’ve got to stand up for the things that seem little but they snowball into big things. It’s good to come and support your culture... your whānau, your family.”
Kaya Waiariki marched with her tamariki and felt it was important to do so for future generations.
Sue Elliot, who carried a “Not 4 My Mokos”, sign believed the Government was “taking away the public health initiatives they are eating away at our equity”.
Jarra Borman thought New Zealand had come a long way as a country in the past decade.
“It’s been amazing to see this groundswell of support for Māori culture and I feel like we’re at this crossroads right now where a lot of that is going to be unwound if things go ahead as proposed so it’s an opportunity for us to come and express ourselves and say that we we don’t want that.”
The peaceful protest ended with waiata and haka as the crowd made their way quietly back to the Whareroa Reserve.
Maurie Didais said the hīkoi was “beautiful and lovely”.
Ngai Te Rangi Iwi Trust deputy chief executive Roimata Ah Sam told the Bay of Plenty Times it was “awesome to see so many people across Tauranga Moana show up for this kaupapa and understand the challenges we have with the new coalition ahead of us ”.
“With their desire to push down our reo and to push the Treaty into a select committee process, it’s really heartwarming to see that this resonates with our people...”
“I’m not surprised with how many people care and I’m really, really proud of our people who showed up today. There is a lot on the line for us as Māori right across the motu and here in Tauranga Moana.”
Ah Sam said it would “absolutely” hold more protests if that was required for their voices to be heard.
“We will hit the bricks.”
When the Herald 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 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.”
He also thought the protests were “unfair” given the Government had only been in the job for a week.
Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka said he supported the rights of people to protest.
Potaka said he “respectfully” disagreed with comments this would be the “most racist government in decades” and terms such as “genocide” to describe British colonialism.
In a statement after yesterday’s protest, police said several gatherings were held in towns across Bay of Plenty District, including Whakatāne, Rotorua, Tokoroa and Taupō.
“There was minimal disruption in these areas, however, at one point a large truck was reported to be blocking a lane in Hewletts Road, Tauranga. Police officers spoke to the truck driver and ascertained this had been organised by the protesters due to their own safety concerns the statement said.
“Officers arranged for the truck to be moved and made clear that using a vehicle to block the road in this way was not acceptable.”
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.