Tararua history was made in the Tararua District Council debating chamber on Tuesday, May 16, when councillors voted 8-1 to create a Māori ward to come into effect in 2022.
The chamber bulged with visitors, there to support those making submissions on their behalf.
After mayor Tracey Collis announced that this special council meeting was called to decide whether to adopt a Māori ward for Tararua, there followed a series of eloquent and passionate speeches, several by Zoom, lasting over an hour and gaining 100 per cent attention from the audience and councillors.
Dr Manahi Paewai spoke for Rangitane, saying that change was necessary and this option of a Māori ward meant "we would be in a great position to take ourselves to a better place".
Jo Haynes of the Tumai Totorewa Whanau Trust said via Zoom we should get on the bus to the future, adding "we've come too far to step back into our old dark world".
Lorraine Stephenson outlined her 35 years of experience dealing with local government trying to gain election in the general roll, quoting Martin Luther King saying, "The time is always right for doing the right thing."
Evelyn Chase, by video message, asked to "give the mokopuna hope", while teacher of te reo at Tararua College, Jordan Bennett, by Zoom said her students would see a Māori ward representative as a role model.
"What have we to lose?" she asked.
James Kendrick reflected on his roles representing Māori in St John Ambulance and other forums, saying the Māori worldview is valuable in all of them and the council would benefit.
Finally, Kahungunu CEO Hayden Hape spoke on behalf of his grandson Riley, who was born last year during the lockdown.
He reflected on that difficult time when all iwi worked with the community to supply everything from food to emotional support, and asked for similar compassion to be extended in this decision, pointing to a toki on his desk saying it represented the opportunity to cut wood for houses or cut down people's hopes.
Mayor Collis then put forward three options:
Option One – to adopt a Māori ward for the 2022 local body elections;
Option Two – to defer the decision to permit wider consultation until the 2025 local body elections;
Option Three – to take no action.
She formally moved Option One, seconded by deputy mayor Erana Peeti-Webber, who said there had been only three Māori on council in 30 years and with 25 per cent of Tararua's population Māori, it was time for change.
While she recognised the ward system was poorly organised, Councillor Hull expressed her support, as did Cr Isaacson, saying "it was a no-brainer".
Cr Johns picked up on Cr Hull's criticism, saying he felt that as only Māori on the Māori roll could vote in a ward election, two-thirds would have no say. He suggested greater participation in council workshops where most decisions were made was a better option.
Cr Wards said her experience during lockdown helping to co-ordinate assistance with the iwi influenced her decision in favour, while Cr Tredder said a yes vote would make the council more inclusive and diverse.
Cr Sutherland said debates over Māori wards was creating division when there was never a greater need for cohesion and we needed to take our Treaty partners on a journey together.
Cr Franklin said a Māori ward was essential, and quoted her namesake Benjamin Franklin, saying, "There is no time like the present."
The formal vote was then held, the council voting 8-1 in favour, Cr Johns being the dissenting vote.
The council chambers erupted with joy and excitement and a haka ensued.
Richard Taylor, TDC governance manager, then explained the procedure going forward.
■ The council would next consider the structure of the ward system, strongly adhering to government guidelines as to how to incorporate a Māori ward councillor.
■ The proposed structure would then be put to the council at its June meeting for consideration.
■ The results would be released to the public for consultation.
■ If no objections it would become law towards year's end.*
* Objections would be dealt with by the Local Body Commission.