There were raised voices in the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council chambers last Wednesday.
Raised in karakia, raised in passion, sorrow and laughter, raised in a cheer and finally, raised in song.
It was the day the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council voted in favour of introducing Māori wards for the 2025 and 2028 elections. The decision was also made to invite hapū to select up to two representatives for Māori representation in an advisory role.
At the start of the meeting, 18 speakers stood, one by one, to make their submissions. All were all in favour of better democratic representation and a voice at the decision-making table for the 25 per cent of people who identify as Māori in Tamatea – Central Hawke’s Bay.
Dianne Smith, chairwoman of Mataweka Marae, spoke acknowledging the work of former Senior Minister Nanaia Mahuta in establishing Māori wards, saying “I urge council today not to let Minister Mahuta’s work be in vain”.
Dianne said Mataweka Marae has a long line of ancestors that whakapapa to the area long before the first colonial settlers.
“Therefore, we as mana whenua hold a special interest in the progression of Māori wards in Tamatea.
“When upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles and acting as an honourable partner, the answer is blatantly clear. Of course the CHB District Council should accept the establishment of Māori wards, without hesitation. And there are a multitude of reasons for this.
“It is unjust for a majority non-Māori council to decide on a Māori issue. This is continued colonisation at its best.
“This is a Māori ward issue, and only Māori should make the decision on this, not non-Māori. This is our decision to make, not yours. Imagine if you were standing here having to sell to a majority Māori council why you needed representation at the decision-making table, and it was Māori making that decision on your behalf.
“How would that make you feel? What decision would you want to be made for you?
“Just as you represent your constituents, so should Māori represent their constituents and that decision is ours and only ours to make. Remove the inequitable treatment of Māori and vote yes. It’s that easy.”
Paora Sciascia stood to make his submission, saying “is this a terrifying experience? You bet your life it is. We don’t know who you are and you have a big influence on our lives. But if you don’t have a leg in you can’t change it.
“You think you know how Māori function? You don’t. We’re having an attempt here to put some of that around this table. Māori have a different midset: The way Māori do it, the way Pākeha do it - it can be a mix. There’s nothing to be afraid of, we have a use, we’re valuable, the sooner you get us around your table the better. That’s not a slight on you - you may even decide you want more than two of us. We want that person to be familiar with our hapu, and work on our behalf.”
Grenville Christie urged council to “bring colour to bland Western culture, it should have been here in 1848,” while Jenni Tomlins said “don’t be afraid of inviting us to participate - the council uniforms won’t suddenly be grass skirts and taiaha.”
As Jenni went on to share her emotional story of the loss of her family’s land, the council chambers fell silent. “If you don’t have everybody at your table,” she said “,people get left behind.”
“Central Hawke’s Bay should not be considered just the domain of farmers and rich people. It’s a diverse and thriving place for all people and we deserve a place at this table.
“There’s a lot of pushback on this and we need to be courageous. Sometimes doing the right thing feels ugly, dangerous, unpopular. I challenge you on this, it might feel hard but it’s not. It‘s never hard to do the right thing. Do the right thing, in the right way for the right reasons.”
Ngāti Kere had brought six speakers to the meeting, to put forward their chosen option which was not a Māori ward, but appointed representation, explaining that it was important that whoever gained a seat at the council table had the mandate of the hapu, and had the knowledge to speak on behalf of the people they were to represent. Tip Tutaki explained “we don’t want to leave our representation on council to the vagaries of an election.”
After a full morning of submissions, council moved to the voting process, which was subject to debate that became heated at times.
Councillor Greer said he had a strong mandate from his voters to vote against establishing a Māori ward and instead to vote for a selection process, guaranteeing representation that had a mandate from mana whenua. He was strongly - and emotionally - supported in this by councillor Minehan, and also by councillor Aitken who supported the submissions from Ngāti Kere.
Councillor Muggeridge also supported a selection process over voting.
In the final vote, the decision was four votes to five in favour of establishing a Māori ward as well as two appointed advisory roles.
The passing of the resolution was greeted with cheers, applause and tears.
Mayor Alex Walker said she felt the decision was “absolutely right.” and said “I am proud to be in this room today.”
Ngāti Kahungunu chair Bayden Barber stood to commend the council on their decision, on behalf of “iwi, hapu and marae.”
Chairwoman of Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea, Jenny Nelson-Smith, “It is appropriate to leave the last word to our previous chair John Barry Heperi-Smith ‘Ka whita te Akikaroa o Tamatea Tauhā, whiwhitā! – The home flames are secured - we are here, we are luminous.’”
For more on the Māori ward decision see Mayor Alex Walker’s monthly column on page 4.