An impromptu rendition of Tutira Mai Nga Iwi to guitar rang out at Horowhenua District Council after a decision to adopt a Māori ward was passed unanimously at a meeting on Wednesday night.
Mayor of Horowhenua Bernie Wanden and councillors all stood and sang along with a packed public gallery of mostly tangata whenua representing the different iwi and hapu within the rohe.
The decision was an emotive one. There were hugs and tears once the meeting was declared closed.
Mayor Wanden said he understood there would be some within the community who didn't agree with the decision, but it was "time to move on".
"The sun will still rise tomorrow and it will be a brighter sun in the Horowhenua," he said.
Mayor Wanden described the decision as "momentous". Any councillors who might have had reservations going into the meeting about having a Māori ward had changed their minds.
Councillor Sam Jennings said the new wards were not to be seen as separatist or racist, but as a way of better representing the interests of tangata whenua.
"A Māori ward is not to be feared. We already use geographical wards," he said.
Throughout the meeting the new seat was likened to a "marriage", where a couple might not agree all of the time, but they listen to each other and work together for their mokopuna and the future.
Councillor Piri-Hira Tukapua said a husband wouldn't sell off a piece of land without consulting with his wife first.
Tukapua, who is in her third term as councillor, said it was a privilege to represent her constituency, but said she was voted in to represent the interests of the community at large.
"Many see me as a Māori voice. I have tried to give that voice ... I don't have that mandate. I am not the Māori voice at this table," she said.
"It needs its own voice, its own seat."
Miranui ward councillor Robert Ketu said he felt like a dream had been realised. When he stood for council, he aspired to achieve co-governance for Māori and "little did I know it would happen a year later".
Before the decision several people made impassioned pleas as to what a designated Māori seat would mean for Māori, and gave reasons why it was needed.
Yvonne Wehipeihana-Wilson said it would give much-needed representation to tangata whenua in upholding tikanga values.
Her ancestors had fought hard for tikanga Māori to be valued and respected and a Maori ward would ensure "future generations are not treated like our tupuna were in previous generations".
Lani Ketu said a Māori voice on council was important "because as Māori, only Māori can speak for ourselves ... we can vote and make decisions on behalf of our people", she said.
"Only we know the Māori world view. It is intrinsic ... we are born with it. You might have the best advice but don't know how we know," she said.
Faith Henare-Stewart said she represented her whānau, her iwi, and her ancestors when she said it was concerning that "our lake is polluted, our streams are polluted, our whenua is poisoned - native trees were cut down to make this town".
"It is our right to have representation. To deny us that shows your true intentions not to value us a Treaty partners," she said.
"What is it your fear? The fear of giving tangata whenua a voice? This is a win-win situation."
Others to make submissions were Charles Rudd, Sharon Humphrey, Ted Melton, Carol McDonald, Nina Hori te Pa, Catherine Manning, Tracey White and Te Kenehi Teira.
However, Rudd had concerns at how HDC could recognise the interests of mana whenua through one representative.
"All of the above looks good, sounds good, but is it all window dressing to appease the natives," he said.
Councillor Christine Mitchell was initially concerned that adopting a Māori ward would prevent Māori from voting for multiple councillors on other wards, but changed her mind after listening to submissions.
HDC's longest serving councillor David Allan said if the ward system was the only system that guaranteed fair community representation at council, then the same logic could be applied to a Māori ward.
"It will be good for Māori. It will be good for all of use. It will enable all of use to lift our game," he said.
Allan said only Māori could speak for themselves. Rather than be seen as a "favour", it was about doing the right thing.
"Let's get serious about this partnership. We will all be richer for this partnership," he said.
"By Māori, for Māori, with Māori."
Incredibly, there was zero support for a Māori ward the last time the issue was reviewed in 2018. HDC had sought feedback from its Iwi partners, who at that time indicated they did not support a Māori ward.
There were no public submissions on the issue at that time.
Since then there had been a complete change of mood. This time round HDC had received almost 250 individual submissions, more than three-quarters of which were in support of a Māori ward.
Those in support saw it as upholding Treaty of Waitangi obligations and a chance for Māori to have a voice on council with issues important to Māori, like waterways, whenua and wahī tapu.
Opposing submissions were concerned that Māori wards were undemocratic "apartheid", racist and would only encourage segregation and separatism.
The Local Electoral Act was amended in 2002 to enable councils to establish Māori wards with a provision where five percent of voters could sign a petition to force a binding referendum which, if successful, would overturn a decision to establish a Māori ward.
Since then, 20 councils had tried to establish Māori wards. Only three were successful, as referendums overturned those council decisions.
Several petitions sent to Parliament prompted the Government to fast-track the Local Electoral Amendment Act 2021, which was passed under urgency in February, removing the ability for binding polls.
It also extended the timeframe for councils to consider Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections to May 2021, which brought the ability to establish Māori wards forward by three years.
Since then, 20 local authorities had established Māori wards - all in the North Island - while eight other councils along with HDC were scheduled to consider Māori wards before the end of the month deadline.
Interestingly, neighbouring Manawatū District Council and Kāpiti Coast District Council would not be introducing a Māori ward for the 2022 election, the latter at the request of local iwi.
Now that HDC had voted in favour of a Māori ward, it would trigger a representation review of the number of wards within its boundaries, a requirement of the Local Electoral Act to ensure effective and fair representation.
The review could look at the make-up of HDC overall, as it would decide whether to retain or increase the current number of seats at the table, whether councillors will be elected through wards, and the names of boundaries or wards.
The review could be timely as the Local Government Commission was due to release its decision on the Tokomaru Opiki Boundary Alteration Proposal this month.
Should the Tokopiki proposal be successful, it would see the Miranui ward electorate almost halve, with an estimated 1400 people of the total 3480 within the current ward forced to join Palmerston North City Council.
The new Māori seat could see more Māori join the Māori electoral roll. Data from the Electoral Commission showed a total of 2774 enrolled on the Māori roll in the Horowhenua Regional Constituency.
HOW WILL A MĀORI WARD WORK?
- For Horowhenua District Council, there would be one Māori ward councillor based on current calculations set by the Local Electoral Act 2001.
- Voters on the Māori electoral roll would vote for a candidate contesting a Māori ward rather than candidates contesting a general ward.
- Everyone could vote for a mayor.
- Māori ward candidates do not need to be on the Māori electoral roll.
- A Māori ward councillor, like every other councillor and the mayor, would have one vote around the council table.
A SNAPSHOT OF COMMENTS FROM SUBMISSIONS
"I am a Pākehā resident of Horowhenua and emphatically encourage the council to introduce a Māori ward. I believe it is paramount to democracy to take affirmative action to ensure the just representation of marginalised demographics in government."
"The status quo is not working and has led to poor decisions that have negatively impacted Maori and the community as a whole."
"Most objections are veiled in racism and ignore the fact we are making decisions that affect Māori without adequate representation."
"This doesn't need a survey, just get it done. We all know it's right and those who don't shouldn't really be representing our community."
"Māori wards improve democracy, foster unity, and are an important step toward honouring Te Tiriti of Waitangi. We have a right to representation."
"Māori need a voice in what happens at council level. A Māori ward will support this. Quality of Foxton water and pollution of Punahau and Manawatū River are areas I believe need a valid Māori voice. If the water is sick, the people are sick."
"To ensure that all principles of Te Tiriti O Waitangi and protection of mana whenua and the environment, greater Māori representation is greatly needed, particularly in Horowhenua."
"Māori understand Māori. Love, comfort, respect, holistic wellbeing, care and need."
"This is a good way to acknowledge Te Tiriti o Waitangi and work better together. With our environmental climate changing we need everyone especially tangata whenua at the table making decisions."
"Population alone dictates that Māori aspirations can be swamped by the mainstream majority. Our Treaty obligations dictate that we work in partnership and protect Māori aspirations and interests."
"Our history in this community has resulted in the marginalisation of Māori with resulting poor outcomes through generations. Examples are the refusal to acknowledge the town name Taitoko ... the pollution of Lake Horowhenua and the alienation of Māori land."
"This is so sought after and the essence and gratification this will bring to our Māori people would assist with whanau support and involvement. Whanau Ora at its best."
"I believe in being proactive with the establishment of Māori wards, thereby ensuring an independent Māori voice to truly represent the wishes of both Ngati Raukawa and Muaupoko and other Māori resident in Horowhenua."
"Give weight to what Māori want for Māori - typically out-voted by non-Māori for so long."
"If this council is serious about its Treaty obligations and strengthening their relationship with Iwi then show us. We need a guaranteed voice at the table."
"I am very much in favour and support Māori wards. I am concerned though that this is insufficient representation: it expects one person to represent the views of all Māori. I'm not Māori but fully expect that they have diverse, and often contradictory views."
"Local mana whenua should have a seat at council table when it comes to issues around water, land, ecosystems. This would create a partnership around kotahitanga ... collaborative relationship where everyone sits at a table and works towards a united resolution that will benefit all."
"Be seen to be a Treaty partner, not just in word only hidden in the recesses of a strategic plan that the Treaty of Waitangi is acknowledged."
"They are a special people who have done us Kiwis proud ... Tautoko awhi manaakitanga."
"I support this kaupapa for equity, equality and fairness for local Māori of Ngati Raukawa and Muaupoko descent. Ko tau rourou, ko taku rourou, ka ora tatou - with your basket and my basket we will survive."
"My family is Māori. We find it insulting that Pākehā think they can ask one or two Māori for a Māori view and that will somehow represent all of us. I would rather vote in who I want and be represented by an entire group of people ... we are not all the same!"
"Separatism is not beneficial."
"Māori wards are undemocratic, everyone wants equality and I believe the implementation of Māori wards encourages segregation."
"There are already far far too many racist things in this country, we certainly do not need any more whatsoever."
"I have no wish to have our council promote apartheid."
"We are supposed to live in a democracy. To appoint someone to council because of their race is racist and institutionalised apartheid ... I have no objection to a Māori member being voted onto council as part of the general election."
"People should be elected on their merits not their race. Our Prime Minister is always banging on about we are New Zealanders and one family of five million. No need to segregate races."
"Adequate opportunity exists for any person regardless of ethnicity to stand for council and represent personal or collective views to council ... the Treaty of Waitangi bestowed equal citizenship and rights to all New Zealanders regardless of Māori of Pākehā ethnicity."
"If one minority ethnicity is given special representational rights, surely other ethnicities who are New Zealand citizens, eg. Chinese, Indian, other Polynesian must also be given special rights."
"Māori wards are a mistake on so many levels not the least being racist and undemocratic. We are told and should all believe we are one people and so separatism in any form is a backward step."
"Friends who are Māori also wonder whether council has considered how condescending and insulting this is to them and their families."
"Would it be more effective for council members to spend more time engaging with Māori constituents and addressing their concerns and needs rather than a change that will add no perceivable value?
"We are all Kiwi, one nation - by segregating Māori is creating a divide between race which is unacceptable. Māori have the exact same opportunity to be elected as everyone else to council."
"Do not go down the slippery slope of a racist and apartheid style politics that this separatist policy will create. We are all equal and one people and there is certainly no need to separate us into two or more groups."
"Personally, I believe all councillors should be elected on merit, not race ... if you want to be one council, stand and get elected. No free rides!"
"I am opposed to any ethnic wards they are New Zealanders and if qualified can stand for any position that they may wish to hold. .. race, creed or religion does no enter into it."
"Why? We have a good amount of Māori candidates and representatives."
"I am totally opposed to having a Māori ward ... it is totally undemocratic and racist ... Māori are not the indigenous people of this country, they arrived here like the rest of us. If this went to referendum it would be heavily defeated."
"We are all adults that can vote for the right person onto the council regardless whether they are Māori or not. Race should not come into it. I have never voted by race before, just on what they stand for."
"I feel that establishing a Māori ward would be insulting to the existing Māori councillors who are on council by merit. These councillors have shown courage to put themselves forward for election and they have worked hard on council."