Far North District Council is looking at dedicated wards to strengthen Māori participation in its local government decision making.

Māori wards are one option being considered along with Māori seats with voting rights on council committees.

FNDC councillor Moko Tepania (Te Rarawa/Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa) said robust debate was needed on what the council and its community wanted stronger Māori decision making to look like.

Tepania – in New Zealand's likely first bilingual council meeting agenda item report - said an appropriately resourced programme to review Māori representation should be implemented.

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Tepania, 29, a FNDC councillor, said the Local Government Act required councils to have a Māori voice in decision making. He is Northland's youngest local body councillor.

Tepania said people of Māori descent made up 50.5 per cent of the Far North population.
The council would benefit from having a more culturally diverse perspective.

His five-page item – 'Pūrongo Kaunihera -Te Maruata hui' or 'Report to council - Te Maruata hui' was part of the council's 199-page Thursday, May 21, full council meeting agenda.

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FNDC Mayor John Carter said its bilingual nature was a first for a full council meeting.

"It shows we are communicating with a range of people across our district," Carter said.

Tepania, FNDC's Te Ao Māori portfolio lead, was recently elected to the national executive of Local Government New Zealand Council subcommittee Te Maruata – a collective of Māori working in governance within local government and their communities.

He was elected as a first-time attendee at a Te Maruata hui in March. His membership of the executive Te Maruata Roopu Whakahaere is as its young elected members' representative.

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Carter said this achievement was nationally significant.

The Far North should be proud its youngest council member had taken this role, on behalf of the district and on behalf of New Zealand.

The Kaikohe-based, Mitimiti (north Hokianga)-raised councillor said a person voted onto council as a Māori representative had a different voice from a person who was Māori voted onto council as a general ward representative.

"I am a voice on council who happens to be Māori, not a Māori voice on council," Tepania said.

He said appropriate resourcing was needed to ensure adequate respect was given to reviewing Māori representation.

The council has to decide on whether it wants to proceed further on this by September.

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His bilingual report to the council meeting has been acknowledged as possibly a New Zealand first by Dr Mike Reid, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) principal policy adviser.

"It's cutting edge," Reid said. "It shows the local government's growing recognition of and maturity around working with Māori.

"It's taking a while but it's good councils are recognising Māori as an official language of New Zealand," he said.

The report on the hui attended by Tepania and fellow FNDC councillor Kelly Stratford (Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Te Rangi) from Haruru, Bay of Islands, was presented to the meeting.

Tepania said students at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe where he taught would likely be watching his report presentation to the council meeting. The report would also be doubling as a teaching tool.

He said FNDC needed to start work now to scene set around Māori representation into the future. That was so it was adequately prepared for discussion on this and other aspects of local government democracy during the council's upcoming six-yearly FNDC representation review, due in 2021.

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FNDC currently has three wards – Bay of Islands-Whangaroa (four councillors), Kaikohe-Hokianga (two councillors) and Te Hiku (three councillors). The Māori wards could overlap with these.