Former Māori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels has taken the fight to wear his treasured pōtae (hat) all the way from the House to the bank, literally.
Samuels, a Labour MP from 1999 to 2008, was recently told at his local Kerikeri ANZ bank to remove his trademark stockman pōtae, which has been synonymous with his scalp for the better part of three decades.
Samuels, of Ngāpuhi, fought successfully to wear the pōtae in Parliament and says as a kaumātua, elder, not being able to wear it to the bank, which he'd been visiting for over 25 years, was discrimination.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon has also stepped into the debate, saying if banks were showing discretion in allowing other cultural garments to be worn, such as hijab and turbans, their position towards kaumātua could be discriminatory.
Meanwhile, ANZ has since responded, apologising for the "offence" towards Samuels, and stating the situation should have been handled better.
Samuels said when he visited the bank two weeks ago he was told to remove his pōtae due to security and a Covid-related policy.
"I told them I had been coming here for years and never had an issue, and the staff know me. I said I'd seen customers come in with turbans and hijabs and there had been no issue.
"I told him he was discriminating against me, but they just said the rules do not permit it."
Samuels said he felt embarrassed by the interaction and approached Foon who has agreed to look into it.
"[Samuels] said they did not ask him his kaumātua status, which he believes means it is respectful to wear a hat. It is commonly seen around marae, kuia and wearing scarves too.
"Most kaumātua in my area always wear the pōtae. It acknowledges their kaumātuatanga and status in Māoridom, and so I respect that.
"People need to be safe to speak their language, adorn their cultural dress and wear what is correct for their culture."
Foon said he accepted there were security reasons for people not wearing hats, but companies like ANZ needed processes in place to assess situations like this.
Foon said it was the first complaint he'd heard about wearing hats, and would be following the issue up with ANZ.
Samuels was the first MP to start wearing his pōtae in Parliament, fighting for the right to do so in the House.
Since then other MPs, also with Māori heritage, wear pōtae include NZ First's Ron Mark and current Te Pāti Māori MP Rawiri Waititi.
Waititi in 2021 also led a successful campaign to wear his pounamu hei-tiki taonga instead of a tie, or "colonial noose" as he described it.
Speaker Trevor Mallard eventually allowed it, removing the requirement to wear ties in the House in the process.
Manurewa Marae chairman and kaumātua, politician and cultural adviser Rangi McLean said he backed Samuels' bid.
"Kaumātua have a privilege, right to wear a hat, wherever they go. It is very common, and it is culturally appropriate we acknowledge the rights of our kaumātua."
McLean said the security reasoning did not make a lot of sense when customers already had to wear masks due to Covid-19.
McLean said while in British culture there had been a tradition of not wearing hats indoors, this had never applied in Māoridom.
McLean said there was precedence in RSAs after World War II allowing members of the Māori battalion to wear hats indoors.
A spokeswoman for ANZ said for security and identification reasons ANZ staff or branch security guards could ask people to remove head coverings and sunglasses.
But staff could use discretion and judgment, taking into account religious and cultural issues, when asking a customer to remove any headgear, she said.
"We appreciate this situation could have been managed differently and we apologise to Mr Samuels for any offence this may have caused.
"Our branch manager also spoke in person with Mr Samuels on the day and apologised to him."
Samuels was Māori Affairs Minister under Labour from 1999 to 2000, and an MP until 2008.
Since leaving Parliament he has been active within Ngāpuhi and in calling for a Crown apology to generations of Māori beaten by the state for speaking te reo Māori.