A “peaceful but powerful protest” is set to take place in Rotorua tomorrow in response to the new Government’s “assault” on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, with police warning of traffic disruptions.
Protesters will mobilise at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre at 7am, with protest action scheduled for 7.30am to 9am and expected to include a march around central Rotorua streets.
It would be one in a series of protests nationwide expected to cause disruption on North Island roads tomorrow morning as Te Pāti Māori called for a National Māori Action Day in response to the Government’s “assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
Party secretary Lance Norman said “every city will have some sort of protest, roadblock, march”.
Hundreds – potentially thousands – of vehicles were expected to join convoys heading slowly into Auckland’s city centre along the state highways.
He said the protests, timed for the opening of the 54th term of Parliament, would likely cause “millions of dollars in lost productivity”.
“We are sending a clear message to Government on day one that we are not happy.”
Last month National agreed to support Act’s policy for a binding public referendum on defining the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi through its first stage.
The commitment does not ensure there will be a referendum, as National and NZ First have not pledged any support beyond the committee stage, but does ensure a national conversation about the issue.
The protests were in response to the National, Act and NZ First coalition’s policies around Te Tiriti o Waitangi - such as Act’s bid to redefine the Treaty principles, scrapping of the Māori Health Authority and Oranga Tamariki policies along with repealing the smokefree generation law.
Not all protests have been organised by Te Pāti Māori, but the party is helping to facilitate and advertise the different actions. In Tauranga, Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said it had spoken to Te Pāti Māori, but its protest march from Whareroa Reserve down Hewletts Rd was “our own gig”.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait stood for Te Pāti Māori as the Rotorua electorate candidate in this year’s election and told the Rotorua Daily Post she would join the protest.
She understood the march route would go from Arawa St to Ranolf St, along Amohau St then on to Fenton St before returning to the events centre.
“So much has been achieved over the past 50 years to address the blatant racism endemic within institutions, government agencies and society in general in Aotearoa,” the former district councillor said.
She said successive governments had tried to give effect to the intent and spirit of Te Tiriti.
“Now in 2023, 17 years before the 200-year anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti of Waitangi, the Government wants to roll back all progress made. Wants once again for Māori to ‘be seen if necessary but not heard’ in the land of their tūpuna.”
Raukawa-Tait said the protest was a “unified Aotearoa response to the Government’s assault”.
“It will be a peaceful but powerful protest. I suspect the first of many.”
In a statement to the Rotorua Daily Post, a Te Pāti Māori spokesperson said the party was sending a signal to the Government that “te iwi Māori won’t be silent and accept this assault on Te Tiriti or te reo Māori”.
The spokesperson said the coalition had “decided to come after te reo Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, which was “an assault on the rights of tangata whenua”.
“Te iwi Māori simply won’t accept that, stand back and let that happen. We will rise.”
Asked about the protests at the post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Christoper Luxon said the coalition Government was “deeply committed” to improving outcomes for Māori and non-Māori.
Luxon said he did not actually know what the protests on Tuesday were about.
He said for the past six years under the Labour Government, “outcomes have not been good for Māori”.
“We’ve seen economically Māori have been really challenged by a cost-of-living crisis that’s got out of control. We’ve seen Māori in terms of participation in welfare, on social state house wait lists, education, healthcare, all of those things have gone backwards.
“We are going to be a Government that’s going to deliver for Māori, period. That is a big focus of ours.
“It is unacceptable to me that we’ve actually got … 30 per cent more Māori on welfare. We’ve got 50 per cent of Māori kids now not going to school regularly. We’ve got 50 per cent of the social house wait list are Māori.”
Luxon said everyone had the right to protest but encouraged participants to be lawful, peaceful and respectful.
Police Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables said in a statement police would put “measures in place to prevent protesters putting themselves and motorists in harm’s way” in some locations.
”Te Pati Māori protest action is scheduled to take place between 7.30am and 9am and is likely to disrupt traffic in a number of areas.”
Motorists were advised to plan ahead.
Venables said police were giving protest organisers advice on lawful protesting, and health and safety implications.
Police would be “highly visible” and any unlawful behaviour would result in enforcement action at the time or afterwards, she said.
Approached for comment, a Rotorua Lakes Council spokesperson said questions about how potential disruptions would be handled should be directed to the police and protest organisers.
- Additional reporting Carmen Hall, NZ Herald
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.