Stratford District Council will have a Māori ward in time for next year's triennial local government elections after an 11th-hour decision made at an emergency meeting of the council today.
To loud cheers of tautoko and with plenty of pakipaki, people in the packed public gallery loudly celebrated the decision.
The meeting, which took place just hours before the time given by central government as the deadline for local councils to determine if they will introduce a Māori ward in time for next year's local elections, was called by mayor Neil Volzke just two days beforehand.
Volzke's decision to call an emergency meeting to discuss the topic came less than 24 hours after Stratford District Councillors heard submissions from Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine representatives, who appealed for them to introduce Māori wards in time for next year's elections.
After hearing those submissions on Tuesday, councillor Min McKay had asked her fellow councillors if they were still "comfortable with our stance" regarding Māori wards. That stance - to not introduce Māori wards in time for the 2022 elections but rather to consult with iwi in time to consider the issue for the 2025 elections - had been challenged in March when Mayor Volzke asked councillors if they wanted to revisit that original decision, which had been made in August last year.
While the mayor, along with councillors Min McKay, Peter Dalziel and Amanda Harris, had wanted to revisit the decision in March, they were outvoted, with the other seven councillors voting to leave it as it was.
Speaking at the start of today's emergency meeting, Volzke said he stood by his decision to call the meeting to make a decision in time for next year's elections.
It was, he said, the right thing to do. There was no reason to "kick the decision down the road" to be made later, as the time to make it was now. He said he accepted the outcome was in the hands of all elected members, but felt he was right to call the meeting to make the decision.
"If I fall on my sword, so be it."
He noted, to laughs from the gallery, that he and many fellow councillors and senior staff were wearing pink shirts today.
"They represent standing up to bullying," he explained, adding that while coincidental, it was certainly appropriate for the meeting.
Herewini Nopera, chairman of Whakaahurangi Marae, was one of the speakers to address elected members.
"Some see the decision to be made today as a new beginning, I see it as a door opening to a new beginning.
"Say yes," he appealed to elected members. "Say yes so we can pull up our sleeves and do the work. We as the Stratford community have spiritual connection to the tangata and the town."
Graham Young of Te Runanga O Ngāti Ruanui Trust also spoke, and told councillors there should be no doubt as to what iwi wanted.
"The consultation you want is now in the room before you."
If the decision today did not go in favour of the establishment of a Māori ward it would "drive a wedge" between iwi and the council, he said.
Speaker Jordon Wansbrough brought a carving with him, of Rongoueroa-Tamarau.
"This is to bring peace into the room, to today's discussion."
He was optimistic the outcome would be in favour of the establishment of a Māori ward.
"They changed their minds in Manawatū after they heard what I had to say. So I think the same will happen today.
"We need Māori wards," he told elected members.
"If you establish a Māori ward today, I am going to gift you this beautiful taonga," he said, holding the carving in his hands.
Dinnie Moeahu spoke, saying he was not there as a New Plymouth District councillor, but rather as tangata whenua.
"In my lifetime, I have seen wall after wall being put up."
Decisions like this one needed to be "normalised" he said, reminding people the use of the greeting "kia ora" had not always been in common usage.
"We are so much better when we work together, so much stronger, so much more powerful ... I extend a heartfelt thank you to you, Your Worship, and to all of you today, it is not easy, but we are here. Let us be the architects of change."
Peter Moeahu said he was there to ask elected members to make the right decision.
"With all the love in this room, all the aroha, in this room today, we implore you, to please establish a Māori ward."
Patricia Coles said she was hopeful the decision would make a difference to future generations.
"The kete we carry together is going to be filled with good stuff. Your decision today will change attitudes tomorrow."
To resounding shouts of "aye" and "yes", Taranaki iwi CEO Wharehoka Wano asked the gallery "do we support Māori wards whānau?
"We are not here to bully you, we are more subtle than that," he said to laughs from the gallery and councillors.
Today he said, he was talking about value.
That value was something a Māori ward would add to future discussions and decisions, he said.
"You must know by now, iwi want a Māori ward," said Puna Wano-Bryant.
"Please don't use numbers and majority rhetoric, because the mathematics of democracy have never served a colonised people. Clear the space to let our sacred bird of peace land and seek refuge."
Sue Comrie said she was there to speak as a Pākehā woman in support of Māori wards.
"Some people liken Māori wards to apartheid, but is there anything that sounds more like apartheid than white majority rule? This is fundamentally a Māori country, just as France is a French country."
Thanking all those who spoke for their time, Mayor Volzke added he had spoken to leaders of local iwi over the past day and said the views expressed in the delegations heard today were consistent with those of iwi leaders.
Tiffany Radich, director – corporate services and deputy electoral officer for Stratford District Council - said the report in front of elected members today gave councillors another opportunity to reflect on a previous decision and take another look at it.
Her report acknowledged the submissions made on Tuesday and the response to them.
"Elected members and council officers present at the hearing acknowledge the mamae [hurt] and disappointment expressed by these iwi at the current lack of Māori representation.
"Due to the significance the council places on its relationship with Māori in the Stratford District, and to acknowledge that council has come a long way in engaging with iwi and wants to continue to strengthen the relationship and work together for better outcomes for our community, elected members are being given a final opportunity to review Māori representation for the 2022 local election."
Councillor Min McKay moved that council establish a Māori ward to have effect for the next election, to loud cheers from the gallery.
Peter Dalziel seconded the motion.
Councillor McKay said she was the "perfect picture of Pākehā privilege" but had learned she could not make decisions on behalf of her whole community.
"Let's say yes today. If you are going to say no, let's formally hear it so we all know where we are."
McKay then listed some of the arguments she had heard against the idea, and gave her counter-arguments.
Some people, she said, claimed one voice would not make a difference.
"If one's not enough, let's talk 50-50," she said with a smile and to plenty of cheers.
"The reality is we are not all one people, and that's what makes our world so beautiful ... I am here today to give me absolute support to establishing a Māori ward."
Councillor Dalziel, who was speaking via Zoom, gave his reasons for seconding the motion.
"Most of the councillors know I have supported the introduction of a Māori ward since we started talking about it ... one of the key reasons is Māori are under-represented in local government in NZ."
"This is a partnership. If we are going to have a meaningful partnership they need to be at the table ... It's in everyone's interests, the community's interest, to have Māori at the table in our decision-making. It's good for Māori and it's good for Stratford."
He was disappointed it took an 11th-hour meeting to reach this decision, he added.
"It should have been made earlier."
Councillor Grant Boyde, also speaking via Zoom, added his support.
"I'm not a very good builder, but I am happy to be an architect for the future, and that is why I support it."
Councillor Amanda Harris also spoke in favour.
Deputy mayor Alan Jamieson said he was in favour.
"This is a historic meeting. The start of a long process."
Councillor Jono Erwood said he wanted to be clear.
"At no stage have I ever been against, or opposed to a Māori ward in Stratford."
In the past, however, he said, he'd had reservations about the lack of community consultation and that not all iwi had been in agreement with the idea at the start.
"I want to see the relationship between iwi and Council to continue to grow ... with this being said I will vote to establish a Māori ward."
Councillor Rick Coplestone said he had also had reservations in the past, but had listened to everyone on the subject and gave his support.
Councillor John Sandford had lost a lot of sleep and written seven versions of what he was going to say, he said.
"And the seventh version is no use."
He had been opposed he said, feeling people should stand on merit.
"Today is the first day my eyes have been opened. We should have had this conversation a long time ago. I was so impressed today with those speakers ... this has been a great experience today and you have changed my mind. I am voting in favour."
Sandford also had praise for the "young councillors" around him who had, he said, opened his eyes and changed his perspective.
"I made a decision, that we didn't need a Māori ward," said councillor Gloria Webby. "But today, I have changed my mind. I will be voting in favour."
"I think this whole decision has been about time," said councillor Vaughan Jones.
"I stand by my initial decision that we needed more time," he said. "However, today I will vote for a Māori ward."
Mayor Volzke said he had asked himself what the benefit would be of having a Māori ward.
"I have called on my experience working with iwi around the district ... I have thought back and asked myself what have been the most rewarding decisions our council has made. They are the decisions that have given people the opportunity to do something. They are the easy decisions.
"Today, we have the opportunity to establish a Māori ward ... will it be the solution that fixed all the problems facing Māori? No, but it is a step in the right direction.
"As a council and a community I ask, why wouldn't you want to build on the relationship and create opportunities that will benefit everyone?"
He did not have a concern that there had been no time to discuss the issue with the wider community he said.
"This is a decision between Māori and council."
The decision would not be popular with all he said, "some will not be happy, and I respect that".
"Being a leader means making a judgment call ... we have heard the call for a Māori ward ... this is a decision we all have to own and I support the decision."
Councillors were then asked to formally vote, with the unanimous vote in favour of the establishment of a Māori ward being greeted with emotion and plenty of cheers from the gallery.
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.