Te Pāti Māori has taken activism to Parliament today as its MPs gave their own oaths of allegiance to the “mana of mokopuna” or grandchildren in successive generations and Te Tiriti o Waitangi before monarch King Charles alongside rousing haka and waiata.
The actions were part of a wider protest against the swearing-in protocol that requires allegiance to the monarch but doesn’t allow for alternatives.
Despite breaking protocol the process was generally supported by all present, with just some controversy after Rawiri Waititi and Tākuta Ferris referred to King Charles as “Kīngi Harehare”, which can mean both Charles but also “scab”, instead of the more commonly-used “Tīare”.
Meanwhile, National’s Gerry Brownlee was confirmed as the new Speaker of the House.
It all came amid a national day of protest outside the halls of power focusing on some of the new Government’s policies on Te Tiriti/The Treaty of Waitangi, with fellow opposition parties Labour and the Greens also pledging to fight back.
During the swearing-in ceremony, members from different parties were wearing cultural garments including Māori traditional headdress, while some Green Party MPs are wearing keffiyeh over their shoulders, a sign of their support for Palestine amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Tākuta Ferris, the first Te Pāti Māori MP to be sworn in, began by breaking protocol in speaking from his seat, swearing to be faithful to mokopuna according to tikanga Māori and perform his functions as MP in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Ferris then signed an oath written by Te Pāti Māori on the desk of party co-leader Rawiri Waititi which states the promise to mokopuna and the Treaty, before performing a haka in front of the Clerk of the House. He then swore the Parliamentary oath like previous MPs, which is required before becoming an MP.
But Ferris and Waititi later on did not stick exactly to the script, instead of “Kīngi Tiāre te Tuatoru”, or King Charles III in te reo, the two MPs referred to “Kīngi Harehare te Tuatoru”.
Harehare can mean “scab”. Asked about this after the ceremony Waititi said “Harehare” was also a term for Charles.
“Those are the words that we use on the coast... I have an uncle called Harehare,” he said, adding - with a wry smile - he would never call the King a word such as “scab”.
The protest actions were part of the party’s opposition to what they say is the colonial nature of the ceremony, which currently requires an oath of allegiance to King Charles but does not offer alternatives. They have been pushing for Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be included and even the Māori King, currently Kīngi Tūheitia.
The party had told the Clerk of the House about their plans ahead of time, and unlike in previous Parliaments they were able to proceed without any controversy.
All six of the Te Pāti Māori MPs followed a similar process, some with a unique take on their oath.
Te Pāti Māori Hauraki-Waikato MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke mentioned Māori King Kiingi Tūheitia during her initial statement in te reo, followed by a mōteatea or traditional chant on the floor of the House. Maipi-Clarke is seen as representative of a new generation of young Māori politicians, having grown up in kōhanga reo Māori immersion, and at 21 becoming one of the country’s youngest-ever MPs.
MPs Mariameno Kapa-Kingi and Takutai Moana Natasha Kemp also swore their allegiances to Te Tiriti o Waitangi before following up by stating the oath concerning allegiance to the King. Kapa-Kingi also mentioned He Whakaputanga, or the 1835 Declaration of Independence.
MPs from all parties went one-by-one, with most from National, Act and NZ First stating theirs in English but the vast majority of Labour MPs and almost all Green MPs using te reo Māori.
There were also oaths sworn in Sāmoan, Tongan, Cantonese, Korean, Filipino (Tagalog), Vietnamese, Arabic and Danish.
As Prime Minister Christopher Luxon made his oath he was right next to Labour’s side of the House and Labour MPs were able to joke with the PM about his pronunciation, including Opposition leader Chris Hipkins who said “well done” to his opposite for getting the pronunciation of the oath correct after he slipped up during his confirmation as Prime Minister last week.
Labour’s Willie Jackson took the opportunity to poke fun at New Zealand First leader Winston Peters by asking the Deputy Prime Minister to say the oath in te reo Māori - a joke informed by Peters’ belief te reo was over-used.
Peters said “boo” in response and spoke the oath in English.
The swearing-in ceremony also allowed MPs to proceed with items of importance to themselves.
Act leader David Seymour did so with a copy of the Bill of Rights, while many Green MPs did so on top of an 1887 copy of the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 He Whakaputanga/United Tribes Declaration of Independence.
Green MP Te Anau Tuiono swore his oath in te reo with a copy of the late Dr Ranginui Walker’s book He Whawhai Tonu Matou/Struggle Without End.
One of the more quirky moments came as new Green MP Scott Willis took a large, ancient-looking book with him that turned out to be his family tree.
Brownlee made new Speaker of the House
National’s Gerry Brownlee has just been confirmed as the new Speaker of the House.
He wasn’t the only nomination - Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer nominated Labour MP and former Speaker Adrian Rurawhe to continue in the role.
However, Rurawhe did not accept the nomination. Waititi cheekily said: “What a pity.”
Tradition dictated the new Speaker was supposed to pretend to resist as two National Party whips pulled him towards the Speaker’s chair. Brownlee didn’t really play along, walking normally.
“What a surprise”, were Brownlee’s first words as Speaker, acknowledging the open secret his nomination had long been.
Brownlee also joked that Speakers before him had come under much “opprobrium”, including from himself.
“I want to express that we all might get on a little better than I got on with some of the Speakers before.
“Probably my biggest challenge will be keeping myself in order.”
Brownlee said he wanted to acknowledge Adrian Rurawhe before him who had brought “calm and dignity to the House at a time it was needed”.
He said he was grateful for their discussions and counsel offered by Rurawhe if needed.
Brownlee said he would look to instil an open environment in the House with “free flow of debate” and he would not get “hung up on the rules”.
On standing orders, he said they would be a “framework but not absolute”.
Luxon said Brownlee, known affectionately within National as the “father of the House”, was a “true Parliamentarian” who understood the rules and culture of the House.
‘Theatre’ versus ‘cultural expression’
Speaking after the ceremony, NZ First MP and Cabinet Minister Shane Jones took umbrage at Te Pāti Māori’s antics saying they should not think they are “the authentic voice of Māori New Zealanders”.
“I remind everyone again, that party got three per cent of the vote and a lot of their party voters were not Māori. A lot of them were hippies.”
He said the kapahaka in the House were “theatrics” and “excessive”. He also challenged Waititi and Ferris over the term “Harehare” for Charles.
“They’re trying to make fun of the transliteration of Charlie, but it also means something objectionable.”
Jones also called out the party’s use of cocked pistols in its protest advertising.
“At a time where we are trying to stop young people being attracted to gang lifestyles, I just really feel that as senior parliamentarians, you shouldn’t be using guns in any manner or form even if it is a theatrical thing.”
Seymour meanwhile accused Te Pāti Māori of using “theatrics” to cover up for a lack of serious policy ideas to tackle the serious issues.
He also accused the protesters of the day of not having a coherent message and instead seeking to cause “maximum disruption”.
In response, Waititi said their actions were not “theatrics” but “cultural identity and expression”.
“We will continue to do that whether he is hoha or not, we don’t care.”
On their oaths, Waititi said they believed it should reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi and a commitment to our mokopuna.
“That’s looking at tomorrow, that policies should not affect them years down the track. But also Te Tiriti o Waitangi which is about acknowledging the relationship that tangata whenua have with the Crown.”
Ngarewa-Packer said she believed they had made their point in a manner that had not upset people, “well, maybe Winston”, she added referencing comments from the Deputy Prime Minister during the ceremony.
“A new generation has arrived. Hana [Maipi-Clarke] was outstanding, look at Doc [Tākuta Ferris]. They have arrived and there is such a difference to their politicking and their style.”
On the day’s protests, Ngarewa-Packer said they would “grow and grow”, but she couldn’t give specifics yet of when the next day of action would be.
“These are movements from the grassroots and flaxroots. That was the start I expect that to grow but I believe we’ll see more and more.”
On the use of pistols in their advertising, Ngarewa-Packer said it was “contemporary Māori art” and reflected use of the weapons against Māori in the past during “state-sponsored terrorism.
“It’s really important that we don’t try and whitewash our history and pretend that we don’t have that as part of our colonised past.”
She also defended her use of the term “genocide” in describing actions of the Crown.
“My whānau [Parihaka] survived the deliberate displacement of our people, the deliberate extermination of our people, the deliberate and imprisonment without trial of our people.
“I think as Taranaki I have quite a license, I won’t be censored.”
Luxon said he didn’t have a problem with how Te Pāti Māori behaved and was glad accommodation had been made.
But he said he didn’t support changing the oath to include Te Tiriti.
History of objecting swearing-in ceremony
It’s not the first time Te Pāti Māori’s MPs have raised objections with the swearing-in ceremony, that requires MPs to pledge allegiance to the Crown. Back in 2005 all four MPs swore an oath to Te Tiriti as well as the Queen, before being forced to repeat it without a Treaty reference.
In 2011, Hone Harawira was kicked out of Parliament after seeking to only pledge allegiance to Te Tiriti. In 2020, co-leader Rawiri Waititi swore the oath in te reo on a copy of Te Tiriti and a Ringatū Bible.
A spokesman for the party said they would first do their own oaths, including a reference to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, before taking the Parliamentary oath which must occur for them to become MPs.
The party has been highly critical of the process, describing it last week as “symbolic of the colonial power that Parliament places above the mana of tangata whenua”.
They say it is not the equal partnership consented to by Te Tiriti o Waitangi and have been calling for Parliament to include both options.
The protest action comes as Te Pāti Māori calls for nationwide action in response to the Government’s “assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
Te Pāti Māori party secretary Lance Norman said they were expecting hundreds - potentially thousands - of vehicles to join convoys heading slowly into Auckland’s city centre along the state highways from the North Shore, the northwestern and southern motorways.
Norman said the protests across main centres had emerged after iwi leaders and Māori providers met soon after the new Government was announced, and confirmed on Sunday a national day of action for the first day of Parliament on Tuesday.
The protests were in response to the National, Act and NZ First coalition’s policies on Te Tiriti o Waitangi - such as Act’s bid to redefine the principles, scrapping of the Māori Health Authority and Oranga Tamariki policies along with repealing the smokefree generation law, which disproportionately impacts Māori.
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 there will be a national conversation about the issue.
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said as the country’s only tangata whenua party they were “doing what is expected of us”.
“We will push back, we will mobilise, we will use every platform whether it is the House, social media, on the ground, international law and the courts. We will collectivise and we will fight.”
Ngarewa-Packer said there was a generational movement, with youth in particular pushing back against the new Government, as evidenced by the election of 21-year-old Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke over Labour stalwart Nanaia Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato.
Not all protests have been organised by the party, but the party is helping to facilitate and advertise the different actions.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said Te Pāti Māori’s plans in Parliament were the responsibility of the clerk of the House.
On the protests, Luxon said everyone was entitled to the right to protest and encouraged them to be respectful and lawful.
He said they were deeply committed to improving outcomes for Māori, many of which had gone backwards under the previous Government.
Luxon said they had only been in Government a week and he wanted iwi to understand they were deeply committed to Māori.
Labour’s Māori Development spokesman Willie Jackson said the planned protests were “not a surprise”.
“There’s a lot of anger out there at the moment. Māori are frustrated.
“Although there’s not a referendum, it still looks like an attack on Māori and so Māori organisations, iwi Māori are responding accordingly.”
Jackson said he thought the country was going to become more divided as a result of the Government’s policies.
“I think we’re going to enter our most divisive time in our political history over the next year or so.
“I think most Kiwis were actually quite comfortable, particularly the younger ones, with co-governance and other policies.
“I don’t think National voters thought they were voting for Seymour’s retake on the Treaty.”
On Te Pāti Māori’s planned actions in Parliament, Jackson said he supported them but wouldn’t do so himself.
“I think our people should have an option [other than the King].
“But I’m thinking more about what we have to do right now in terms of responding to the attacks on us.”
After all MPs are sworn in on Tuesday morning, Parliament will elect the Speaker of the House. Luxon said National would be nominating Gerry Brownlee.
Michael Neilson is a political reporter based at Parliament in Wellington. He joined the Herald in 2018 and has covered social issues, the environment and Māori affairs.