On May 6, Manawatū District Council voted to defer the decision of establishing Māori wards, which are local authority equivalent of Māori seats in parliament, in the district. By a 6-4 defer, the council delayed the date for a decision to 2023 and decided on a representation review in 2024.
The decision of the Manawatū District Council was challenged by protesters who questioned Māori representation with a “hikoi” (protest march). Broadcast channel, Te Karere TVNZ, covered the protests against the decision; on the motives behind the decision, Mayor Helen Worboys commented, “the community isn’t ready for a Māori ward yet” in the broadcast.
After the historic protest and the public calling on the councillors to change their minds, the decision was reversed and Manawatū District Council will be introducing Māori wards in time for the 2022 local government elections.
Māori wards and Māori representation
Māori wards are a form of electoral representation where only people on the Māori Parliamentary electoral roll choose their representatives. This form of electoral representation aims to reinforce the role of Māori in local governments. According to the Local Councils NZ Website, the establishment of Māori wards in the district follows the process of a council decision or a poll on whether there should be Māori wards.
As advocates of Māori wards, NZ Greens have been vocal about the council’s decision. NZ Greens MP Teanau Tuiono was one of the protestors who also campaigned in Palmerston North and the wider Manawatū to establish Māori wards in 2018. In a statement on the NZ Greens official website, he commented, “We have been clear on our position for Māori wards and I will continue to tautoko local iwi, hapū and whānau to ensure their voices are heard and not used when the council needs them to bless, karakia or sing a waiata.”
In an interview with Green MP Teanau Tuiono, he elaborated on the Green Party’s stance for Māori representation. He stated “One of our charter principles is the principle of appropriate decision making. So it is appropriate for indigenous peoples to be at the decision-making table in terms of all of the issues that impact indigenous peoples. That’s the principle of appropriate decision making.”
He also mentioned the Treaty of Waitangi, the indigenous text to which the Green Party is committed, adding that “Treaty of Waitangi forms a part of our charter.”
A successful hikoi overturning the decision
A few days after the decision, thousands of protestors marched to the Manawatū District Council building. The march was accompanied with call-and-response chants, “haka” (Māori ceremonial dance) performances, and speeches from politicians and activists.
Māori Party Co-Leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was among the protestors as she hoped this protests would show that Māori people are not “scary, pro-apartheid, segregationist…” In the “Hundreds of people join historic march for Māori wards in Manawatū” article published in Stuff, she also added, “we just want to contribute to building our country as tangata whenua (people of the land) ”
On May 20th, Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson replied to a post on Twitter, commenting “power to the people” after Manawatū District Council reversed its stance and decided to establish Māori wards for the 2022 elections.