'A pebble in your shoe' - Maori Party's Rawiri Waititi's promise to be unapologetic voice for Maori

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 4 Dec 2020, 2:55PM
Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi holding his tie aloft to symbolise a noose during his maiden speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi holding his tie aloft to symbolise a noose during his maiden speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

'A pebble in your shoe' - Maori Party's Rawiri Waititi's promise to be unapologetic voice for Maori

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 4 Dec 2020, 2:55PM

Māori Party co-leader and Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi says he will be an unapologetic voice for Māori - like a pebble in the shoe of Parliament.

Waititi began his maiden speech in Parliament today with a stirring waiata supported by whanau in the public gallery: "You're magic people to me ... I'm proud to be Māori."

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi holding his tie aloft to symbolise a noose during his maiden speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said he would be a Māori voice in every piece of legislation to come to the house.

"You know what it feels like to have a pebble in your shoe? That will be my job here."

He paid tribute to Dame Tariana Turia for crossing the floor for the foreshore and seabed law and creating the Māori Party.

"Her courage has inspired a whole generation, and her act of bravery continues to inspire them today."

He told a joke to illustrate the partnership between Māori and Pakeha, where Pakeha were a great white shark that simply ate the fish that represented Māori.

He said Māori had suffered through extermination practices, assimilation, land-stealing laws, denial of tangata whenua status, and a monocultural view that almost saw the Māori language die.

He then noted media company Stuff's apology for its racist portrayal of Māori and its commitment to do better - but he was waiting for the Crown to do the same.

"For the monocultural viewpoint that has sought to repress tangata whenua, for aiding and abetting the system of racism that strips us of our spirit."

It was no longer acceptable for Oranga Tamariki to "steal our babies", the justice system to "lock our people up", the welfare system that "keeps my people poor", the health system that "keeps my people sick", education that "keeps my people dumb", or a housing system that "keeps my people homeless".

"This has to stop. It is time for Māori to look after Māori."

He called for Māori representation on local wards, for Whanau Ora to be better resourced, with funding going to commissioning agencies rather than Crown agencies, and for all oil and gas exploration to stop.

"Enough of being assimilated, forced to do and look like everyone else. We are not like everyone else. We are unique. Being Māori is like having superpowers. There's no one else in the world like us.

"We are in the business of empowerment. We are in the business of emancipation."

He finished pulling his tie as if it were a noose, and quoting the song of Te Whakatōhea chief Mokomoko, who was wrongfully hanged for murder in 1866 and was officially pardoned in 2011: "Tangohia mai te taura i taku kakī kia waiata au i taku waiata (Take the rope from my neck that I may sing my song)."

Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer at the start of her maiden speech. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer at the start of her maiden speech. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Maori Party's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Maori Party list MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was the last speaker of the day.

Waititi's supporters from the east cleared the public galleries to make way for hers from the west, many from where she grew up, in Patea, and she began on a chilling note.

"I stand here as descendant of a people who survived a holocaust, a genocide, sponsored by the House and Members of Parliament whose portraits still hang from the walls, Members of this Parliament who sought our extermination and created legislation to achieve it, that confiscated all our whenua, imprisoned us without trial and murdered and raped our women and children and deliberately engineered our displacement for generations to come.

"What [19th century politicians] William Fox, George Grey, John Bryce and many others did to my people was unforgivable," she said.

"Fortunately, their one-generational plan was outlived by our forever generational resolve, such is the strength of my whakapapa. But the trauma of what they did to us still lives with us.

"I am the third generation born since those monsters on these walls inflicted muru raupatu on Taranaki. Many of my tupuna were Hau Hau leaders and fought alongside Titokowaru. Many of my tupuna stood alongside Tohu and Te Whiti at Parihaka.

"My great grandfather, my koro Hohepa Ngarewa Tumohoke, was our only survivor to return home after being sent by the Government to life imprisonment in the Dunedin prison in 1869 simply for fight to stop the confiscation of his land."

He had been 16 at the time, the same age as her son. She said he did not return with bitterness and instead built three churches on sites where loss had been incurred.

"To heal the trauma, to help find a way forward, he mobilised with Parihaka, believing in the strength of kotahitanga…such was his belief in building a better future he learned to forgive in the hope that the partnership envisaged in the Te Tiriti would be realised.

"Nearly 150 years later and now one of us is here, not as a political prisoner but as a Member of Parliament.

"I am proud for my tupuna that their grand-daughter has arrived to ensure that this place never, ever forgets the impact of racist legislation and the importance of believing and building a positive future for our mokopuna.

"I am proud for Taranaki. I am proud for Ngati Ruanui."

After her speech, the galleries sang the Patea Maori Club's most famous song, Poi E.

Act Party MP Simon Court. Photo / SuppliedAct Party MP Simon Court. Photo / Supplied

Act's Simon Court

Act list MP Simon Court is a former Green voter, and a reformed radical environmentalist.

The correct party colours for such a stance, he said today in his maiden speech to Parliament, was Act.

"I'm not about to chain myself to an oil rig, climb a chimney stack wearing blue body paint, or glue myself to the road.

"Those behaviours are no longer radical, Those behaviours are now mainstream. I am a radical environmentalist because I'm a rational environmentalist."

Court was a civil and environmental engineer for almost 25 years, working on road and highway projects in Auckland and Wellington, as well as a stint in Fiji from where he was deported for raising issues about Chinese investment there.

He said the real environmental solutions were driven by communities and the private sector.

"I'm a radical because I believe that business and communities are best placed to solve our worst environment and infrastructure problems, through innovation in a partnership with government, not by heavy-handed, counter-productive regulation.

"Business and land-owners have skin in the game. They will invest in doing the right thing."

Court said his family has been in New Zealand for 200 years.

"They were missionaries, pioneers, merchants, farmers, builders, accountants, and engineers. One of my grandfathers built a ski club on Mt Ruapehu with his mates, still
there today, and enjoyed by many families for more than 60 years.

"That was pretty normal stuff in my family, we are innovators, free thinkers,
people who know what it takes to get things done, people not afraid to take
calculated risks.

"It is self-reliance – the idea that you can get ahead in life by your own effort,
get a trade, or a degree; start a small business; own your own home."

Court said he was a history and politics student who used to partake in the odd protest march.

"I had my share of indiscretions. I even voted Green a couple of times. David Seymour said he won't hold it against me; he tells me that the Act Party believes in redemption from even the most egregious of sins."

He switched his studies to environmental science on his return.

"Every year, there are hundreds of raw sewage overflows from councils' network into streams and harbours around Auckland. Not big, evil corporates, but councils.

"And the RMA makes getting a permit for waste to energy almost impossible. As a result, we now bury 3.5 million tonnes of waste in landfills every single year.

"Government is too often the cause of – not the solution to – our problems."

Labour Party list MP Camilla Belich. Photo / Supplied

Labour Party list MP Camilla Belich. Photo / Supplied

Labour list MP Camilla Belich

Labour list MP and former union lawyer Camilla Belich began her speech in fluent te reo Maori.

She explained that as a children she had had the advantage of the father who, although he was Pakeha, was learning te reo at polytech which meant she could speak some Maori before she could read in English.

She went on to receive a bilingual education at primary school, and to study Maori at primary school and at university and was still learning.

"In my time in this House, I will seek opportunities to speak and continue to learn and support te reo Maori."

She paid tribute to her grandmother, Valerie Belich, and her grandfather, the late Sir Jim Belich, a former Mayor of Wellington, who had door-knocked in support of the first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage and been on Sir Walter Nash's electorate committee.

Camilla Belich believed she was the fourth Croatian and first Croatian woman to sit in the Parliament.

"I want to take the opportunity to honour the Dalmatian women who came to NZ to make it their home. Many left all they had ever known, knowing they would never see their families again, for a life of hard physical labour in the gum-fields or on the land.

"These women kept their culture and families strong and together despite their marginalisation in the Anglo-Saxon community.

"More recently families from my ancestral homeland repeated this journey, coming to New Zealand to escape the terrible conflict in the former Yugoslavia. So for all the mothers, the Tetas, the Babas and Prababas – my presence here is also to honour you."

She paid tribute to her parents, Angie Belich and Colin Feslier, whom she described as committed trade unionists.

"One of my earliest memories is attending a protest outside this very House asking for fairer pay for early childhood teachers when I myself was still in a push chair."

Belich, who stood for Labour in Epsom, said her career had been spent representing workers and their unions while working in New Zealand, England and Wales. (She and husband Andrew Kirton returned to New Zealand in 2016 and he became general secretary of the Labour Party for a couple of years).

She paid special tribute to the late trade union leader Helen Kelly, whom she described as her mentor, and she acknowledged the work of Kristine Bartlett and E Tu union on pay equity.

Belich, who is expecting her third child, also thanked Speaker Trevor and said his work in making families, babies and parents would be his enduring legacy.

She said she was proud that one of her first votes in the House was to acknowledge a climate emergency.

"It is beyond important that we recognise and act on climate change not only for our own future but for the future generations of our country.

"There is no climate change vaccine. There is only the hard, hard work of radically changing the way we live on this earth. All of us must make this change."