Jostling continues as Key escorted onto Te Tii marae

SIMON DAY, ANDREA VANCE AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 11:46 05/02/2013
KRISSY DWYER/Fairfax NZ

Prime Minister John Key steps onto the lower Waitangi marae.

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After a front gate disagreement Prime Minister John Key was escorted onto Te Tii marae by Titewhai Harawira and Ani Taurua.

The two jostled for prime position as Key was walked onto the marae.

Harawira the controversial Ngapuhi elder refused to relinquish her self-appointed role after Ngapuhi trustees chose Taurua as this year's escort.

The prime minister was nearly half an hour late as the opposing escort parties argued at the marae gate over who would take the role.

A dual escort was eventually agreed on.

Key led a large Government contingent, including Maori party leader Pita Sharples, onto the marae under the watch of police.

Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua expressed disappointment that Harawira would not accept the iwi's decision.

"Us Maori are supposed to adhere to the protocol of the marae," he said.

"We thought that when the trustees made the decision they would obey it."

Kingi Taurua and Sharples attempted to help the women reach an agreement, but as tensions rose the men were forced to leave, Taurua obviously angry.

Eventually, an agreement was reached between the two kuia.

"The women sorted it out," Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's wife Hilda Halkyard-Harawira said.

Key had said he was not concerned by who escorted him onto the marae.

But this revealed a lack of understanding of marae protocol, according to NZ First leader Winston Peters.

"Mr Key knows nothing about the indigenous culture of this country," Peters said.

The focus on Key's escort was a distraction from the real issues of Waitangi and Northland, he said.

"They have mass unemployment up here, one third of the people up here are on food support. And that is what is classed as news on our national day," he said.

Key will also face opposition to the Government's plan to sell off state-owned energy companies during his visit today.

Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul will give a speech on water rights during the official proceedings.

The independent iwi constitutional working group, commissioned by the Iwi Leaders Group, will also deliver a blunt message.

About 2000 visitors are expected at Te Tii Marae.

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