Waitangi flagpole protest ends quietly

JOHN HARTEVELT, MARIKA HILL AND MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 14:54 06/02/2012

Waitangi flagpole standoff

Waitangi dawn service

Waitangi protests

Key reacts to Waitangi protests

Waitangi
Getty Images Zoom
A man knocks on the window of Finance Minster Bill English's car.

Related Links

Waitangi dawn service Waitangi: February 6

Relevant offers

In a surprising end, protesters at Waitangi's flagpole have brought their demonstration to a peaceful end.

The atmosphere at today's celebrations at Waitangi turned tense when 200 protesters marched to the pole and called for change, saying they were fed up by "institutional racism" and the National Government.

The protesters formed a circle around a flagpole on the Treaty grounds after police stopped them from raising a flag.

However, a group of about 15 women and kaumatua were allowed past and have been singing and touching the flagpole.

As the remaining protesters left, they performed hongi with the Maori wardens and police officers they had been arguing with moments before.

Waitangi Day celebrations this morning were peaceful, in contrast to the atmosphere yesterday, which was marred by protesters so loud they drowned out Prime Minister John Key's speech.

During this afternoon's demonstration, protesters were saying they were fed up by "institutional racism", the National Government and the Prime Minister John Key.

About 200 chanting protesters made their way to the flagpole on the treaty grounds and attempted to raise a flag. However, they were held back by about 25 Maori wardens.

Police numbers swelled from about 20 to 40 as they joined Maori wardens to protect the flagpole. Tensions eased when each protester took a turn to speak.

They were, among other things, complaining about asset sales and deep sea oil drilling.

At the time, the protesters said they won't move.

Wi Popata had earlier signalled that a group would ''storm'' the flagpole.

This morning, Key said yesterday's protests "hijacked" the opportunity for the Government to respond to Treaty issues.

"The actual day of Waitangi Day is actually a very peaceful day, a family day. It's a chance for people to reflect on the fact we are a nation that came together by signing the Treaty in a peaceful way," Key said.

Speaking to a crowd of iwi leaders and politicians at the Copthorne Hotel, Key rebutted the demands of the protests yesterday by saying state asset sales and mining would boost the country's economy.

But he reassured iwi leaders that it would not be at the expense of the Treaty of Waitangi.

"The Government has no intention of diluting or walking away from its Treaty obligations."

He also spoke of the disparity between Maori and Pakeha, and how Maori were lagging behind Pakeha in health and education. "We need to be making the waka go faster," he said.

Key paid tribute earlier in the morning to the victims of last year's deadly earthquake and to their families and friends who were marking their first Waitangi Day without their loved ones.

Ad Feedback

"We give our thoughts and prayers to those who have suffered tragedy," he says.

Labour leader David Shearer also gave a prayer in recognition of New Zealand day and asked the country for it to be a day "of celebration".

Another, very small protest erupted this morning when a lone protester shouted abuse at Titewhai Harawira as she left the marae.

The Maori man could be heard yelling "who the hell does she think she is? The Queen?"

Hone Harawira ran to his mother and led her away from the man.

Meanwhile, traditional Maori waka have been launched just across from Te Tii Marae.

Thousands of people have gathered on the river banks and at the camping ground to watch the festivities.

'GENEROSITY IS KEY'

The race relations commissioner has criticised some Pakehas' "lack of generosity" towards deprived Maori as Waitangi Day celebrations have again turned violent.

A small group of protesters charged at Key yesterday as he arrived at Northland's Te Tii Marae and his speech was abandoned after he was drowned out by angry taunts.

Mr Key was challenged over deep sea oil drilling and plans to drop a Treaty of Waitangi clause from legislation allowing the partial privatisation of state-owned power companies.

"This place is about the Treaty of Waitangi and any threat to the Treaty of Waitangi needs to be defended," Mana Party leader and Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira said.

But while some Maori activists were protesting at Waitangi yesterday, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres criticised those Pakeha who still resisted moves to give "special treatment" to disadvantaged Maori, thousands of whom suffered inequality.

"I still have a sense that there is a lack of generosity in some Pakeha attitudes to Maori and there is a lack of will to see measures taken that will help to remove that disadvantage and there is a lack of understanding of this notion that it is actually fair to deal specifically with people who are suffering unfairness."

Mr de Bres said he received a "continuing thread of correspondence" against "anything that could be deemed to be a special measure or something that applies particularly to Maori or Pacific people".

"Every time the issue comes up ... then you start to get a level of resistance and resentment and objection.

"I understand where people are coming from when they object to it. All you can really do is continue to have the conversation because, unless you do something about it, the outcomes for everybody are going to be worse in the end."

In a forthcoming report, Mr de Bres said he would note that 41 per cent of school children in Auckland and Northland were Pakeha. That showed that, if racial inequalities were not addressed, it would lead to negative social outcomes for everyone.

"The advice is consistent. Educational achievement, health outcomes, unemployment, housing, justice – they're all issues which reflect Maori and Pacific disadvantage and any self-respecting government would say: well, if that's the situation, we have to do something about it.

"I think there is a will to do that but it sometimes runs up against resentment that this is somehow special treatment."

Constitutional lawyer Mai Chen, writing in today's Dominion Post, said the negotiating power of Maori was "greater than ever before" and required "a different response from the Pakeha majority and from government".

The dispute over the status of the Treaty in the mixed ownership legislation could be resolved if the Treaty was written into the Bill of Rights Act.

"We have to have the courage to openly discuss these issues with all New Zealanders, and not just Maori, to enable our constitution to evolve incrementally and not through violence and civil unrest. The Treaty is like an earthquake fault in society – much better to have small and frequent shifts than to allow pressure to build up and explode."

Labour Party leader David Shearer said there was "probably some truth" in Mr de Bres' comments.

"I think it comes from New Zealanders' feeling of fair play, that everybody gets a fair shot and nobody is seen as being ahead or having an advantage over another." But there was a maturity around Treaty issues, he said.

"When you look at how we approach race and those issues in New Zealand compared with other countries, actually, we're doing pretty well."

Mr Key, who this morning was due to attend the traditional dawn ceremony on Waitangi's Treaty Grounds, said a Treaty clause in the Bill of Rights Act "may be possible".

"But the path we're following at the moment is more specific Treaty clauses.

"The reason for that is in the case of mixed-ownership companies, our concern is it's ambiguous with those private sector shareholders."

- Wellington

Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content

Quiz SMALL pointer June 26

Daily trivia fix

Is chess your forte?