Division amongst Ngapuhi leaders is putting the brakes on John Key going to Waitangi

KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister John Key will go to Waitangi if invited and only if he is allowed to speak.

Titewhai Harawira has personally invited the Prime Minister to Te Tii Marae on Friday but if he accepts her invitation he could be walking into a firestorm.

It's still unknown whether Key will attend Waitangi celebrations due to confusion over who has the mandate to invite him to the marae, which has been a scene of conflict, division and acrimony over the years.

On Tuesday Northland iwi leaders met to discuss whether Key would be blocked from the marae because of his handling of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which Maori leaders including Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurau have strongly opposed.

Prime Minister John Key vowed to return the Government to Waitangi but now he is turning his back on Northland.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister John Key vowed to return the Government to Waitangi but now he is turning his back on Northland.

A vote was called for at the meeting and leaders voted 38-14 in favour of stopping Key attending.

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It was Harawira, who has escorted Prime Ministers onto the marae for many years, along with Ngapuhi co-chairman Rudy Taylor and other leaders, who agreed to the vote going ahead despite their support for Key at the marae.

When the vote went against Key they were left with no choice but to veto it, which has caused division amongst trustees with some saying Key won't be welcome to speak if he turns up.

Harawira's son, Hone, a former MP and opposer of the TPPA, abstained from voting but said his mother and other leaders had "put themselves in a situation of real jeopardy" by allowing the vote in the first place.

"It's a national marae and Ngapuhi are the guardians of it. What they should have done is asked other leaders from other areas for their opinion, listened to them and then decided. They didn't have to take a vote.

"They handled the whole thing really badly," he said.

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Following the vote there were mixed messages from leaders at the marae over whether Key would be invited or not.

Some media reported that Key had been blocked from the marae while others were told by leaders that he was welcome.

Despite a call from Titewhai Harawira, Key said he was still unsure what the position of Ngapuhi was and he understood marae trustees were meeting on Tuesday evening to decide whether he was welcome.

However Taylor dismissed those reports, saying there was no meeting and Key was welcome to attend and to speak at the marae.

While Taylor says Titewhai Harawira had the full backing of trustees and kaumatua to contact Key, former Labour MP Dover Samuels, who was at the meeting, says the vote had to be upheld.

Labour Maori Affairs spokesman Kelvin Davis, who was also at the meeting, said tikanga (custom) dictates that Key should be invited onto the marae so the trustees were right to overrule the vote.

Key said he had made a commitment to go to Waitangi but he wouldn't "gate-crash" and he wouldn't attend if he wasn't able to speak.

"I"m not going if I can't speak, it's pretty simple."

He said Te Tii was the gateway to the Waitangi treaty grounds and he wouldn't attend at all if he wasn't welcome at the lower marae.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark didn't always attend events at Waitangi - in 2000 she celebrated the national day in Akaroa because she wanted a "fresh start" and that ruled out attending Waitangi where there was "an underlying mood of tension and uneasiness".

Following the jostling that went on in 2004, Clark did not return to Te Tii marae but did continue to visit Waitangi.

A senior Tai Tokerau source said, "when Clark boycotted the marae Nga Puhi criticised her for coming to Waitangi like a kiore, a rat, and not fronting up. The Prime Minister will not want to be known as kiore off a sinking ship".

Both Taurau and Hone Harawira have promised protesting at Waitangi if Key decided to attend.

While Taurau didn't vote at Te Tii, despite raising the issue in the first place, he said his views were clear.

"There will be protesting here if the Prime Minister thinks about coming onto the marae."

Kingi said he wouldn't be part of the protests on the day as he had his own job to do at the marae and there were plenty of protesters to do the job for him.

Harawira, who is expected to lead a protest at the TPPA signing in Auckland on Thursday, said he would be protesting at Waitangi if Key turns up.

Whether Key decides to go or not comes down to who has the mandate to invite him and allow him to speak and whether the division between Ngapuhi trustees can be solved before Friday.

 - Stuff

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