Waitangi Day 'cringe' comes from lack of understanding, Maori Party says
Prime Minister Bill English's claim that many Kiwis "cringe" at Waitangi Day has created a mixed response, with a coalition partner suggesting the view comes from "a lack of understanding" about the day.
English has attracted controversy while defending his decision to skip Waitangi commemorations due to a lack of speaking rights, saying protests at Waitangi had been "nationally relevant" 15 to 20 years ago but were not anymore.
"Political discussion at Te Tii Marae is now really about Ngapuhi issues and their own concerns in Northland, but it's a national day, a day for New Zealanders to be proud of their whole country.
"A lot of New Zealanders cringe a bit on Waitangi Day when they see the way that the ceremonies are being conducted, the ceremonies and welcomes, the type of protest there has been in recent years, and I'm pretty keen that we have a day when they're proud."
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Labour leader Andrew Little said English was wrong, and had confused the "spirit of debate and argument" the day before Waitangi with the commemorations themselves.
"The most dignified part of this national celebration is what happens on Waitangi Day itself...it starts with that dawn service where the Prime Minister speaks.
"There's nothing cringeworthy about that - it's very dignified, as it should be, and the prime minister should be leading those celebrations as the leader of the nation."
Protests at Waitangi in recent years had been "somewhat muted", while it was right to have debate on New Zealand's national day.
"There always ought to be constructive debate and dialogue - we are still very much coming to terms with the full depth of our history."
'LACK OF UNDERSTANDING' BEHIND CRINGE
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said English's comments were "unfortunate" and did not match up with her perspective of the day's importance.
"A lot of New Zealanders may feel that way, but that comes from a lack of understanding, a lack of education, and a lack of acceptance of the place of Maori in this country, so when that changes, we'll all have a greater, united Aotearoa."
Fox said she would have liked English to attend Waitangi commemorations, but his decision would not affect her plans to go.
"We are not the Maori arm of the National Party - we are going to attend as the Maori Party, and I will be taking my place in the powhiri, and I'm pretty sure nobody's given me an opportunity to have a stage to speak, and I'm not concerned about that."
Waitangi and Te Tii Marae were "surrounded in Maori protocol", and it was up to marae leaders to decide whether someone could speak.
There are a number of protocols that I participate in at Parliament that I think are antiquated and should move on - those are my opinions. It is for Maori and the people of Te Tii, the people of Waitangi to decide how the programme should run - it's their place."
'WE'RE NOT MOGADISHU'
However, ACT leader David Seymour agreed with English, saying it was not right to bar the prime minister from speaking at Te Tii.
"I think most New Zealanders are pretty keen to get on with settling treaty grievances and moving forward as an inclusive country, but I don't know anywhere else where it's acceptable for such a small group of people within Maoridom to sabotage our national day.
"Yes it's their property and yes it's their marae, but what is cringeworthy is that they're not actually prepared to have a dialogue."
Waitangi Day needed to be about inclusion, rather than "a bunch of people refusing to let the prime minister speak and hurling abuse at each other", Seymour said.
"That's not an honest reflection of New Zealand. New Zealand has some problems, but we're not Mogadishu."