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Prime Minister John Key is already offside with Northland iwi after accusing two members of "disgraceful" behaviour during the governor-general's arrival at Waitangi.
The comments came after Hinewhare Harawira, sister of Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, became embroiled in a fracas which was caught on camera. She had not been given a seat on Te Tii Marae for the welcome of Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.
Key, who will arrive in Waitangi for the annual celebrations tomorrow, said today Mateparae had been "jostled" on his arrival and called the behaviour "disgraceful".
"Having a couple of protesters or radicals effectively jostling the governor-general is undignified, it's unwarranted, it's outright wrong," Key said. However, Mateparae later played down the incident on Twitter.
"My being jostled at Waitangi is news to me. I'm enjoying the scenery, the people and the day so far!" he wrote.
A spokeswoman for Sir Jerry said he never felt threatened and was not jostled.
"He saw it wasn't aimed at him, there was jostling but he wasn't caught up in it. There were no threats made to the governor- general. He was welcomed on in the normal respectful style."
Mateparae told Radio New Zealand there was "an element of disrespect...in terms of, not the individual, but the role and the position," but that as an individual he did not feel threatened.
Marae kaumatua Kingi Taurua said he heard someone call out "chop his bloody head off" but did not know who the comment was aimed at. It came from outside the marae and was not widely heard.
"I think I'm the only one who heard it but certainly someone called out 'Chop his bloody head off'.' I'm not sure if they were talking to the governor-general or not."
Key later said media reports were to blame for his claim that the governor-general had been jostled.
"It's obvious from media reports some kind of situation occurred and regardless of what happened exactly, it's unfortunate the governor-general's arrival was overshadowed by this," a spokeswoman for Key said.
While Hinewhare Harawira declined to comment, iwi leaders also described the incident as overblown.
"If anyone saw it was a disgrace he was at the wrong hui," Ngapuhi leader Rihari Takuira said.
"He [Mateparae] was given the honour of a full ceremonial welcome. That is the biggest honour you can get."
Others questioned how Key could comment on an event he hadn't seen.
"It doesn't matter what Key says, he wasn't here. Nothing happened," said Tai Harawira, brother of Hinewhare and Hone.
Takuira said despite some vocal protesting, the governor-general was at no point physically threatened.
"It was noisy, [but] this marae and its people totally oppose any physical activity or jostling of the manuhiri [visitors]. But if anyone can tell me a methodology to stop people yelling, send them to me," he said.
Protests would always occur at Waitangi as people took their opportunity to be heard by the Government, he said.
"I think anyone who represents the Government or the Crown would expect some sort of challenge.
"Individuals will be individuals. The all have their own mana, and they believe they have their right to speak their point of view."
Taurua said the incident was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Every year there is screaming and people are unhappy. Everybody is not happy and wanting to talk to the governor-general. I get tired of going through it year after year – I don't blame the people I blame the Government."
He said there were better ways to raise issues "but the Government doesn't listen".
"It is the only opportunity we have of raising our particular issues."
Hone Harawira did not wish to comment on the incident.
He did not know what kind of welcome Key would get tomorrow, but with two protests timed to coincide with his arrival, including one marching from Cape Reinga in opposition to deep-sea mining.
"He's had his ups and downs over the years since he's been here. I'm glad he's coming back. We'll just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow." Harawira said Waitangi Day provided a yardstick for progress on Treaty issues each year and several issues had arisen this year.
He pointed to protests over mining, asset sales, the GCSB and the Government's handling of water rights claims.
"When people don't listen and other people are quite passionate about issues, there's bound to be some kind of difference of opinion which may roll over into something more than that," Harawira said.
However, he did not want tomorrow to be marred by protests that drew the attention away from important issues and reinforced the negative perceptions of Waitangi Day.
Anti-mining hikoi organiser Reuben Taipara said their aim was to deliver their message to the people at Waitangi.
"Never mind the politicians. It just so happens that they will be there. We will be respectful of the process," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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