Hundreds join first day of Taranaki peace walk to Parihaka
As hundreds of people took part in a walk to promote peace in Taranaki, New Plymouth's mayor threw down a gauntlet to whoever succeeds him in office.
Andrew Judd said by donning his mayoral chains for the duration of the three day hikoi to Parihaka, which began in New Plymouth on Wednesday, the next person to wear them should carry the responsibility to keep the kaupapa of reconciliation high up in their priorities.
He said the community support for the peace walk had blown him away but also demonstrated how many others felt the same way he did about developing better relationships between Maori and Pakeha.
The walk is intended to start a new conversation about racial inclusion after Judd spoke about the amount of abuse he suffered, including being spat at, because of his support for Maori representation on the New Plymouth District Council.
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His comments sparked nationwide debate around race issues and saw New Plymouth labelled as racist and rednecked.
Judd is not standing for council again, but the walk was inspired by his desire to create better ways to talk about tough issues which affect the community.
He said he felt a mix of emotions at the beginning of the first day and was bowled over by the "sea of faces" looking back at him when he first arrived.
"I was quite stunned and taken aback. It was like hitting a wall of inclusion," Judd said.
At least 350 walkers joined the hikoi as it made its way through the city; however by midday as walkers left New Plymouth and made their way to Oakura, the numbers dropped to about 100.
However, the biggest numbers are expected to turn out on Friday, when the hikoi makes its way to Parihaka.
Some in the crowd for the first leg of the walk had come from outside of the region to support the peace project.
Wellington law student Indiana Shewen, 21, said the debate around Judd's stance on a Maori ward in New Plymouth and the subsequent abuse he copped, led her and other Maori law students to set up a committee that now makes submissions to Parliament on issues affecting tangata whenua.
She said she had been upset by her home town of New Plymouth being called by some the "racist capital of New Zealand" and wanted to be part of attempts to turn that negative reputation around.
"It's important for people to understand it's not just New Plymouth, it's everywhere," Shewen said.
Alistair Preese, who travelled from the Bay of Plenty for the hikoi, said he was a fan of Judd and the peace walk's goal.
"I look at reconciliation as a giant jigsaw puzzle and this is a lovely little piece of that," he said.
Preese, who has strong ties to Parihaka, said while Judd's "depth of conviction" struck a chord with him, it was the support he had seen from schoolchildren, some of whom walked or otherwise watched from the sidelines, which he took most heart from.
"Those are the seeds aren't they. We're ploughing the ground here," Preese said.
Peace Movement Aotearoa's Edwina Hughes said the organisation backed any initiative designed to promote a better understanding of issues related to Maori and Pakeha relationships and the Treaty of Waitangi.
"The injustices against Maori, against hapu and iwi goes on everyday, it is not a historical issue," she said.
She said the community forums, which are a key part of the peace walk, were a perfect place for people to come together and share their stories.
Walkers were treated to toots from passing motorists, high fives from pedestrians and a haka outside Spotswood College. Several schools also had students lined up along the road side, holding signs with messages of peace or singing waiata.
Thursday's leg of the hikoi leaves Oakura at 10am.
Heading along? This is what you need to know:
* Bring your own food and drink
* Arrange your own transport and accommodation if required
* No banners, signs or flags are allowed
* For safety reasons, children are only allowed to participate during the walk through New Plymouth, at the town stops along the way and when the group arrives at Parihaka.
* Using social media? Use #peacewalktaranaki in your posts.
Peace Walk schedule for Thursday June 16
9.30am - meet outside Oakura Hall
10am - walk begins
1.45pm - arrive in Okato
3pm-5pm - community forum held at Hempton Hall