Hundreds of people join historic march for Māori wards in Manawatū

DAVID UNWIN WARWICK SMITH/ STUFF
Manawatū iwi and supporters' historic hīkoi through Feilding, calling on the Manawatū District Council to reconsider its stance on Māori wards.

It is time to listen to the community for whom a Māori ward would serve.

This was the message ringing out as a mass of about 500 people made an historic march through Feilding on Tuesday morning.

They were protesting the district council’s failure to introduce a Māori ward in time for the 2022 election, amid concerns the district was not yet ready to embrace it.

A call-and-response chant urged Manawatū District Council to listen to the voice of the Māori community for whom a ward would guarantee Māori representation.

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Te Kōtui Reo Taumata collective spokesperson, Meihana Durie of Ngāti Kauwhata, leads a haka in the square.
WARWICK SMITH/Stuff
Te Kōtui Reo Taumata collective spokesperson, Meihana Durie of Ngāti Kauwhata, leads a haka in the square.

“What do we want? Māori wards! When do we want them? Now!”

The march, the largest protest in Feilding in living memory if not all time, was led by the marae collective Te Kōtui Reo Taumata. It began at Te Runanga O Raukawa on South St, through the town square, and to the council building on Manchester St.

Barbara Cameron, the only Māori to be elected to the council, said she had not seen a protest of such a scale in her 15 years of local government.

She retired in 2019, and said the council “underestimates the status of Māori in the community”.

The chants were loud and the flags flew high as the mass moved towards the council building.
David Unwin/Stuff
The chants were loud and the flags flew high as the mass moved towards the council building.

The hīkoi was held the day after 12 marae cut formal ties with the council, disappointed and disheartened after it deferred a decision on whether to introduce a Māori ward in the district.

Though marae gave unanimous support for the ward, which would allow Māori interests to be represented on council, members voted 6-4 to wait until a scheduled 2023 representation review before making a decision.

Areti Metuamate, Ngāti Kauwhata, spoke to the crowd while marae representatives went inside the council chambers to speak with mayor Helen Worboys and deputy mayor Michael Ford.

The May 11 protest is possibly the largest protest Feilding has ever seen.
David Unwin/Stuff
The May 11 protest is possibly the largest protest Feilding has ever seen.

Metuamate said although “appallingly racist” things were said at the May 6 council meeting, not all the councillors were racist, some were just afraid of backlash.

“Don’t just stand for council because you want people to vote for you. Stand for council because you want to stand for something.“

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer also attended the march.

She applauded the community for how quickly they organised the protest, but challenged the crowd to think what the next steps would be.

Areti Metuamate challenges elected officials to stand for something, not just votes.
David Unwin/Stuff
Areti Metuamate challenges elected officials to stand for something, not just votes.

She hoped the protest would show the community "we are not scary... pro-apartheid, segregationist... we just want to contribute to building our country as tangata whenua.”

“Nowhere else can you be tangata whenua. Nowhere else can Pākehā be tangata tiriti.”

Jasmine Bills was watching from the footpath while on a break from work. She was a newcomer to Feilding, and said the show of unity was great to see.

Gary Barnett also watched from the sidelines, saying he hadn’t seen a crowd as big since Prince Charles visited Feilding in 2012.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer marched with the crowd.
David Unwin/Stuff
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer marched with the crowd.

He said there were plenty of highly-respected Māori in the community and wished they would stand for council, “because they’d get in”.

Allison Brebner took part in the march. In her 50 years she had never seen the community make such a large public statement. She was “ashamed of the councillors” who didn’t support Māori having a seat the council table.

Before the protest, the four councillors who voted in favour of a Māori ward – Alison Short, Hilary Humphrey, Shane Casey and Phil Marsh – submitted a notice of motion to the council’s chief executive officer, Shayne Harris, to revoke the May 6 decision.

A passionate plea for inclusion on the steps of the Manawatū District Council.
David Unwin/Stuff
A passionate plea for inclusion on the steps of the Manawatū District Council.

They justified the motion on the grounds that council had not listened to the only community who would be effected by the decision, with the consequence of council not meeting their legislative responsibilities of consulting with iwi.

The notice of motion had been accepted by the time the hīkoi reached the council building. It meant councillors would re-cast their votes on the inclusion of a Māori ward at their full council meeting on May 20.

Two members who favoured delaying the decision until 2023 would need to change their vote for the motion to pass.

Councillors were met with a haka at the entrance to the council building.
WARWICK SMITH/Stuff
Councillors were met with a haka at the entrance to the council building.

Worboys and Ford have previously endorsed Māori wards and still supported them in principle. But they were also wary of the strong majority vote against a Māori seat at a 2018 referendum.

They, along with councillors Grant Hadfield, Stuart Campbell, and Harris, greeted the crowd at the district council building.

Councillors Short, Humphrey, Casey and Marsh marched with the crowd. Councillors Heather Gee-Taylor, Andrew Quarrie and Steve Bielski did not attend.