Māori wards a step along road to a better, more inclusive, future

The Stratford District Council have voted unanimously in favour of a Māori ward.

OPINION: Rongomou Community Action is a group from Taranaki committed to challenging racism in our province and working for justice through a commitment to peaceful action in our community.

Dan and I (Puna) have worked together in the last year (along with an amazing group of people who have brought the love and wisdom to the struggle of building a better Taranaki).

Two people, Taranaki born, Māori and Pākehā, sitting together at the same table in an uncomfortable yet empowering space.

As we look back at the last year, we review the fight for the establishment of Māori wards in Taranaki and our nation.

Yes, we have witnessed positive change, namely the amendments to the Māori Constituencies legislation and subsequent Māori wards being established, yet the path to get there has been unnecessarily painful and at times unbearable.

Puna Wano-Bryant is a member of Rongomou Community Action, which has campaigned for Māori representation on Taranaki councils.
Puna Wano-Bryant is a member of Rongomou Community Action, which has campaigned for Māori representation on Taranaki councils.

The entire tribal region of Taranaki was confiscated. Ka iri tonu te raupatu. The confiscation remains in the form of racism.

The perpetual plundering of the spirit is behaviour, whether overt or covert, that continues the cycle of confiscation. We have endured the presence of opposition to Māori having a voice and outright racism.

To sit through the presence of this spirit in submissions, mailouts, select committee hearings, council meetings, and social media platforms pinches you and wears you down.

We celebrate the efforts of our ancestors and elders who fought for our voice to be represented, not for those who decided to finally recognise it. So how then do we celebrate these changes we have witnessed? Acknowledge them, yes, but not without continuing to sit together in vulnerable spaces.

We have heard numerous deputations in support of Māori wards, and now it’s time to recall those stories, let them rest in our hearts and learn from them.

I sat through Stratford District Council’s landmark decision yesterday, and a council staffer told me if it weren’t for Māori, a Māori ward wouldn't have happened.

I enquired what exactly ushered in the change. They said “aroha,” the love Māori showed for their community. So what now is the community response to this expression of aroha?

Dan Lander, centre, is also a member of Rongomou Community Action.
Dan Lander, centre, is also a member of Rongomou Community Action.

Puna and I (Dan) celebrate the decision of the Stratford District Council to establish a Māori Ward seat. It is a positive move forward on the path to reconciliation and peace. It’s awesome. But let’s be honest, we’re not there yet.

While Friday’s decision was great, let’s not forget that it has come at a great cost to Māori in this rohe.

Amid the celebration and hope for the future, there is also heartbreak.

Let’s not forget how the Stratford District Council dragged their heels of this issue.

Let’s not forget the council initially dismissed mana whenua’s desire to establish a Māori ward in mana whenua rohe.

Let’s not forget the pain that Māori have endured as they sit through discussion after discussion on whether or not their voice even has a place at the table.

Let’s not forget that it is probably the Stratford District Council that will somehow come out on top of this process, praised for their forward thinking and courageous decision-making.

Let’s not forget that we shouldn’t really be in this position, discussions about the need for Tangata Whenua at the top table shouldn’t be discussed, they just should be.

The decision by the Stratford District Council, and the South Taranaki District Council, New Plymouth District Council, Taranaki Regional Council, and councils throughout Aotearoa, is a great start, the future is looking brighter, but one seat at the table isn’t end game.

We celebrate this moment, but we recognise there is more work to be done as we strive for more justice, more reconciliation and more peace.

We give-thanks for the decision that occurred on Friday, but we remember that unity isn’t uniformity but is, rather, a diverse group of people coming together, committing to one another, listening, sharing wisdom, and struggling together to build a community marked by justice, peace and reconciliation.

There is more work to be done. Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson said, “our liberation is bound together.”

So, what is the community’s response to the aroha extended by Māori? To respond in kind? To extend aroha back through humility, listening, working together, through actively dismantling the racism that has taken hold within us, and through actively working for peace together?

To end we offer this definition of peacemaking, “Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice, disarming the evildoer, finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.”

May the decision of Stratford District Council, and the decisions that have been made throughout Aoteroa, move and inspire us to continue the work of building a more just and inclusive Taranaki.