Heckles and boos for NZ government to ‘protect Treaty of Waitangi’

Heckles and boos for NZ government to ‘protect Treaty of Waitangi’


Heckles and boos for NZ government to ‘protect Treaty of Waitangi’

By Ben McKay

Maori leaders have chastised the New Zealand government amid raucous scenes at the annual public meeting at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on the eve of the country’s national day.

In return, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters lashed out at the hostile crowd, telling one person to “get an education and get some manners” as he was heckled.

Chris Luxon’s coalition government travelled to the fabled treaty grounds on Monday for a public meeting, or powhiri, with Maori leaders.

Maori perform a welcome haka for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and officials at the Waitangi Treaty House. In a fiery exchange at the birthplace of modern New Zealand, Indigenous leaders strongly criticised the current government’s approach to Maori

After a summer of protest at his government’s plans which many see as rolling back Maori rights, expectations of a tense atmosphere were realised.

Government speakers were met with heckles and haka, and Peters was booed after he announced he would be making a shorter speech due to a late meeting.

Peters attacked Maori leaders for fearmongering over the government’s plans to redefine the legal principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand Maori activists march onto the Waitangi Treaty House grounds ahead of the annual public meeting

“Whoever said we’re getting rid of the Treaty of Waitangi? Who?” he implored.

“Stop the crap. Stop the nonsense. Stop the hysteria.

“Some of us were out here before you were born, fighting for Maori land rights… so we aren’t here to apologise.”

Maori have been staging a number of protests over the government’s plans for what they see as a watering down of Maori rights.

The right-leaning government has policies to roll back use of the Maori language, and incentives to learn it, to disestablish Maori-specific public services, and most controversially, redefine how the Treaty of Waitangi impacts law.

Since the government was formed in November, Maori have staged a national day of protest, and rallied around a once-in-a-decade Royal Proclamation from the Maori King for a national gathering for unity.

Monday’s gathering, an annual ritual where government leaders travel to the far north, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, was always likely to be a flashpoint.

The local Maori tribe, Ngapuhi, gave Luxon a spirited welcome, with haka and waiata, or Maori song.

The occasion drew thousands of locals with many holding signs splattered with fake blood asking him to “honour the treaty”.

When the meeting began, Maori speakers challenged the government to reverse course.

“Our sneaky strategy is to say it time and time and time again in every forum so that it catches your conscious and subconscious: that is to protect the Treaty of Waitangi,” Rahui Papa said.

The minister responsible for the most inflammatory policy, David Seymour, initially yielded his speaking rights to party member Nicole McKee.

“What a joke David Seymour, you should be ashamed of yourself,” a crowd member heckled.

When he spoke later, the crowd were so incensed with his speech they sang over him.

“You can sing, you can sing, you’re not going to beat an idea by singing,” he said.

“Let’s have respect and let’s have facts… today I’ve heard people say we are spiders, that we are sandflies.

“I’m sorry to say, not even Donald Trump is calling his opponents sandflies. You should attack ideas not people.

“See you next year. We can’t wait for the debate to continue,” he said as he left the stage.

Earlier, renowned Maori activist Tame Iti led an experimental art hikoi – or Maori march – onto the treaty grounds.

Around 1000 people joined, many carrying white flags.