11 Jan 2017

Ngāpuhi leader apologises to PM over Waitangi Day

5:31 pm on 11 January 2017

Ngāpuhi kaumatua Kingi Taurua is apologising to Prime Minister Bill English and says he is welcome to speak at Te Tii Marae, even in English.

Prime Minister Bill English addresses reporters about his decision not to attend Waitangi Day celebrations.

Prime Minister Bill English addresses reporters about his decision not to attend commemorations at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Taurua had told media the prime minister was being a "spoilt child" by refusing to attend commemorations at Waitangi but said he had now seen a letter sent to Mr English that banned him from speaking at the pōwhiri.

He said that letter was not vetted by the marae's board and he hoped the prime minister would change his mind.

Mr Taurua said if the prime minister refused to attend, he would be disrespecting the Treaty.

"It's not disrespecting me, it's disrespecting the Treaty of Waitangi.

"We are actually saying: 'We are no longer committed to the Treaty and therefore the Treaty is gone and so is this whānau relationship that we've had since 1840, this whānau relationship no longer exists.'"

Mr Taurua said he felt Mr English was dodging Waitangi because he did not want to hear grievances, including the government appointing members to the Iwi Leaders Forum instead of the people.

Mr Taurua said Waitangi was a forum for those topics to be raised.

"If we are not going to talk, if we are not going to settle our differences, if we are not going to do anything then let's pick up the Treaty and throw it into the sea and forget about it - let's be enemies then."

Mr English has said the marae committee was disorganised and he would not change his plans even if he was allowed to speak.

Dispute over speaking rights at pōwhiri

Letters between the prime minister's office and the chairman of the Waitangi marae show Mr English flatly rejected an offer to speak at Te Tii Marae after the pōwhiri.

Just before Christmas, Mr English's chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, wrote to the marae chairman, Ngati Kawa Taituha, to seek clarification of whether the prime minister would be invited to attend and speak at the pōwhiri on Te Tii Marae, which is held the day before Waitangi Day.

The prime minister's office requested a specific invitation from the marae that clearly stated Mr English had speaking rights at the marae for the pōwhiri.

"He very much wants to attend the celebrations on the basis that he can speak at the pōwhiri as has traditionally been the case."

In his reply, dated 4 January, Mr Taituha agreed it was in everyone's best interests to avoid a repeat of the 2016 Waitangi row.

Mr Taihuta said there had been discussions throughout 2016 about how to restore integrity to the events to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi.

"In general, our people support the Prime Minister's return to Waitangi in 2017. My hope is that your office may gain confidence that Waitangi Marae has always held a strong intention to host all manuhiri in a highly dignified manner."

Mr Taihuta said small, but significant, changes would be made to the pōwhiri schedule.

That would mean a Māori representative would speak on Mr English's behalf during the pōwhiri.

At the end of the pōwhiri, there would be a forum for the prime minister to speak freely about politics, if he so wished.

That two-step process aligned with the normal practice followed by the marae throughout the year.

But, responding to that, Mr English's office said the decision to invite the prime minister, but not allow him to speak at the pōwhiri, was "of concern".

"On the basis that the Prime Minister has not been invited to speak at the pōwhiri, as has been the long standing tradition prior to 2016, I can advise that the Prime Minister will not be attending," Mr Eagleson said.

Last year, then-Prime Minister John Key decided the day before the 5 February pōwhiri not to go to Waitangi.

That was amid a row about whether or not he would be able to speak if he did go onto Te Tii Marae.

Timeline around Waitangi Day events

  • 21 December, 2016: Bill English's office writes to Waitangi marae chairman Ngati Kawa Taituha seeking clarification about the prime minister's invitation to attend and speak at the pōwhiri at Te Tii Marae.
  • 4 January, 2017: Mr Taituha replies, saying Mr English would be invited to the pōwhiri, but his Māori representative would be the only person able to speak. He would be able to speak at a forum after the pōwhiri.
  • 8 January, 2017: Mr English's office turns down the invitation to attend the pōwhiri, on the basis he would not be given full speaking rights.
  • 9 January, 2017: Mr English publicly announces his decision not to attend Waitangi commemorations in the Far North. He says he will spend Waitangi Day in Auckland instead.
  • 11 January 2017: Kingi Taurua apologises to Mr English and says Mr English will be allowed to speak at the pōwhiri.