Canada looks to NZ to improve race relations

3:23 pm on 7 April 2016

The relationship between Māori and the government is under the microscope by Canadian officials keen to improve their own race relations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Photo: AFP

Just months after Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister in Canada, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the Ontario province, David Zimmer, is in New Zealand.

David Zimmer

David Zimmer Photo: RNZ/ Leigh Marama McLachlan

He touched down in Wellington after an 18-hour journey from Toronto on Saturday and has been in back-to-back meetings this week.

"We are here to find out why New Zealand enjoys, rightly so, its reputation for being a leader in its relationship with its aboriginal peoples."

So far, Mr Zimmer has met with government ministers, officials from the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Waitangi Tribunal and the Māori Land Court.

"The impression that jumps out at me the most is the really active willingness of New Zealanders and the Māori to work together to get to a very good place in their relationship... That is not to say that I get a sense that any side is caving into the other side."

Mr Trudeau is promising to review laws on indigenous peoples and increase funding for their education.

Mr Zimmer, who is also a member of the federal Liberal Party, says Mr Trudeau was very clear about integrating the aboriginal community into the social fabric of the country.

"In the last decade under the previous government, there was a lack of willingness or interest to constructively and meaningfully engage with the aboriginal community in Canada to resolve a number of these issues."

He spent time with Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell to find out about where Māori fit into governance processes and policy development.

Mr Flavell said Māori shared similarities with First Nations, including a lack of participation in elections, but said Māori were firing ahead.

"Expressions that have happened in New Zealand are clearly different from those in Canada and we have fortunately, from our part at least, are able to be a part of a political system and make change for our people."

Kaumatua for Hineuru Piri Prentice (left) having a hariru/hongi with Benedict Taylor of the Office of Treaty Settlements.

Kaumatua for Hineuru Piri Prentice (left) and Benedict Taylor of the Office of Treaty Settlements in 2015 (file). Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Zimmer is in Hamilton today where he will meet with students and Māori law academics at Waikato University.

Its associate dean Māori, Matiu Dickson, said most indigenous communities looked to Māori for examples and Mr Zimmer could learn a lot.

"Ki te nuingā o ngā iwi taketake o te ao, ko matau te iwi Māori hoki kei mua noa atu hoki i o mātau whawhai ki te mau mai i ngā āhuatanga pai mo o mātau iwi."

The Ontario delegation hoped to visit Turangawaewae Marae tomorrow before spending Friday in Auckland, where Mr Zimmer will meet with Ngati Whātua leaders.

He will fly home to Toronto on Saturday.

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