Kiwis in Aussie detention centre not allowed to celebrate Waitangi Day

A Māori detainee in an Australian detention centre says he and his fellow New Zealanders are being denied the right to celebrate Waitangi Day.

Jack Aloua told Newshub that as residents of Yongah Hill Detention Centre in Western Australia, Kiwis have been able to celebrate on February 6 for the last four years.

However they ran into difficulty last year because "nobody got behind it and backed it". This year, cultural celebrations look as though they could be in danger again.

"Finally a few of us boys got together and everyone wants to do it. So we've gone out of our way, we've got a team together."

Aloua and a group of other New Zealand detainees have tried to organise a day of celebration for the entire detention centre - but it hasn't been easy.

"We've got a band who's playing. We wanted to do a kapa haka thing, we're teaching [the other detainees] a few Māori songs."

"We said to make it fair for everyone we'll do a barbeque, and that got denied."

He says almost all of their suggestions and requests have been turned down by a "high-ranking member" of the centre, who oversees cultural observances. While their right to celebrate Waitangi Day hasn't been officially denied, the detention centre has not encouraged their organisation attempts.

"Everything we've thrown at them is just getting denied. We've even had people from outside approach us saying that they want to bring in Māori food. That got denied for health reasons, I kind of understood that."

Aloua says he feels that he is being discriminated against for his culture, and that he was told by detention centre officials that "we're in Australia, we should learn Australian ways".

"It comes across as, in straightforward terms, a bit racist."

He says they were asked to provide an itinerary for the celebrations, including a menu. However they were unable to organise traditional Maori food because they were told the centre's hangi-making equipment was broken.

"It comes across quite offensive. [The official] made it sound like our day's just like any other day," Aloua said.

"I was trying to explain to him that Waitangi Day's a big thing for us Kiwis. It's something we celebrate every year - even being incarcerated in jail you celebrate it. But it's totally different in here."

The organisational group even offered to help fund the event, which would cost the prison about AU$S2000 (NZ$2178). That too was denied.

"Everything we say is a no-go."

Aloua is in the process of making a complaint to Australian Border Force. He says both Border Force and Serco promised that detainees would be able to celebrate days of cultural significance, but Kiwis in Yongah Hill have received no help from them.

On Wednesday morning (local time) he will attend a meeting to determine if and how the celebrations will go ahead.

Aloua says he hopes the detention centre will do their part to ensure they honour the diversity of their detainees' backgrounds and beliefs.

"It's not just Waitangi, it's everything we're doing in here for all cultures. A lot of the other boys have approached me about their certain days because they've heard what I've been doing."

He says being able to celebrate his culture means a lot to him and to others in his situation.

"Certain days like Waitangi Day, any day we celebrate together is uplifting for us being in here. It makes us push on."