World's largest waka misses out on Waitangi Day celebrations due to lack of money

The world's largest waka, a quintessential part of Waitangi celebrations will not be out on the water this year because the waka crew failed to get enough money to make their annual voyage.

It's raised questions about whether the Government is putting up enough money to commemorate our national day.

Master waka carver and celestial navigator Sir Hekenui Busby was knighted at Waitangi on Monday.

"Your work is valued here in Aotearoa and beyond our shores," Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy said in her speech.

The waka is a significant part of our national day. This year, waka crews from all over the world will participate in celebrations - beefed up in honour of Sir Hek.

"The revitalisation of the building skills of waka and the celestial navigation of those waka to and from the islands of the Pacific," says Waitangi Celebrations Committee Chair Pita Paraone.

Usually the flotilla is led by Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world's largest waka - but not this year. The crew didn't get enough money.

"It's quite demoralising," Ngā Waka o Te Tai Tokerau Chair Robert Gabel told Newshub. "However having said that, as we say in waka, the kaupapa still goes on."

Each year, the Government makes a pool of $280,000 available to groups hosting Waitangi Celebrations through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. It used to be that the Waitangi Day Commemorations Committee got the lot.

But as more celebrations have popped up all over the country, the fund has been spread thin - and while the Waitangi Committee still got the lion's share this year, rising costs gobbled a lot of it up.

"The logistical requirements under the Health and Safety Act took up most of that funding," Mr Paraone said.

When the waka crew applied to the Waitangi Committee for funding, they couldn't front up.

"In the past, we've always relied on the good people who volunteer their services," Mr Paraone explained.

"I think there has to come a time when we really have to give serious consideration in relieving those people of that burden."

To try and save the voyage, the waka crew applied for money from the Ministry for Māori Development, Te Puni Kōkiri. They offered to put $30,000 toward it. 

"I think they've really got to look at the whole Waitangi kaupapa and determine whether they really want to support it, and support it realistically," Mr Gabel said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was unaware of the troubles behind the scenes when asked about the funding cuts. 

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Newshub that if they'd been aware of the problem, they would have done more to ensure the waka got out on the water.

However, she has committed to meeting with the Waitangi Celebrations Committee to ensure adequate funding is available to commemorate our national day.


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