Te Pati Māori defends decision to enter onto Waitangi with Kīngitanga, not Opposition parties

Te Pati Māori has explained its decision to go onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds with the Kīngitanga, rather than with other Opposition parties on Saturday.

Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told media at Waitangi on Sunday afternoon that now more than ever "it is important that we stand in unity against what we see with the three-headed taniwha".

The reference to a 'three-headed taniwha' has been used before, including by Waikato-Tainui's Rahui Papa, to refer to the three-way Coalition of National, ACT and New Zealand First.

She believed the best way to do that was by standing with the Kīngitanga.

"We are not a subset of Labour. Three years ago, Labour didn't want us. It is more important that we have a 100 percent mandate from our people, it is more important we stand here in unity with those who represent te ao Maori, and that is not Labour."

She said the party had a right to stand with the Kīngitanga in a "righteous anger" place.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi speak with media at Waitangi on February 4, 2024.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: Newshub.

Labour and the Greens were welcomed on Saturday, with MPs speaking of a "fight" against the Government on behalf of Māori and the need to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

They spoke about the gains Māori made under the previous Government and warned rights may be pulled back by the new Government.

During their speeches, some MPs from the Opposition parties noted their sadness that all three parties didn't enter the grounds together, with outgoing Labour MP Kelvin Davis saying the trio could be a "considerable power".

Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pati Māori, said Maori had been in opposition since 1840.

"We are the party nobody wants. In Government, nobody wants us, in Opposition, they want to assimilate us. Standing with mana motuhake, we can just be us."

The party is being officially welcomed onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds alongside a Kīngitanga delegation led by Kīngi Tūheitia.

The Kiingitanga's arrival follows its historic national hui at Tūrangawaewae Marae last month as well as its presence at Rātana celebrations.

There has been a common theme across those events - that the Government should respect Māori mana motuhake (self-determination) and support them by upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There has also been opposition to Government policies Māori believe will threaten their mana motuhake, including the Treaty Principles Bill.

The Treaty Principles Bill intends to define the principles of the Treaty in law. Some of the proposed principles have been controversial as they only refer to the rights of "all New Zealanders" without any specific mention of Māori - seen as some as an erasure of Māori.

But ACT leader David Seymour, who is responsible for the legislation, has said the Bill would clarify there are the same rights and duties for all.

"Our Bill means Parliament would legislate that those are the principles, and that means that we are not a partnership between races," said Seymour in a speech last week.

"We are not people who have to look at our family tree to find out how we fit in. We're all New Zealanders with the same basic rights."

At the Iwi Chairs Forum on Friday - which was attended by the Prime Minister and other ministers - leaders warned they were prepared to fight back against what they referred to as the Government's "sustained attack on Maori".

They mentioned a number of kaupapa they would oppose, including the disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority and the "unilateral constitutional reform and redefining of Te Tiriti o Waitangi including the Treaty Principles Bill".

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has repeatedly said the Government has no intentions to rewrite the Treaty as some have suggested, as well as insisting the Government would uphold it.

Luxon said he was "straight up" in the meeting with iwi leaders and believed there was goodwill from both the Crown and Māori to ensure the relationship worked well.