Thousands of New Zealand Māori gathered on the North Island town of Ngāruawāhia to attend a rare nationwide Hui (meeting) to discuss legislation which plans to roll back Māori rights reforms and redeine the legal interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The meeting was called by Māori King Tūheitia Paki, also known by his title, Kīngi Tūheitia.
The Kīngitanga, or Māori King Movement, was established in the 1850s to create a role among Māori iwi (tribes) that was similar in status to the monarchy of British colonists as a means to protect Māori rights and land.
The legislation in question, introduced by New Zealand’s current conservative coalition government, plans to undo policies introduced by the previous Labour government.
In particular, the legislation seeks to reduce the use of te reo Māori in official communications, stop race-based policies and overturn health policies that protect the Māori.
The government says that these reforms address the concerns of voters about the direction of the policy in recent years, and it aims to give all New Zealanders equal rights.
But critics of the bill, including the more than 10,000 Māori who attended the Hui in Ngaaruawaahia, believe that it would be a substantial step backwards for Māori rights.
Kīngi Tūheitia spoke to the gathered crowd, asserting that they did not accept the government’s plan to redefine the treaty.
“Turning up today, we’ve sent a strong message that has been heard around the world. People are watching us,” said Tūheitia.
“The Treaty of Waitangi gives our rights. And confirms that our- well you know, we are already here. We’re only interested in one version. There’s no principles. The treaty is written. That’s it.”
Some members of New Zealand’s House of Representatives publicly denounced the Hui, such as Shane Jones of the New Zealand First party, who said the meeting was a “monumental moan session”.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon did not attend the Hui, but met with Kīngi Tūheitia earlier this week.
“The best protest we can do right now is be Māori, be who we are, live our values, speak our reo (language), care for our mokopuna (younger generation), our awa (rivers), our maunga (mountains),” Tuheitia said.
“Just be Māori, Māori all day, everyday, we are here, we are strong,” he said.