Councillor disgusted by comments over reo Māori karakia at Grey Power meeting

12:19 pm on 21 January 2021

A councillor will take a complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner after his use of the Māori language to perform a karakia at a Grey Power meeting was labelled an "insult".

Louis Rapihana

Louis Rapihana Photo: FACEBOOK

Ōpōtiki councillor Louis Rapihana said he was angry with comments in a newsletter circulated following the Whakatāne Grey Power meeting he spoke at late last year.

"I will be taking it further... I will be sending a complaint to Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon," Rapihana said.

In the newsletter, Grey Power member Siva Panadam apologised to attendees saying she "had no idea Louis Rapihana did not speak English".

She added she "would have got someone to interpret considering 90 percent of attendees were non-Māoris" [sic].

The newsletter went on to say if Rapihana's use of te reo was "deliberate" then it was "an insult" to two guest speakers at the event who were not Māori.

Panadam told Local Democracy Reporting she did not believe her comments were racist and Rapihana should have translated his speech into English.

Rapihana became aware of the newsletter after a concerned Grey Power member sent it to the Ōpōtiki District Council office anonymously.

"They thought I should see what was written about myself as [they believed] it was racist and they didn't agree with it," he said.

"I was so pissed off that I actually had to put it down, and then come back and make sure I was reading it right."

"At the end of the day, it was only karakia. I was asked to open and close the meeting, which is natural to me, and of course I did that in my reo. I do not translate my prayers because it is not for the people to hear; it's only for the man above," Rapihana said.

He believed the article was not only "racist and offensive" but not the way an invited guest should be treated.

At the time, no concerns were raised over his use of te reo at the meeting.

Since posting the comments to his Facebook page on Tuesday, Rapihana said he had received an incredible amount of support, for which he was grateful.

He said he would never attend another Grey Power meeting and would now lodge the complaint with the Race Relations Office.

Panadam said she had no issue with Māori language and had taken te reo Māori classes but felt that because 90 percent of people at the meeting were not speakers of the reo, Rapihana should have translated his words.

"You should translate what you are saying, it's just being polite," she said.

"There are Māori members in Grey Power and I asked them if they thought it (the newsletter) was racist and they said no."

Panadam claims many people have thanked her for highlighting the issue.

When asked why she did not raise the issue with Rapihana at the meeting, Panadam said it would be the Grey Power president's place to request a translation and there was no time to raise it.

"It was not done with malice or anything, it was just highlighting a point," she said.

"I do not have a problem with speaking te reo. I don't have anything against te reo. I just wanted to explain to him that a lot of people do not speak te reo. If you're going to thank the guest speakers, you should thank them in a language they understand."

Whakatāne Māori rights activist Mawera Karetai said she was "disturbed" to read the newsletter but would welcome the opportunity to meet with Panadam to educate them on the use of te reo Māori.

"To put this in context, I would like to remind people that when Europeans arrived in New Zealand, the majority of the population spoke te reo.

"Instead of learning the language, Europeans through colonisation forced Māori people to speak English.

"We have spent the last 200 years battling for our right to speak te reo. Keep in mind Europeans have also had 200 years to learn te reo," she said.

Karetai said she felt the author of the piece must be really disconnected from the local community, which was close to 50 percent Māori, and the comments were "arrogant" in that they placed English above te reo.

She said it was awful to suggest someone could not speak their native language in their native country.

"Shame on them."

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