Stratford council rejects Māori ward hurry-up despite racism accusation

8:33 pm on 18 May 2021

Stratford will not have a Māori ward at next year's election, despite one iwi accusing the district council of racism over its stance.

Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine turned out at Stratford District Council.

Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine turned out at Stratford District Council. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

Last August and again in March, the council voted against a Māori ward for the 2022 election, saying it needed to consult iwi before considering a change for 2025.

Facing a united call for a Māori ward from Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine iwi, Stratford's councillors have stuck to their decision and rejected the ward for now.

Mayor Neil Volzke said the council remained unsure whether all seven iwi in Stratford supported Māori wards.

"Clearly, today two iwi have expressed that and to date we haven't had those same discussions with other five iwi who overlay the Stratford District... and I don't think you can make assumption that everyone thinks the same on this."

He pointed to iwi in the South Island and Kāpiti, which recently rejected Māori wards in favour of different ways to strengthen relationships with councils.

Ngāti Ruanui said Stratford District Council was preserving a racist governance model by keeping Māori from the council table.

Ngāti Ruanui rūnanga chair Haimona Maruera said the council was out of touch with Māori.

"Stratford District Council relationship with tangata whenua is nothing but tokenism, dialling up for a karakia and pōwhiri as suits but refusing to start listening and respond like every other council in the Taranaki and introduce Māori wards.

"Ultimately, the position of this council is really racist. Change is required and must happen now. Ngāti Ruanui will be approaching all iwi to withdraw engaging with this council if it continues down this path."

Councillor Rick Coplestone said one seat in council would send Māori backward as they would be outvoted.

"We've got seven iwi and we've got one seat so how does that consult with those seven iwi... In my opinion, Māori, they've been duped."

Ngāti Ruanui senior environment adviser Graham Young told councillors the collective iwi voice had never been louder.

"It's the right move to stop majorities decide how minorities should be represented. This is not a tenable position anymore."

Young said council officers had worked with iwi on projects but spurning a Māori ward had corroded the relationship.

"In a single decision made by you as a council, Ngāti Ruanui feels disgust and a loss of goodwill for the Stratford District Council. In a single decision, you have probably undermined all the engagement that you've achieved to date."

Ngāruahine deputy chair John Hooker said the iwi's leaders overwhelmingly favoured a Māori ward.

Ngāruahine deputy chair John Hooker set out Ngāruahine's views.

Ngāruahine deputy chair John Hooker set out Ngāruahine's views. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

"It's not matter of is it a Māori ward and is that the only way of engaging with hapū and iwi... it's having that face at the governance level here: It's also having that face at the management level... we need that integration at both levels.

"It is time to get on with the job, it is time to roll the sleeves up, we need to get this done."

The mayor said the Māori ward debate had already damaged council's relationships.

"Whichever way it goes from this point on we still have a lot of work to do to build relationships.

"Clearly, this decision has taken us a step backwards in terms of Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine."

Volzke said there was now no time to consult the other five iwi, other Māori and the wider community before the legal deadline for Māori wards this Friday.

The council now plans to consult iwi before deciding in 2024 whether to set up a Māori ward.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs