4 Feb 2015

Promise of plain talk at Waitangi

9:57 am on 4 February 2015

As the Prime Minister prepares to head to Waitangi this week the new chairperson of Waitangi Marae says he can expect plain-speaking and robust discussion, but no abuse.

Te Tii Marae

Te Tii Marae Photo: RNZ

Prominent kuia Emma Gibbs was recently elected chair of the marae trustees.

She said her aim was to uphold the traditional values of a marae that was originally built by women to honour the Treaty and welcome important visitors.

Emma Gibbs is best known and well-respected for her long campaign to clean up the waters of the Bay of Islands.

She is also a great-great-granddaughter of the formidable chief Te Kemara who signed the Treaty of Waitangi 175 years ago this Friday.

Her grandmother was on the women's committee that raised the funds to build the meeting house.

Two weeks ago she was elected to head the new trustees to run the marae.

For the past 13 years the troubled marae has had interim trustees, appointed by the Maori Land Court, but Ms Gibbs said now the home-people are back in charge.

Protesters outside Te Tii Marae at Waitangi.

Protesters during last year's Waitangi Day commemorations Photo: RNZ

"There's no doubt there are personality clashes, but I refuse to take them on board because the most important thing is the 175 anniversary," she said.

Two of the new Waitangi Marae trustees are the activist Hinewhare Harawira and her partner Waireti Paora.

That has sparked predictions there could be trouble when the politicians visit Waitangi this week.

Ms Harawira went to prison in 1995 for spitting on the Governor-General.

But Emma Gibbs said people change.

"Hinewhare is whanau and she and her partner were democratically elected."

Ms Gibbs said now the marae was back under local control the offers of expert help had been flooding in from the home people.

"They're offering for us to utilise, to redevelop the face of our marae. Our marae's always had the mana, but to redevelop the face of the real people at home and so that we can manaaki, the visitor the manuhiri - in the traditional manner," she said.

Mrs Gibbs said that meant robust face-to-face exchanges, but not abuse or physical attacks.

Feelings running high

Waitangi is the place where Maori frustrations have a history of boiling over.

Pita Tipene, a Ngati Hine leader, is concerned about hapu members from overseas, who are out of the loop, being nominated for seats.

Ngati Hine chairman, Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

Ngati Hine chairman Pita Tipene says this year feelings are running high over the Waitangi Tribunal's sovereignty report, which he says the government has largely ignored.

There is also the deep rift within Ngapuhi over who has a mandate to settle the iwi's treaty claims.

"There are some people who are really angry about a whole range of things up here in Tai Tokerau, let alone the rest of the country. And I think it will be expressed when the Prime Minister arrives at the marae on February the 5th and into the 6th."

The traditional protest hikoi from the Far North will arrive at Waitangi about midday on Thursday, with a focus this year on deep sea oil drilling.

Festive hikoi

There will be a more festive hikoi on Waitangi Day when the Navy holds its first charter parade in the north.

Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Jack Steer, said the Navy was granted the freedom of Tai Tokerau in a charter in 1990, giving it the right to march through the streets of Paihia with the band playing, flags flying, and bayonets fixed.

"A charter parade, it's a big deal to organise it and it's our way of honouring the relationship we have and that's what we wanted to do in this special year of 175th anniversary," he said.

The Navy is sending four ships to the Bay of Islands to mark the special anniversary and record numbers of waka are also expected.

The Governor-General and the Navy contingent will be welcomed onto the Waitangi marae this morning.

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