13 May 2010

Tuhoe not amused by PM's 'cannibal' joke

10:29 pm on 13 May 2010

Prime Minister John Key has joked about Tuhoe being cannibals during a speech in Auckland, straining relations with the iwi even further.

Mr Key has already angered Tuhoe this week after he ruled out the return of the Urewera National Park as part of the Maori tribe's proposed Treaty settlement.

The row has dogged the Prime Minister all week, with Tuhoe accusing him of betrayal, and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia accusing the Government of acting in bad faith.

Mr Key made the joke initially on Tuesday while at a marae with another iwi, Ngati Porou, saying if it had been with Tuhoe, he would have been dinner.

In a speech in Auckland to about 200 people from the tourism sector on Thursday, Mr Key alluded to the dispute in a joke.

"The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi, which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner," he said, "which wouldn't have been quite so attractive."

Asked about the comment after his speech, Mr Key said he was sure Tuhoe will get the joke.

However, Tuhoe negotiator Tamati Kruger says it was in poor taste and that the relationship between the iwi and Mr Key is getting worse each day.

"I'm just astounded that the Prime Minister can make light of what we regard as a very, very serious situation regarding ... our future relationships with the Crown. I don't think it's becoming at all of a Prime Minister."

Mr Kruger says Tuhoe is still waiting for contact from the Crown, following Mr Key's decision to rule out the return of the national park to the Bay of Plenty iwi.

Te Ururoa Flavell, the Maori Party MP for Waiariki, which includes Tuhoe country, says the joke is unfortunate.

"Well the first thing to say is, it's probably correct, and the second thing is (it's) probably not wise in the current climate."

Mr Flavell says Mr Key is generally a happy-go-lucky person and uses humour in a good way, but he is underestimating the Treaty discussions with Tuhoe by treating it as a joke.

PM apologises

The Prime Minister on Thursday apologised for his comments, saying he did not mean to offend.

"Ah look, it was a light-hearted joke, a bit of self-deprecating humour - but if anyone is offended, then I deeply apologise."

The Prime Minister has defended the Government's decision on the Urewera National Park, saying vesting it in the iwi would be a step too far for most New Zealanders.

However, Mr Key says the Government is still hopeful it will conclude a deal with Tuhoe.

We got the joke, says Ngati Porou

A Ngati Porou kaumatua, or elder, says Mr Key's comment at the marae was just a joke - and was treated as such.

Apirana Mahuika says the days of barbarism have long since passed and people accept that analogies are used in jokes.

"I don't know whether everybody laughed but we all smiled, because we understood it was a joke and we knew the background of the joke. It was not in any way disparaging to Tuhoe the way that he told it."

Mr Mahuika says no one present when the comment was made took offence at the Prime Minister's remarks.