24 Jan 2019

Winston Peters to speak for government at Rātana celebrations

6:14 am on 24 January 2019

Politicians are heading to Rātana this morning for the annual celebrations of the founder of the church.

Ratana Church

Ratana Church Photo: Wikicommons / CC BY-SA 3.0

It's Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana's birthday and the country's cabinet ministers and MPs have historically joined thousands of people who come to Rātana each year to pay their respects.

Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana was born on 25 January in 1873.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is leading the delegation today as the prime minister is away at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The clash means Mr Peters will speak on behalf of the government, with Labour and Green Ministers to also pay their respects during the powhiri.

A spokesperson for Jacinda Ardern said the relationship between Labour and Rātana remained strong.

"Labour has a strong and very long standing relationship with Rātana and the prime minister was pleased to be able to celebrate their 100 year celebrations just a few months ago."

Church spokesman Mita Ririnui said he expects strong words spoken on the pa this year, as have been in previous times. But he said the Rātana community "remains on a high" since Ms Ardern's visit in November.

She announced $3 million of funding to help develop Rātana land and pay for the infrastructure necessary to do so.

Mr Ririnui said the announcement gave "a new breath of life" to Rātana.

Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana founded the Ratana faith in 1918.

Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana founded the Rātana faith in 1918. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

Rātana has been politically influential for nearly its entire history, sponsoring political candidates and making clear the wants and needs of its following to successive governments.

The size of its following - last November there were reports the Rātana centenary celebrations drew in upwards of 25,000 people - also enables the church to have an influence on decisions made by governments for Māori.

The powhiri for government ministers and MPs begins at 11am, and Labour and Green ministers are expected to join Mr Peters in speaking on the marae grounds.

Later today the National Party leader Simon Bridges will lead a delegation of National Party MPs on to the marae for a second powhiri scheduled for 1:30pm and have his opportunity to speak to the Rātana following.

In 2015, the former Prime Minister John Key didn't attend Rātana for the prophet's birthday celebrations because he was in Davos for the economic forum. He was represented by his then-deputy Prime Minister Bill English.