31 Jan 2019

Iwi leaders encouraged by government ahead of Waitangi

9:33 pm on 31 January 2019

Tribal leaders at the Iwi Chairs Forum in Waitangi have welcomed the government's willingness to give Māori a greater say in the way the country is run.

Dame Naida Glavish

Dame Naida Glavish. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Iwi leaders have gathered in Waitangi ahead of next week's commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Generally staunch opponent of the Crown, Ngāti Kahu chairwoman Margaret Mutu kept the mood light into the morning.

She said for the first time in her life, she believed the government backed Māori.

"For years we've been told we're not allowed to walk our talk, we're not allowed to make our own decisions about our own lives, now we've been told that's not the case any longer.

"This comes as a shock but we have to move. We've fought for this, I've fought for this my entire life, my parents, my grandparents, we all fought for this and now it's happening," she said.

Her increased confidence comes from government ministers backing the forum's new Te Tiriti Partnership Framework.

The framework is about engaging with the Crown and enabling Māori to determine the way they live their own lives.

She calls it a "true partnership" under Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the te reo Māori version of the treaty.

One hundred and sixty iwi chairs and executives met in Waitangi today for the first Iwi Chairs Forum.

One hundred and sixty iwi chairs and executives met in Waitangi today for the first Iwi Chairs Forum. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Prof Mutu said iwi now wanted to monitor government agencies on how well they did for Māori.

"It's quite clear that government departments need a lot of help when it comes to what they are required to do for our people.

"The knowledge, the wisdom, the expertise and how to make things work is there amongst our people and what we are hearing is that is what the ministers want. They want us to take the lead on this, on how to fix up that relationship [we're] very happy to do that."

Prof Mutu was one of 160 iwi chairs and executives in Waitangi today for the first Iwi Chairs Forum of the year.

Fellow far north leader Haami Piripi of Te Rarawa said he also felt a renewed sense of optimism about the future.

"It's certainly become evident of the current government that we are maturing as a nation, we're understanding our constitutional status a lot better.

"Twenty years ago nobody knew anything about Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Now people are much more informed and anybody with common sense would realise that this is going to mean some sort of constitutional transformation for everyone."

However, not everyone at the forum was raving about the government.

Te Tira Paraoa prepare to welcome Northland Mayoral Forum to Iwi Chairs Forum.

Te Tira Paraoa prepare to welcome Northland Mayoral Forum to Iwi Chairs Forum. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Ngāti Whātua chairwoman Dame Naida Glavish said she was unhappy the review of Whānau Ora was months overdue, and she was not convinced a true partnership was forming.

"We cannot say that for across the board issues that impact Māori, we cannot say that, for instance, in Whānau Ora with Oranga Tamariki, we cannot say that with water, we cannot say that with a whole range of issues."

Māori rights and interests in water remains a hot topic.

Late last year, the iwi chairs rejected a government proposal to be part of a new water advisory body Te Kahui Wai Māori.

Waikato iwi chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said joining the body was not off the cards, but iwi would need more.

"That's largely on the basis iwi are the Tiriti partner and what that means for us is direct engagement so we are not just another stakeholder.

"Don't get me wrong, we believe the government - their engagement with other stake holders, with Māori, other incorporation's - that's important."

Rukumoana Schaafhausen.

Rukumoana Schaafhausen. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

The Northland Mayoral Forum signed an agreement at the end of the hui today to work alongside the Tai Tokerau Iwi Chairs Forum or Te Kahu o Taonui.

The agreement seeks to strengthen the relationship between local government and iwi to enhance the cultural, socio-economic and environmental well being of all people, but some hapū are not happy about it.

Come tomorrow, the forum will present some of their key concerns to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

She'll attend the hui alongside other government ministers, and iwi leaders are hoping they bring some answers with them.

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