A New Plymouth kaumatua says a council decision to help pay for the maintenance of urupa in the district is the culmination of a 10 year struggle for recognition of Māori burial grounds
The council this afternoon broke with convention and agreed to make a contestable fund of $50,000 a year available for the upkeep of 43 urupa on Māori freehold or reservation land.
A further 30 urupa in the district on private land are excluded.
Te Atiawa iwi member Peter Moeahu applauded the council for looking beyond the Burials and Cremations Act.
"My view is that Section 3 of the Act is racist in its intent because it specifically excludes Māori from council resources.
"I also believe it is contrary to the Human Rights Act because it discriminates against Māori."
Mr Moeahu began campaigning for council assistance for the maintenance of urupa a decade ago but it was his submission to the long-term district plan last year that gained traction with council.
In it he pointed out many urupa were established where they were due to the confiscation of Māori land and because Māori were specifically excluded from public cemeteries.
"When land was confiscated and Māori were portrayed as being the evil people of the district a lot of access to public conveniences were denied us.
"And one of those in my great grandmother's case was actually being able to bury one of her mokopuna in a council cemetery.
"There was a huge outcry and people objected to having a Māori person buried next to one of their loved ones, next to one of their European beloved ones, so she wasn't able to do that."
Mr Moeahu said the vast majority of New Plymouth people were unaware of part of the district's history.
New Plymouth council manages 11 community cemeteries throughout the district at a cost of about $875,000.
Those cemeteries attract about $664,000 in fees, leaving an outstanding cost to council of $211,000.
It contributes about another $8000 to four cemetery-board managed graveyards.
The new $50,000 fund would be contestable and some Māori had signalled to council they were happy to look over their own urupa.
Councillor John McLeod was one of two councillors to vote against the move.
Mr McLeod said the feedback he had from Māori, in Taranaki and beyond, was that they would prefer to tend their own urupa.
He said his wife was of Māori descent and he travelled to the East Coast to tend her grave.
"It's my job. I mow the lawns. It's my job. That's the Māori worldview."
Councillor Murray Chong worried about the cost of the move.
"We are setting a precedent here. It might only be $50,000 now, but where does it stop.
"It costs thousands of dollars to put people in the ground, but there's no costs for this. There has to be one rule for everyone."
Councillor Gordon Brown, who moved the motion to approve the fund, said it was a sign the council's Te Huinga Taumatua committee set up to better represent the views of Māori in the district was doing its job.
Mr Moeahu said Māori were not looking for a handout.
"Māori are a part of this community and all we are asking for is a fair go and that's all. We're just asking for a measure of equality, a measure of equity in the council's approach to these matters."
Mr Moeahu said New Plymouth showing the way forward for other councils around the country.
"I think we are leading the way on this particular issue and I'm very pleased with the response of the council to date."