Karakia protest: Kaipara mayor stands firm in wake of hikoi of hundreds

9:01 pm on 14 December 2022
Close to 200 people have gathered in Dargaville on 14 December to protest against the Kaipara mayor.

The hikoi - the biggest ever in Dargaville - on the march through the town. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Olley

Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson was this afternoon unrepentant in the face of a 6000-signature petition calling for his resignation and a hikoi of more than 300 people through the streets of Dargaville.

He said Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta should keep out of the Kaipara District Council's situation and let the community sort it out themselves.

Jepson's comments came after the biggest local government protest hikoi in Dargaville since the first mayor was elected more than a century ago, in 1908.

The hikoi walked from the centre of town to the venue for today's KDC meeting in the Northern Wairoa War Memorial Hall, to voice their opposition to the mayor's controversial karakia ban at the council's 30 November meeting in Mangawhai.

Jepson's position came in spite of fighting words from the hikoi whose participants broke into karakia, oratory and waiata. Many later watching the livestreamed council meeting from inside the hall but outside the venue's specified council chambers.

Close to 200 people have gathered in Dargaville on 14 December to protest against the Kaipara mayor.

Photo: RNZ / Samantha Olley

Jepson stood outside the meeting venue, flanked by his councillors and council acting chief executive Jason Marris to meet the hikoi, but did not speak.

The mayor said after the hikoi he acknowledged the participants' exercising their democratic right to express their views.

He said these were the views of some in the community. There were many others in the community who had different views.

This morning's hikoi was organised by Paturiri Toautu, who also stood for KDC's new Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori ward, after the karakia ban which has become a flashpoint for the community and wider New Zealand society.

Jepson said KDC had decided on Wednesday last week karakia could be among options individual councillors, on a rotational basis, might choose to use just prior to the start of a council meeting.

That would be how things stayed. Karakia would not be a formally included feature at the start of every meeting - in contrast with longstanding council tradition.

Kaipara Mayor Craig Jepson.

Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

Cr Ash Nayaar, who is of Indian descent, opened the council meeting today - with a karakia in te reo.

Jepson created a national furore when he stopped efforts by Māori ward councillor Pera Paniora to start the Mangawhai meeting with a karakia.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon has already called on Jepson to reconsider his position. Mahuta has said everybody makes mistakes and that the mayor's position was a mistake.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua co-chairperson Dame Naida Glavish addressed today's hikoi outside the council meeting venue.

She slated the mayor's position on the karakia as racist.

Jepson later took issue with her racism comments.

"She knows nothing of my 65 years and how I have interacted with all sorts of people," Jepson said.

Glavish promised Māori would no longer allow anyone to "do what they like" with tikanga.

"How dare someone who was voted in for three miserable years do what they like with tikanga without a conversation first?," she said.

"No way are we going to take that sort of behaviour. No way, it's over."

Dame Naida Glavish

Dame Naida Glavish made her feelings clear about the mayor's ruling. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Hikoi participant James (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara, Te Uri O Hau), who did not want to give his last name, travelled from Ahipara to take part in the hīkoi.

He said the march was not about Māori versus non-Māori.

"It's about uniting and understanding each other's values and tikanga. It's about us standing strong in the Kaipara," he said.

Glavish was among kuia and kaumātua who also addressed the council meeting.

"We will not tolerate ignorance, arrogance or racism," Glavish told Jepson and councillors present.

Glavish said the events of the last few weeks had undone the good relationships of the previous council.

'Today is the saddest of the sad'

Former Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith described today's event as sad.

"Kaipara District Council has had many sad days before, but today is the saddest of the sad," Smith said.

Petition spokesperson Chris Huriwai told today's meeting there was a lot of racism being smuggled into the council in the guise of the council karakia compromise. This has seen karakia become part of an optional pre-meeting approach that can also include a prayer or elected representative's reflection.

The karakia was one tiny part of what should also include other aspects of tikanga at the start of the meeting, Huriwai told the meeting.

"We have had so much taken away from us," Huriwai said.

Te Kahu o Taonui (Northland Iwi Chairs Forum) chair Harry Burkhardt, representing the region's 12 iwi, told the meeting council's relationship with iwi had many benefits including economic, The relationship to date had been an important part of a significant proportion of government then Provincial Growth Fund money coming to Kaipara.

He said it was important the gains achieved in council relationships with Māori could proceed.

There was nothing wrong with admitting a mistake and moving on, Burkhardt said.

Jepson at November 30's meeting also contentiously attempted to dismantle KDC's co-governance arrangement for a Dargaville landmark - splitting the single council Pou Tu o Te Rangi Harding Park joint governance committee into two separate committees. The park sits high above Dargaville city and is the site of key community assets including the Lighthouse function centre and Dargaville Museum.

But his attempt to get this through at the Mangawhai meeting ended with the matter lying on the table until KDC's February council meeting - so consultation could be undertaken with Te Uri o Hau which has the Pou Tu o Te Rangi pa site in the park as part of its Waitangi Treaty allocation and in conjunction with the Harding family, which has a long association with the park.

Councillors at the meeting voted for this outcome, with Jepson voting against doing so.

Te Uri o Hau representative Reno Skipper told today's council meeting the uncoupling without consultation was undemocratic.

Meanwhile, Te Roroa spokesperson Thomas Hohaia used the words of New Zealand's national anthem to represent his concern about the KDC situation to today's meeting.

"God defend our free land," he said.

He said Jepson's approach had already split the community, at a time when so much had been achieved.

Jepson said KDC already had a number of ways it worked with Māori which were still in place.

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