20 Jan 2023

Māoridom reflects on Jacinda Ardern's premiership with mixed emotions

11:11 am on 20 January 2023
Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern being welcomed at the Waitangi treaty Grounds 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in 2021. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Jacinda Ardern-led governments advanced Māori health reforms, widened Māori representation in governance, and introduced the Matariki public holiday and the teaching of this country's history in schools.

Several Māori leaders across the motu reflected positively on those achievements when Ardern announced her resignation on Thursday afternoon.

But there was also frustration among some sectors of Māoridom at the pace of reform, criticism of Crown overreach into Māori affairs, and ongoing inequities.

'She's very hard to replace'

Te Puea Memorial Marae chairperson Hurimoana Dennis said he was saddened and disappointed to hear the news.

"It feels like we're in the middle of a rugby match and we're just at halftime at the moment and the captain has left the team.

"That's how I see it, respectfully... Personally, she's made her decision but I'm just being quite selfish from my perspective."

Ardern had done particularly good work on housing and homelessness, he said.

"She and her government have done a lot to help our people in that area, particularly Māori communities and we should be thankful for what we've received through her leadership.

"She's very hard to replace, I have to tell you, and with an election coming up, that presents all sorts of possibilities, some not so good."

In 2019, Ardern announced that New Zealand history would be taught in schools and kura from 2022, something that wasn't previously a part of the curriculum.

The history taught in schools now covers the arrival of original discoverers, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the impacts of colonisation, and the New Zealand Wars.

Dennis said that was the biggest achievement that would have the most impact on generations to come.

"My kids and my kids' kids are going to grow up knowing about the Treaty, knowing that there have been some struggles between Māori and Pakehā, and not only knowing but accepting them as being our history and being part of that but not being afraid of it.

"All the other achievements; Te Aka Whai Ora, housing, social welfare, and homelessness, all of the stuff that they have achieved has been significant. But it's not going to be of any value if we as a country, and the next generations are not in tune with the reality and truth of our history."

Health reforms

One of the biggest reforms seen under Ardern's leadership was the transformation of the country's health system. This included the creation of the new Māori Health Authority, challenged to reduce health inequities amongst Māori.

Māori health leader and managing director at Te Kohao Health, Lady Tureiti Moxon, said Ardern was not afraid to do things differently.

"She was brave enough to give something a go that's different from business as usual and different from the kind of models we have in our country whereby Māori really are second-class citizens and made to feel like second-class citizens."

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Lady Tureiti Moxon is also the chairperson of the National Urban Māori Authority Photo: Supplied

But Moxon said things needed to continue progressing in the health sector despite Ardern's departure.

"Te Aka Whai Ora is only in its infancy and what we need is huge support from New Zealanders to ensure that this is going to be something that's going to succeed."

Some of the outgoing prime minister's reforms were not popular with all, but the chair of the Waitangi National Trust said she was prepared to make unpopular decisions to advance Māoridom.

Pita Tipene said he reacted to Ardern's announcement with a sense of melancholy, a feeling he described as similar to hearing former prime minister Norman Kirk had died in 1974.

He said while there may be frustration at incrementalism, the health reforms, three waters, and housing reforms were significant changes. Tipene said Ardern advanced these despite a backlash.

"She had the real courage and the real conviction to move forward, or to help the movement towards where this nation is heading.

"Most people don't like change at all, let alone change along cultural lines."

The Ngāti Hine leader said Ardern showed a commitment to being a true Treaty partner each time she spoke at Waitangi.

"While we realised that things weren't going to change overnight, I think that she was committed to strengthening the foundations of the country that was envisaged on 6 February 1840, and our country needed to move towards the nationhood that the rangatira of the time aspired to."

'Unfinished work' to do

The Māori King expressed sadness over Ardern's resignation, with a spokesperson saying they had a close working and personal relationship.

Kiingi Tuheitia is currently in Hawaii for the funeral of the Hawaiian Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa.

Tuheitia's principal advisor, Rukumoana Schaafhausen, said he had a close and special working and personal relationship with Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with members of the New Zealand delegation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Tā Tipene O'Regan and Māori King, Kiingi Tūheitia (centre). Photo: Supplied / NZDF

She said the Kiingitanga was paying tribute to the advances that had been made for Māori, particularly around Waikato.

"It's very sad news but as the Kiingitanga, as Te Iwi Māori with the Crown we still have a lot of unfinished work to do and so that won't change," Schaafhausen said.

"We will deal with whoever the new leader is."

Meanwhile Te Pāti Māori is calling for the new prime minister and leader of the Labour party to be Māori.

In a press release, co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi, acknowledged Ardern's service whilst also sending a strong message.

"It is now time for Labour, with the biggest Māori caucus ever, to continue breaking glass ceilings by appointing a tangata whenua leader as the prime minister to lead the government at the next election. Anything less will be taking Aotearoa backwards from Jacinda Ardern."

And whilst Moxon agreed, she said she wasn't sure if the country was ready for that given the recent backlash to policies such as three waters and the Māori Health Authority.

"I'd love to see a Māori leader but is New Zealand ready for that? And by crikey we've been waiting a long time for this to happen and I would like to see it."

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