A crowd of several hundred people, many dressed in red, white, and black, marched down central Masterton streets yesterday morning as part of a call by Te Pāti Māori [TPM] to protest policies of the National, Act, and New Zealand First coalition that it has branded as “an assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
The hīkoi [march] in Masterton was one in a series of protests across the country planned to coincide with the day on which new and returning MPs swore allegiance to the Crown as they took their seats in the new Parliament.
The protests resulted in some roads in central Auckland and Wellington being temporarily shut down with gridlocked traffic while protestors took to the streets on foot and in convoys of vehicles.
In Masterton, about 300 people from Wairarapa, Dannevirke, and Pahiatua joined the hīkoi, which started in the Farrier’s car park with karakia before the group moved south along Chapel St to the Kuripuni roundabout and returned via Dixon St.
Reon Te Maari-Kerr, who organised the Wairarapa hīkoi, said the turnout was much bigger than he had imagined, and he was overwhelmed by the support.
“This is just the beginning; we haven’t done anything yet. This is just planting the seeds,” he said. Te Maari-Kerr got emotional at the end of the hīkoi and could only say that he was happy with the number of people able to show up at such short notice.
The purpose of the protest was to call on the new government and the public of New Zealand to honour the treaty signed in 1840.
“Without the Tiriti, the government doesn’t exist. Our government was formed through the Tiriti,” Te Maari-Kerr said.
The crowd was kept engaged on the over 5km walk by orator Waireka Collings, who also gave a speech once the hīkoi had regrouped back in the Farrier’s car park.
Collings said the kaupapa [issue] was intergenerational and that “we add our miles and voices to the miles and voices of those that came before us”.
“We have inherited this kaupapa, and we will not be silent, and we will not go quietly,” she said.
“The treaty has been here long before us and will be here long after us. We will not go quietly, we can’t.”
Police were alerted to the planned protests on Monday morning when they were announced on social media by TPM, and Wairarapa police were in contact with the Wairarapa organiser prior to the march.
Wairarapa police area commander Scott Miller said he was impressed with both the event and the response of Masterton drivers, who were patient and adhered to police instructions.
“It was a well-organised, very peaceful protest,” Miller said.
About 12 police officers, along with local Māori wardens, assisted in clearing the roads for the hīkoi to progress, and Miller confirmed the event ran smoothly with no incidents.
“It’s a galvanising moment within New Zealand society where people are coming out to say that what’s happening at the moment is wrong,” said Masterton local Phil Stebbing, who joined the protest as tangata tiriti [a non-Māori ‘person of the Treaty’].
Stebbing predicts that more protests will be seen over the next three years as “the National coalition partners put forward their plans to quite radically change certain aspects of New Zealand society”.
“Some big changes are coming our way that are really unfair and trying to gloss over the effects of colonialism, on Māori especially,” he said.
British ex-pat Julie Weir also joined the hīkoi in support and said she is cognisant of the impacts of colonisation through her work as a social worker and working on historic claims.
“I think what the government is doing now is really divisive and will set back Māori relations many, many decades.
“If I don’t do something, I’m complicit with it.”
Mike Butterick, National’s new MP for Wairarapa, told the Times-Age that the new government wants to deliver for all New Zealanders, regardless of race.
“ We want to deliver for all New Zealanders – that’s Māori and non-Māori. There are a lot of people who have been incredibly challenged over the past six years, and it’s been pretty tough for them. So we need to focus on delivering better outcomes for all New Zealanders … [and] for those who are most challenged in our community,” Butterick said.