Greater Wellington Regional Council voted to establish a Māori ward for its 2025 local government elections last week.
The decision had the unanimous support of the council’s mana whenua partners, including Rangitāne o Wairarapa and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.
The council’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi Komiti [committee] chair and first elected Māori councillor Hikitia Ropata said the constituency will create a “permanent place for a Māori voice at the regional governance table”.
“Today’s decision is an important step forward in honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, ensuring the voices of mana whenua and mātāwaka [Māori groups] will be heard, embedded, and carried forward by future councils and their decisions.”
Council chair Daran Ponter supported the decision and said it went hand in hand with building an equitable partnership with mana whenua.
Data from last year showed the Māori electoral population made up 8.17 per cent of the Wellington region’s total electoral population, enabling a single-member constituency.
“We understand our obligations under Te Tiriti go beyond establishing this constituency, and we expect the councillor who represents it will help us honour those commitments.”
The government’s Māori ward reforms began in February 2021, and legislation passed last year simplified decisions regarding Māori and general wards.
The changes have led to a mix of decisions and ongoing debate, in Wairarapa and nationwide.
Auckland Council recently made headlines by voting against the establishment of a Māori ward [11 councillors were against and nine were for].
Similarly, Carterton District Council had a split vote last week, with four councillors for and against the decision to introduce a Māori ward.
When Carterton mayor Ron Mark took the vote a second time, it failed to pass when deputy mayor Dale Williams switched his vote to “no”.
Masterton District Council voted in 2021 to establish a Māori ward, with Marama Tuuta currently the elected councillor for the constituency, and whether it will continue will be decided by the council elected in 2025.
South Wairarapa District Council decided against establishing a Māori ward in 2021, which led to protests from local iwi.
As of this year, the ward is back on SWDC’s agenda, and the council’s Māori Standing Committee is expected to take a formal position on the issue
at its November 22 meeting.
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa’s Rawiri Smith said Masterton District Council’s decision to establish a Māori ward has already paid dividends.
“We’ve seen that others have opted away from that,” Smith said.
“To be fair, both sides are about trying to have a fair relationship between Māori and council.”
While he understood there were “two sides to the coin”, Smith said supporting a Māori ward is the best way of ensuring stable representation in council decisions.
“If you continue to base representation on relationships, it’s not as strong as basing it on structure,” Smith said.
“We recognise both sides of the coin, in terms of the potential advantages and challenges of the Māori seat.
“But it’s dependent on relationships, often based on goodwill that you develop as Māori. By having structure, you always have a minimum, you always have representation.”
Rangitāne o Wairarapa cultural advisor Mike Kawana said councils moving towards and away from Māori wards “tell a story about where we are”.
“At the moment, Māori across the country are going through a revitalisation stage in our own development and our own emergence back into making our own decisions,” Kawana said.
“We’ve been through some pretty tough times as far as our culture is concerned.
“Here in Masterton, one of the prophecies was that we would lose our language, and that happened. For a number of years, none of us knew how to speak our own language.”
Kawana said although it was disappointing to hear about certain votes not passing, he noted that it is a slow process and he remained optimistic.
“When we hear about opportunities – which is what I see Māori wards to be – about sitting at the table, I think it’s really important for us to be there.”