Wellington’s proposed Māori ward only one tool in the kete

11 March 2021
By Jen Wilton

Wellington City Council’s vote today to establish a Māori ward in time for the 2022 elections has been hailed a good start, but more action is needed.  

A motion brought to the Strategy and Policy Committee by its chair, Councillor Jill Day (Ngāti Tūwharetoa), passed 12-3 in favour of creating a Māori electoral ward for the first time in the capital, pending feedback from the community.  

Wellington City Council agreed in principle to Councillor Jill Day’s motion to establish a Māori ward in time for the 2022 elections. JEN WILTON.

Councillor Tamatha Paul (Ngāti Awa, Waikato Tainui) welcomed the result, but says establishing a Māori ward is no silver bullet for Māori representation or participation.

“Māori wards are a tool in the kete,” Paul said.

“It’s a means to ensure less harm is created by institutions like Wellington City Council, because we have a history of harming Māori communities, among other communities.”

However, Paul says ultimately the council needs to hear from iwi and other members of the community on whether this is the right way forward.

Helmut Modlik (Ngāti Toa Rangatira), chief executive officer of Te Rūnanga O Toa Rangatira Incorporated, sees establishing Māori wards as a good way to increase the visibility of Māori perspectives, but says more is also needed.

“The creation of Māori wards do not create a Treaty partnership,” says Modlik, adding that mana whenua are not guaranteed a voice at the council table under this model.  

Annie Te One, lecturer of Māori Studies at Victoria University, says having people elected by Māori constituents sitting on the council is an important step as local government is not adequately representing Māori at present.

“There are still significant gaps, not only in the percentage of Māori councillors across the board, but also in councils’ uptake of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and incorporating iwi and Māori voices throughout the structure, as well as policy and advice that they take into account.”

Te One says councils need to be clear that establishing a Māori ward is not fully meeting their Treaty responsibilities and should not be considered a replacement for establishing relationships with mana whenua.

Mau Whenua representative Anaru Mepham (Te Āti Awa), who is involved in the Māori land occupation at Shelley Bay, says any improvement in Māori representation is beneficial, but believes the Treaty is a living document that confers responsibilities to everyone.  

“One of the things with representation is that it often takes away that personal responsibility to Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” Mepham said.

“We need to continue to explore what it means to be Treaty partners on an individual basis, as well as a colletive community basis.”

Anaru Mepham and Kenny-Jean Sidwell of Mau Whenua spoke to Mayor Andy Foster and other councillors on Thursday about introducing Māori wards. JEN WILTON.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), a membership body representing all local authorities in New Zealand, campaigned for years to make it easier for councils to establish Māori wards.

The organisation agrees it is one option available to councils to ensure fair and effective representation of Māori people, as well as to increase opportunities for participation.

However, LGNZ principal policy advisor Dr Mike Reid says: “Given Māori aren’t a homogenous group, Māori wards aren’t a silver bullet to achieving representation.

“A real risk with the establishment of a Māori ward/constituency in isolation of other arrangements is that the Māori councillor may be expected to be the ‘expert’ on all things Te Ao Māori, with the result that councils cut back their Māori advisory capacity and their involvement with mana whenua organisations.

“Arrangements need to be fit for purpose, and cater for the wide variety of iwi, hapu and Māori who may not be of that particular area.”

Wellington City Council will seek community feedback on their proposed plans until April 19 and a final decision must be made by May 21 if a Māori ward is to be created in time for next year’s local elections.

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