Wellington iwi gain voting rights on city council committees

By Jen Wilton

In a historic vote Wellington’s two iwi has gained full voting rights on all but one city council committee, excluding the CEO Performance Review Committee.

One iwi representative from Ngāti Toa Rangatira and one from Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika will have a seat at the council table with effect from July.   

Under the initiative each iwi will receive an annual fee equivalent to one full-time board member of $111,225.

The vote, which passed with an 11-3 majority on Wednesday, gained the last-minute support of Mayor Andy Foster who spoke in favour of the initiative minutes before the ballot was cast.   

Councillor Jill Day (Ngāti Tūwharetoa), who tabled the notice of motion that led to the vote, said increasing mana whenua representation at council committees was about putting things right.

Councillor Tamatha Paul (Ngāti Awa, Waikato Tainui) said: “For many iwi across the country the date and time in which all of our land was taken and stolen is etched into our memories. Seventeen January 1866 for my iwi.”

Paul says voting to increase mana whenua representation is a way to move forward and focus on the future, rather than dwell on the painful past.

Helmut Modlik (Ngāti Toa Rangatira), chief executive officer of Te Rūnanga O Toa Rangatira Incorporated, called the council vote a historic moment.

He said New Zealanders were increasingly determined “to do better for our children and our mokopuna than was done in the past”.

“We welcome the opportunity to renew in the 21st century the relationship between kawanatanga and rangatiratanga and to do so as equals,” Modlik said.

Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust chair John Coffey said the council and Taranaki Whānui should work together towards their common goals.

“You will not succeed without us and we will not succeed without you, it is as simple as that,” Coffey said.

Representatives of Wellington Boys’ and Girls’ Institute (BGI), who work with Māori youth in Wellington, spoke at the meeting in support of the vote.

BGI director of youth and community projects Ross Davis said: “It’s no longer politically risky to be supportive of paying Māori a fair rate for their expertise.”

BGI coordinator Ailsa Krefft said representation is vitally important for the Māori youth they work with and shows voices like their own can be heard.

“This decision in many ways reflects public opinion and the current reality where te ao Māori is being recognised and valued,” Krefft said.

Senior lecturer of political theory at Victoria University Emily Beausoleil said increasing mana whenua representation at the council was vital to enhancing democracy because elections on their own did not guarantee the protection of minority rights.

Beausoleil said studies showed the inclusion of different perspectives led to more informed, appropriate and effective decision making.

Lorena Gibson, senior lecturer in cultural anthropology at Victoria University, said mana whenua representation was important because it showed the council was serious about its Treaty obligations and recognised mana whenua expertise was vital to good decision making.

Gibson said it made sense for mana whenua representatives to be remunerated for their time and to have full voting rights.

“This sends a clear message to mana whenua that the council is serious about engaging with them on the future of this city,” Gibson said.

Councillor Teri O’Neill said at the meeting: “It is not adequate to merely provide a nodding acknowledgement to mana whenua at this table anymore. It is time to show up in our actions.”

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