'Disengaged and disenfranchised' - new programme to get more Māori involved in local elections

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By Aden Miles Morunga, Local Democracy Reporter

Increasing Māori participation in local democracy is the intention behind a "crucial" project, because Māori and young people are "disengaged and disenfranchised".

Taurikura NZ is leading the project, Mana Tangata Mana Maangai, with Waikato Tainui, to support potential Māori candidates and campaign teams to stand in both the general and Māori wards.

The project is crucial as young people and Māori continue to be "disengaged, disenfranchised and under-represented in all aspects of Aotearoa's political, civic and democratic processes" according to Taurikura NZ co-founder Kawena Jones.

"This is of serious concern because under-represented groups and their futures are most affected by decisions made at local government level."

The project develops a training and mentoring programme for potential candidates and campaign supporters through campaign messaging, scheduling, and planning, as well as defining the niche for candidates.

The goal is to increase voter participation amongst Māori and rangatahi Māori, and to help and support candidates.

"Diversity matters in local government. Māori perspectives, voices and a cultural lens in councils and community boards will introduce different priorities and values to the korero, leading to improved effectiveness, better decision-making and better outcomes," Jones said.

Despite Covid-19 disruption, Taurikura NZ has delivered live wānanga and livestream events for prospective candidates and campaign teams standing in the October 2022 local body elections.

"Māori learn to speak, negotiate and relate well on the marae, and in marae contexts and committees. Māori are connected through hapū, marae and iwi, and know one another - they already have support and collective strength. Māori already have effective networks and political infrastructure - a coordinated power at local level with churches, sports and social clubs."

Waikato Regional Council deputy chair Kataraina Hodge agreed, saying it was crucial that Māori engaged in the political process, either as voters or candidates.

"No one can speak on behalf of Māori dynamics except Māori," she said.

"Māori worldview is based on passed down views from their elders and their own lived experiences. I love being a councillor for Māori instead of the wider constituents. Māori constituents are very sure of what they want and will speak openly about achieving their tono (requests), but they are also very accommodating if it is not achievable from the council's perspective."

Dr Jacquelyn Elkington participated in the project and said she had been inspired to run for the Whakatāne District Council.

"I loved the structure [of the sessions]. There was a beginning, a middle and an end. I love that karakia (blessing) starts and ends each presentation," she said.

"I enjoyed the variety of colour, the tag team, the smiles and passion of the presenters. The information was understandable, the education is valuable."

Elkington said it was exciting to be part of an exciting movement to help inspire a generation.

"The purpose is to recruit, encourage and increase local government engagement for better results as a country, beginning in our communities.

"Although I am not rangatahi (young person), I certainly wish to inspire rangatahi in the area, by showing myself as an example, and what can be achieved by watching others."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air