By Diane McCarthy, Local Democracy Reporter
After fighting so hard to have Māori wards established, both locally and nationally, standing in Whakatāne District Council's first election to include them may seem to be a given for Toni Boynton.
But she said her decision to stand for the new Kapu te Rangi ward, one of three Māori wards being introduced at this year's election, was something she had to put a lot of thought into.
"I had a lot of people ask me to run … but I did have to think about it," she said. "I had to think about the outcomes for my family. I'm a single mum with four boys and the last campaign [for Māori wards] wasn't easy on them. My driving force is my boys."
It is that same driving force, however, that makes standing for the council so important to her.
"I want my boys to see themselves reflected in the people making decisions for their community," she said.
Boynton has been among the loudest voices in the battle to have Māori wards in Whakatāne since 2017 when she made submissions to the council on behalf of her hapū and whānau.
Her group, Te Rōpū Tautoko Māori, led a hīkoi in Whakatāne in 2018 after a referendum overturned the council's decision to establish a Māori ward. In 2020, she took a petition with 11,000 signatures to Wellington demanding the government change legislation that allows for council decisions in favour of Māori wards to be overturned by a referendum.
This was instrumental in the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill being passed into law early last year, which was followed by Whakatāne District Council being among 40 councils to vote to introduce Māori wards.
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"It's exciting because in the past year we went from three councils in New Zealand with Māori wards to 43.
"One of my main reasons for standing is to follow the journey to its end. It would be wonderful for our tamariki to see someone like them taking a decision-making role. Because Māori have been so under-represented up till now. I want them to think, oh well, if Aunty Toni can do it, so can I."
Involving the entire community in decisions that affect them is her passion.
"I really have a love for all our people. I have a heart for wanting to make sure they are all going to be able to have a say in decisions that affect them. We have a huge network through whakapapa (genealogy) and historic kinship ties."
If she is voted onto the council, she plans to make good use of those networks to support people to participate in local government.
The Kapu te Rangi ward, in which she is standing, covers the townships of Whakatāne and Ōhope.
Though Boynton has been a member of Tāneatua Community Board for the past term and has strong ties to Waimana through her Tuhoe hapū of Tamakaimoana, the town of Whakatāne is where she was raised and where she lives still.
"My grandmother lived on the homestead at Waimana and I would spend holidays with her. But I also have connections to Ngāti Awa through Warahore hapū and I spent a lot of my childhood at Wairaka Marae and Hokowhitu Marae. I have a lot of friends at those two marae."
She has spent much of the past two years helping to ensure vulnerable families were looked after through Covid-19, firstly through her role with Tāneatua Community Board and more recently as Covid-19 welfare co-ordinator with Te Tohu atu Ora o Ngāti Awa. She is also a New Zealand Māori Council representative for Mātaatua.
"My strengths are being able to work together with multiple groups to seek positive outcomes for everyone. I want to support Māori to participate in local government. If I can bring everyone along with me, they will see that being on council is something everyone can aspire to."
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air