Ngāi Te Rangi welcomes immigrants to Tauranga Moana

By Herewini Waikato

More than 500 migrants from around the world were welcomed with a traditional pōwhiri onto Te Whareroa Marae on Friday in a gathering that brought together Ngāi Te Rangi and people of indigenous cultures from around the world who now call the Western Bay of Plenty home.

The Matariki gathering was for tangata whenua to welcome those from afar who have become New Zealanders, to give them an authentic Māori world view and to be thanked for their contribution to Aotearoa.

Immigrants from places including Italy, Columbia, various Pacific Islands, South Africa and Brazil attended the hui and heard the history of Ngāi Te Rangi, including how Mauao (Mount Maunganui) got its name. In return, the groups shared their respective cultures with the marae.

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley was overwhelmed by the large turnout and believes the relationship between Māori and the migrant communities is becoming closer

"I came up with the idea when I went overseas to Quebec., I was welcomed by their native people and it was such a special feeling of acceptance. So why not the same for our diverse whanau here in Aotearoa,” Stanley says.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon also attended the welcome, draped in a Chinese jacket, which drew envious looks from the local kaumātua and, once he spoke articulately in Te Reo Māori, once again this Tairawhiti adopted son stole the show.

Foon was adamant today's powhiri could be an example all Iwi could aspire to in building relationships between Maori and iwi manene (immigrants) in their area. "It is a good idea because that's what makes Māori special, we are an inclusive people."

Although this event was about embracing culture, people, and language, a recent meeting in Tauranga was opened in Te Reo Māori and some of the audience reacted negatively to this welcome. Kim Williams, the spokeswoman for the group's steering committee, was met with jeers of "Speak English" and "we don't want to hear that" after her greeting. She had spoken mostly in English and only about "six words" in Te Reo Māori, when the crowd began to yell at her.

In the next few weeks, Stanley and others will hold a debrief of today's event and look at building a  team that will make this an annual event on the Matariki calendar.