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By Susan Botting for Local Democracy Reporting
Dargaville district’s Paturiri Toatu has lodged a petition request with Parliament seeking karakia are made compulsory for the start and finish of council meetings in councils with Māori wards or constituencies.
Northland’s four councils – Kaipara District Council (KDC), Far North District Council (FNDC), Whangārei District Council (WDC) and Northland Regional Council (NRC) - all have Māori electoral areas.
Toatu’s December 5 petition request reads: “That the House of Representatives makes it mandatory for councils that have Māori ward representation to respect Tikanga Māori and Māori culture by having an opening and a closing karakia (prayer) before and after all council meetings, according to Māori custom.”
His move comes after KDC Mayor Craig Jepson refused to allow Māori ward councillor Pera Paniora to open the council’s November 30 meeting in Mangawhai with a karakia.
"Recently, the Kaipara Mayor refused to allow Kaipara District Council Māori Ward councillor Ihapera (Pera) Paniora the right, according to Tikanga Māori and Māori Custom, to have an opening karakia (prayer) in order to bless proceedings," Toatu said.
"Not only was this action deeply hurtful and offensive to Ihapera (Pera), I believe it was also very disrespectful to the Māori community overall."
He said that November 30 karakia ban directly contravened Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi).
Toatu said he would approach a Te Pāti Māori MP to present his petition to the House, where it would go to a relevant select committee.
Toatu organised Dargaville’s Wednesday hikoi calling for the Kaipara Mayor’s resignation after his November Mangawhai council meeting karakia block, calling the council leader's action racist.
The hikoi of more than 300 people walked through the main streets of Dargaville township to the Northern Wairoa Memorial Hall venue for KDC's December council meeting.
It was Dargaville's biggest hikoi in the town’s local government history which began more than a hundred years ago with the settlement's first Mayor in 1908.
KDC's elected representatives on December 7 decided on what was called a compromise position on the use of karakia to open their council meetings, where it could be used, as one option, by councillors who, on a rotating basis, could start proceedings ahead of the meeting with this or other choices including a prayer or other reflection.
Toatu said KDC's compromise position did not go far enough.
Karakia timatanga (karakia to start a meeting) have become commonplace across New Zealand's local governments, which is required to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Signatures for the petition close on January 4.
Toatu was among the candidates who this year stood for the single seat on KDC’s first-time Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward, won by Paniora.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.