Stratford council calls emergency meeting on Māori wards

By Te Ao - Māori News

Stratford District Council is to hold an emergency meeting on Friday morning after appeals from two iwi to change its mind on Māori wards.

Stratford is the only Taranaki council not to agree to add Maōri wards for the next local body elections, instead deciding to hold off until the 2024 elections.

But, during long-term plan submissions, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine appealed to the council to reconsider.

“In a single decision, made by you as a council, Ngāti Ruanui feels disgust and a loss of goodwill,” Graham Young, of Te Runanga O Ngāti Ruanui Trust, said in a Stuff report of the meeting.

 “You have probably undermined all the engagement you’ve achieved to date.”

Young said the council only ever approached iwi as a “tick box exercise”.

“Is tangata whenua nothing more than tokenism? Dialling up for a karakia or pōwhiri [when it] suits? But are you refusing to start to listen?”

Mamae and disappointment

The agenda for the emergency meeting says it is in response to Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine sharing their thoughts.

 “Elected members and council officers at the hearing acknowledge the mamae (hurt) and disappointment expressed by these iwi at the current lack of Māori representation,” the report reads.

It says “due to the significance the council places on its relationship” with Māori in its district, elected members have been given the final opportunity to review their decision.”

Councillors will be asked to either establish a Māori ward that will have effect for the 2022 local elections or to not establish a ward and instead review the decision at the 2024 Representation Review.

Friday is the last day local bodies can legally consider establishing a Māori ward in time for next year’s elections.

The establishment of a Māori ward would trigger a full representation review. The initial proposal would have to be made by August 31 2021. A council report in the agenda says this could present elected members with an opportunity to review council representation for the district, as the representation review was not expected to take place until 2024.

Council and Māori relationship

The report says the iwi who have expressed their views to the council on Māori representation are in support of establishing a Māori ward.

“There is a risk that the views of the wider community have not been sought and at this stage are unknown. However, full public consultation is a requirement of the representation review.

“The decision being asked of elected members in this report affects the direct relationship between council and Māori, rather than the relationship between council and the general public.”

The report said it was also important to note that there was only an opportunity every five years for electors to go onto the Māori electoral roll, with the next one being in 2024, so the numbers on the Māori electoral roll would not change for the 2022 elections (excluding migration to/from the Stratford district).

Also, if a Māori ward were established, electors on the Māori electoral roll would only have the opportunity to vote for one position on the Māori ward seat, and for the position of mayor.

Choosing the second option would go against the views expressed from Māori to date.

“It is likely that this option would not be in the best interests of trying to establish a stronger relationship with Māori. Instead it could cause significant hurt to Māori and damage the work that has already been done to engage with iwi.”

Masterton decides today

“Strong relationships with iwi provide benefits to council and the community.”

Meanwhile this afternoon Masterton District Council will vote on a recommendation to adopt Māori wards. 

This follows discussions between Mayor Lyn Patterson and Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki Nui ā Rua Trust, Rangitāne o Wairarapa, and Rangitāne Tū Mai Rā Trust. All four Iwi indicated their support for the council establishing Māori Wards.