Stratford District Council votes yes to Māori wards in astounding 11-0 vote

By Te Ao - Māori News

Stratford District Council is the next to vote yes to establishing a Māori ward, as reported by Stuff.

The history-making decision means all four of the Taranaki region’s councils will have a Māori ward for the 2022 local body elections. 

At today's emergency meeting, Stratford district councillors voted unanimously in favour of a ward.

The council chamber was filled with iwi representatives, so much so  that people were spilling into the hallway and sitting right up behind the mayor and councillors at the table.

Prior to the vote, iwi representatives from Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahuine and Taranaki were allowed the chance to address councillors. All were in favour of establishing a ward.

Councillors then started their discussion at 11.50 am and within minutes councillor Min McKay moved that a Māori ward be adopted, a motion seconded by Peter Dalziel.

The councillors all then took turns to speak before Mayor Neil Volzke summed up and the official vote of 11-0 was counted, resulting in rounds of applause, the signing of waiata, a haka and people being embraced with hugs and hongi.

The call for the meeting came just a day after two local iwi pleaded for the council to change its mind at a long-term plan hearing. It has twice voted against establishing a ward in the past 10 months.

Friday was the final day councils could make a decision on establishing representation for the 2022 local election.

The decision date was extended after the law that formerly allowed for a Māori ward decision to be overturned by a binding referendum was changed earlier in the year.

Stratford District Council has been publicly criticised twice, once on the town's marae and again by Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine on Tuesday, for being the only council in Taranaki to not choose to establish Māori representation.

Stratford sits within the rohe of Araukuku hapū and chairman Clive Tongaaw’ikau said the thought of his district being the odd one out in Taranaki history had saddened him.

“My heart hurt, my heart hurt so deep – not just for us, for them,” Tongaaw’ikau said.

Tongaaw’ikau said he could see why councillors had previously thought a certain way, it would have been passed down by their tūpuna.

“I don’t blame them,” Tongaaw’ikau said. “They have been taught what they’ve been taught.”

“[But] If you’re stuck in the mud, you’re not going to learn.”

But now they had changed their minds and voted yes, he said there should be nothing more than celebrations in order.

“A hāngī needs to get put down.”

Last August, Stratford councillors unanimously decided to put off making a decision on a Māori ward until 2024, as they wanted to consult iwi.

In March, after the Government changed the law that allowed the community to force a binding referendum on any Māori ward decision and mayor Neil Volzke brought the discussion back to the table.

Its neighbouring district councils, New Plymouth and South Taranaki, had both already voted Māori wards in.

Volzke, along with councillors Peter Dalziel, Min McKay, and Amanda Harris voted to reconsider a Māori ward in time for the 2022 elections.