EXPLAINER

Why has the Maori king of New Zealand called a national meeting?

The gathering will discuss how Maori rights can be protected by upholding their interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Video Duration 02 minutes 35 seconds 02:35Published On 19 Jan 202419 Jan 2024

About 3,000 Maori leaders and representatives will travel from all over New Zealand for a national meeting, or hui.

The hui on Saturday will be held in the Marae, or traditional meeting grounds, of Maori Kiingi Tuheitia in Ngaruawahia, south of Auckland.

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The rare meeting has been called by the ceremonial Maori king movement, the Kiingitanga.

Who are the Maori and why are they meeting?

The Maori are the Indigenous people of New Zealand who have been living in New Zealand, or Aotearoa, for more than 1,000 years.

The meeting has been called amid rising tensions between the Maori and New Zealand’s centre-right coalition government.

Multiple Maori groups, or iwi, have filed urgent claims against the coalition government’s policies in the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry for claims brought by Maori.

One such iwi, Ngai Te Rangi, hopes to challenge the government’s proposals to minimise the place of the Maori language, te reo Maori. After the government was elected in October, some government departments chose to revert to their English names in place of Maori.

What New Zealand government policies are the Maori opposed to?

To become prime minister, the leader of the centre-right National Party, Christopher Luxon, forged a coalition with the conservative ACT and populist New Zealand First parties.

When Luxon was new to politics, he said he tried to learn te reo Maori. Now, he is in a coalition with the ACT party, which has been talking about reducing the rights of the Indigenous community since before the election.

Since the coalition government took office, at least a dozen policies have been introduced that threaten the erasure of Maori culture. These include reducing the use of te reo Maori in official communications, stopping race-based policies and overturning health policies that protect the Maori.

On December 5, thousands of people gathered on the streets of New Zealand to protest these policies.

On Friday, Rawiri Waititi, who is a member of the New Zealand Parliament and leader of Te Pati Maori, the Maori party, posted a snippet of what he said was a leaked document from the government on Instagram.

This document seems to be a bill aimed at altering terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, which safeguards Maori rights. Waititi’s caption said the document was intended to erase the treaty. “Let this be the fuel to our fire! See you all on Saturday!” he wrote.

What is the Treaty of Waitangi?

The Treaty of Waitangi is also called Te Triti o Waitangi or just Te Triti. It was signed on February 6, 1840, between the British government and Maori leaders.

Besides guaranteeing equal rights to all, Te Triti, signed at Waitangi in the Bay Islands, assured the Maori that they would have independence and chieftainship over their lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other treasured assets. The assets would not be encroached upon by British settlers.

Over time, the promises chronicled in the treaty have faltered as government policies led to an erasure of Maori culture, language and customs. Still, every year on February 6, the signing of what is considered the nation’s founding document is commemorated as New Zealand’s national day.

Ngira Simmonds, the king’s chief of staff, said in a statement that the hui will discuss how the Maori translation of the Treaty of Waitangi can be upheld.

What else might happen at the Maori meeting?

Kiingi Tuheitia has proclaimed an open invitation to the Maori iwi, including children and the elderly.

Members from the opposition Labour Party, Greens and Te Pati Maori will attend the hui. Luxon, who met Kiingi Tuheitia on Monday, will not attend but will send two ministers.

Some leaders from coalition parties have denounced the hui. New Zealand House of Representatives member Shane Jones of the New Zealand First party called the meeting a “monumental moan session”.

Everyone will be allowed to speak at the hui, and breakout sessions on key issues will be organised.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies