New Zealand’s Maori party assert indigenous ties in parliament opening

Kathy Hughes holds a sign as she takes part in a march lead by New Zealand political party Te Pati Maori to demonstrate against the incoming government and its policies, in Wellington, New Zealand, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Lucy Craymer

During the opening of New Zealand’s parliament, indigenous Maori representatives caused a disruption by deviating from the normal proceedings. Rather than pledging allegiance to King Charles III, the country’s head of state, the six lawmakers from Te Pati Maori (the smallest party in parliament, representing the Maori people) initially expressed their loyalty to their ancestors and the foundational Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, established principles for governance in New Zealand. However, discrepancies between its English and Maori versions have led to debates regarding the extent of Maori sovereignty. Members of Te Pati Maori made their pledges while adorned in headdresses and cloaks emphasizing Maori practices and performing indigenous challenges.

While they ultimately swore allegiance to the king, some members modified their wording by using “Kingi Harehare” of “Kingi Tiare.” Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pati Maori explained that “Harehare” was another term for Charles but also acknowledged that it could carry objectionable connotations.

Te Pati Maori, advocating for the removal of the king as head of state, considers the traditional oath as a symbol of colonial power. This action reflects discussions in New Zealand concerning race relations and calls for the country to transition into a republic.

Te Pati Maori stated that the use of symbolism in the oath puts Parliament’s authority above rights. This aligns with the party’s protests on race relations issues throughout the country.

Although New Zealand’s republican movement is not widespread, discussions about transitioning to a republic with a citizen as the head of state have persisted. Some indigenous communities strongly view the king as a symbol of colonialism. This incident is reminiscent of an event in 2022 when Lidia Thorpe, an Australian parliamentarian had to retake her oath after referring to Britain’s queen as a colonizer.

Previous attempts by New Zealand’s politicians to avoid taking the oath eventually led them to participate in government.

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