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Tamihere Waitangi Day - Dominion Post Column

Waitangi Day - Dominion Post column

I experienced an epiphany at Waitangi: I realised I agreed with Don Brash. Not with the "one people" line or any of that nonsense, but on one point he's right. Maori do get special treatment, or more specifically, the mob up at Te Tii Marae do.

Who else would be allowed to abuse, shove, spit at and throw mud at visitors, (whether or not the prime minister is among the visitors)? >From what other group in what place and circumstance would that be OK? Quite frankly it is not OK; it is mob rule.

Why anybody, including politicians, should line up year after year in some bizarre ritual of flagellation at the hands of this mob is beyond me.

Yes, Waitangi Day is our national day, and obviously Waitangi is an important focal point on our national day, but the way that day is treated at Te Tii dishonours Waitangi Day. It has become a joke, and is no longer a place where genuine dialogue between Maori and the Crown is possible. We have seen the same debacle unfold for five or six years now, and those responsible have had plenty of time to clean up their act. Clearly, they have no intention of doing so.

The police who were entrusted with security at Te Tii must also bear some criticism. There weren't enough of them to guarantee protection against a crowd of that size. They shouldn't have brought the prime minister's car up the main drag to the marae entrance - this meant we had to cut through the crowd of protestors to escort her on to the marae, and protestors were able to surround her. It fell to Maori wardens and even Government ministers to play a large part of the job of physically shielding the prime minister.

In the event, no one was hurt, but mismanagement of such situations means that the level of security leaves something to be desired. It is probably worth noting that a protestor carrying a boning knife on his belt was within a few feet of Helen Clark in the middle of an out-of-control mob. You wouldn't see foreign leaders and their security teams even contemplating entering such a situation.

And don't try to tell me that there is anything traditional about treating marae guests in that appalling manner - in fact tikanga demands quite the opposite, and the breaches of protocol that were displayed are too numerous and disgraceful to list here.

Of course the whole undignified spectacle on Thursday was orchestrated from go to whoa. Titewhai Harawira can pretend to be graciously escorting the prime minister on to the marae, but she made damn sure that the prime minister's party was halted at the door long enough to be exposed to a good long dose of pushing and jostling and threats.

Inside, Titehwai's son Hone Harawira said he could have stopped the rabble if he wanted to, but told the prime minister and her party (his own guests) that he was "glad you got the bash". Another son, Arthur Harawira, and daughter Hinewhai Harawira also participated in the intimidation outside.

A large proportion of the protestors at Te Tii, and the Harawira's themselves, are paid by the State. They are prepared to accept the State's generosity when it suits them, while screaming abuse at its representatives.

Just because you don't agree with someone, even if what someone is proposing makes you extremely angry, that does not excuse the sort of carry-on we observed at Te Tii. Maori have moved on to a level of debate and power sharing where we don't need to resort to physical intimidation and yelling abuse through megaphones. Obviously some people feel they still have much to gain for their own ends by refusing to move on, and staying behind in mobsville.

Helen Clark and Government ministers - and Don Brash - can make their own call next year on what they choose to do over the Waitangi weekend. Personally, I've got better things to do and there are a fantastic range of Waitangi Day events around the country whose organisers know how to treat guests with the dignity that good manners and protocol demand. The loudest and ugliest voices are those who make the front pages of newspapers, while it can be easy to overlook the vast majority who are just quietly celebrating, rather than confronting.

Over Waitangi weekend thousands of Kiwis got together and celebrated our national day in a much more positive way, enjoying New Zealand music in the sunshine and just demonstrating what is good about our nation. It would be unfortunate if we let one group of people misrepresent what Waitangi Day is about, when all the rest of us did so much better.


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