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The Mapp Report: Maori Protocol

The Mapp Report

Maori Protocol

Members of Parliament regularly get invited to school occasions, especially openings for new buildings in their electorates. We are invited in recognition that we are elected representatives of the people, and of course attendance is expected. Such an occasion also provides an opportunity for the member of parliament to meet the school community and participate in support of the event.

This was exactly the position Judith Collins was in last week. She naturally accepted the invitation to one of her local schools, and in the nature of these things was looking forward to being part of an occasion, which celebrated a substantial new improvement to the primary school in Papakura.

To her surprise she was seated in the second row, behind all the men present. No explanation for this was given to her.

The reason of course was the traditional protocol for a powhiri. Powhiri have become part of public ceremonies in New Zealand. In some cases a powhiri brings people together and supports the dignity of the occasion. However, in other cases it can dominate proceedings. For example, in North Shore there was an instance at the commencement of motorway works which involved 40 minutes of speeches in Maori in a 50 minute proceeding, where very few people present were Maori or understood te reo Maori. All this does is actually make people less tolerant of Maori culture.

In contemporary New Zealand, Maori culture is part of our nationhood. But in a modern democracy, equality is the most fundamental value, ensuring that all citizens have equal treatment. Public occasions and public institutions should reflect this. If that requires the adjustment of protocol to enable the values of equality and hospitality to be expressed that should happen.

In the past I have seen women such as Dame Cath Tizard (a former Governor General) being given a special place to sit in recognition of her office. A sensible adjustment is required so that the values of a state occasion and Maori culture can be balanced.

It is after all quite a different situation at a marae where one is a guest and should accept the protocol of the place. Marae are not public places in the same way as a school or other government institutions.

Judith Collins has challenged our country, including Maori, to think about how Maori protocol at public occasions can be expressed in a way that does not clash with our deeply held convictions of equality. The Maori Party also recognises that this is a serious issue to be investigated. We now have an opportunity to find a reasonable solution to these issues, and promote greater unity within our country.

Dr Wayne Mapp

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