Protesters ignored pleas to show respect at Te Tii Marae this morning, where Prime Minister John Key and fellow politicians were verbally abused during ugly scenes at Waitangi this morning.
Protester Wi Popata heckled prominent Maori MPs regardless of party affiliation, calling Dr Pita Sharples, Te Ururoa Flavell and Hekia Parata "niggers."
Around six to 10 protesters rushed onto the marae when Mr Key first arrived at 10am, knocking aside members of the media as they moved. Two photographers, including one from the Herald, were seen bleeding after the rush.
This isn’t on. What do these protestors, and I use the term protestors in its loosest sense, expect to achieve? Actions like the above serve only to reinforce negative opinions and galvanise the public against your cause. Of course, these village idiots wouldn’t know the first thing about making gains for Maori. They know how to make a lot of mindless noise, but they don’t know what progress looks like, let alone how to achieve it.
The temperature at Waitangi was always going to be high. Coming on the back of cuts at TPK and the possibility of dropping s9 from new SOE legislation. I don’t think anyone was expecting thug-like protest though. What makes the protestors' actions even worse is that they're playing right into Key's hands. The average Kiwi will sympathise and side with Key in the face of, what appears at the moment, to be thuggish protest. Public opinion was always on the PM's side and that support will solidify in the face of rancorous "Maori's".
There are suggestions that Key wanted this sort of thing to happen. After more than a week of negative headlines Key was, apparently, searching for an event to regain public sympathies. What better time to do this than Waitangi. In the run up to the weekend Key baited Maori - or at least that's how I see it. For example, he promised to talk about hot bottom issues like welfare reform at Te Tii. This intensified feeling following the TPK cuts and s9 controversy.
Anyway, I’ve said time and again, the protest generation is over. Maori have a foothold, the path goes from there. We don’t need to keep alive the fight for things we already have. Maori must work for gains from within. Within Parliament, government, the National Party and the Labour Party. Jodi Ihaka made a salient point this morning when she noted that most of the protestors of the past were sitting at the Copthorne Hotel with the PM – think the Maori Party leadership and the Iwi Chairs Forum. This is where progress will be made, not on protesting one day a year on Te Tii Marae.
These protestors risk reducing Waitangi Day to a farce. It’s all well and good to hold protests. Maori, after all, remain at the bottom on the heap and festering wounds from historical injustice remain. This is to say nothing of contemporary injustices. But you need to have a strategy – a realistic one and one suitable for 2012 conditions. New Zealanders will gladly ditch Waitangi Day for, say, New Zealand day if mindless, violent and intimidating protest continues to occur. Should a New Zealand day come about, Maori will be deprived a legitimate platform to bring attention to Maori concerns and discuss ways forward.
This brings me to another point. I don’t think we need a New Zealand day. Our nation was founded on the signing of the Treaty, therefore, there is a day no more appropriate for celebrating NZ than Waitangi Day. The calls for New Zealand day come from, more often than not, Pakeha who would rather ignore historical and contemporary injustice. People who would rather ignore the fact that the NZ government, and many an average NZ citizen, treated and in some cases continue to treat Maori like crap.
NZ day would be a backward step that would create more racial division rather than less. The significance of the Treaty would be diminished and, as a result, the place of Maori in NZ.
I’m not trying to portray Waitangi Day as a day for Maori to have a piss and a moan. Waitangai Day should be a day for reflection, discussion and, most importantly, celebration. For the past three years, probably not this year, I think we got the balance right. It’s a shame this isolated gang of fools are taking us back a decade or two.