Wellington, New Zealand – December 6, 2023
In a notable departure from protocol, Indigenous Maori politicians in New Zealand disrupted the opening of the country’s parliament on Tuesday. Instead of immediately pledging allegiance to Britain’s King Charles III, as mandated, these politicians prioritized commitments to their descendants and New Zealand’s founding document.
The TePati Maori, the smallest party in parliament representing the Maori people, comprises six lawmakers who chose a unique path during the swearing-in ceremony after the Oct. 14 election. Rather than a direct oath to King Charles III, they first made pledges to their mokopuna (descendants), Tikanga (Maori practices), and the “Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi.”
The “Treaty of Waitangi,” signed in 1840, established principles for governance in New Zealand, but discrepancies between the English and Maori versions have led to ongoing debates regarding Maori sovereignty.
During the ceremony, TePati Maori members adorned feathered headdresses and cloaks in homage to their traditional roots, incorporating Indigenous challenges and songs. However, their symbolic act of allegiance to the king saw at least two members substituting “KingiTiare” with “KingiHarehare.” TePati Maori co-leader RawiriWaititi explained that Harehare was merely an alternative name for Charles, though it carries potential objections or offensiveness in translation.
While some parliamentarians speaking Maori showed indifference to the word change, TePati Maori, advocating for the removal of the king as the head of state, issued a statement on Friday. They declared the oath symbolic of colonial power, asserting that it places Parliament’s authority above that of Indigenous people.
The move by TePati Maori aligns with heightened race relations issues in New Zealand, evident in protests led by the party across the country on the same day as the parliament opening.
New Zealand’s republican movement has seen ongoing debates about transitioning to a republic with a citizen as the head of state. This sentiment, particularly strong in some Indigenous communities, stems from the symbolic association of the king with colonialism.
Notably, in 2022, Indigenous Australian parliamentarian Lidia Thorpe had to retake her parliamentary oath after modifying it to label Britain’s queen as a colonizer. While past New Zealand politicians attempted to avoid the oath, many eventually yielded to participate in government affairs. The actions of TePati Maori add a new layer to the discourse on New Zealand’s political and cultural landscape, drawing attention to the complexities of Indigenous representation and sovereignty.