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Some of the visitors outside Te Awhina Marae being prepared for the powhiri

Marae packed for 'open day' Waitangi celebration

February 7th, 2017
[by David Armstrong]

The wharenui at Te Awhina Marae was packed with more than 150 people yesterday for a low-key but highly meaningful local Waitangi Day celebration.

After running large festival-style events with stalls, games and entertainment for the past several years, the marae this year chose to make it more of an "open day" event for visitors to learn about Maori culture and what Waitangi Day means to local Maori.

With an unexpectedly high number or people present and temperatures touching 30 degrees, the powhiri quickly moved into the shade of the wharenui and ceremonial speeches kept mostly short.

A show of hands indicated that perhaps 60 per cent of those attending were from other countries, making it a truly remarkable introduction to Maori history, culture and symbolism.

Once within the wharenui, and with half of the guests having to sit on the floor near the aircon unit, the first set of Maori speakers welcomed all and sundry, and remembered and paid their tributes to their ancestors, sharing the stories of their people, the Treaty and the lands.

The organisers had decided that, with the heat and number of visitors present, the final part of the ceremony would be in English.

Deputy chair of the Marae's board of trustees Barney Thomas explained the purpose of the ceremony to the many who did not understand te reo, then checked on the nationalities of the visitors. To the many from the United States he had two words: "Good luck", drawing much laughter from those visitors.

Speaking of the purpose of Waitangi Day he said, "We can't change history, but we can work together to build a better future for us all".

And touching on politics for a moment, he told visitors that Maori politics is every bit as fraught and controversial as national and international politics.

He also honoured Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne and Tasman-West Coast MP Damien O'Connor, saying they were always very supportive of Waitangi Day in Motueka and attended regularly.

Both politicians spoke briefly and to the point.

"New Zealand hasn't got [race relations] perfect, but we do have a legal framework in place to work from," Damien said. "We treat each other as equals, and it is the Treaty that set that up."

Richard pointed out that in the Nelson-Tasman region there are at least 65 different ethnicities represented. "So it's important to embrace and support them all. This gives us our vibrant and cohesive community."

After a giant hongi line, there was a break for quick refreshments in the wharekai. Then those who wished to (a little over one half the initial number) returned to the wharenui to learn about the meanings of the various carvings that support the building, along with the many other decorations which symbolise the history and culture of the local iwi.

A trustee Joy Shorrock related the carvings to the ancestral family members, their relationships and lines, being continued by today's marae members.

This was followed by about 20 minutes of questions and answers, mostly about the marae operations and goals but occasionally getting onto politics. Barney said that many of the disempowering changes of the past came down to the relationship between culture and laws.

"Back in those days, there was no such thing as ownership of land and resources," he said while explaining how European settlers began cutting up land parcels and owning them.

"Back then it was about responsibility, not ownership. It was not who owned the land but who was responsible for looking after the land."

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