In the end, it was the singing grace of a waiata that best captured the vibe inside Hamilton’s council chamber.
An initiative to establish Maori neighborhoods in Hamilton was touted as a watershed moment for the city and the sense of the occasion was not lost on those watching elected officials vote for change.
Those who feared Wednesday’s meeting might end with bitter words needn’t worry as councilors voted unanimously to create Maori neighborhoods in time for next year’s council elections.
The result drew applause, songs and a haka from the crowded public gallery and was returned the favor by elected members who stood up and sang their own waiata – Kirikiriroa.
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The landmark vote follows a three-week public engagement campaign that indicated overwhelming support for Hamilton’s Maori neighborhoods.
Over 990 bids were received by the board, with 81 percent of bidders supporting a call for change.
The vote to create Maori neighborhoods now triggers a broader scrutiny of representation that will determine the future configuration of the political wing of the council. Hamilton is expected to get two Maori wards based on the city’s population.
The new quarters must remain in place for at least two terms.
Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate started Wednesday’s meeting by asking speakers to be respectful and said the decision to consult the general public on the Maori neighborhoods issue was the right one.
“I think it’s really a really historic day,” Southgate said afterwards.
“What’s really amazing today is that it was a unanimous board decision. So in the journey of speaking to the public, [councillors] we have come to a better understanding and we have been able to be totally united in our opinion that Maori have a place at our table.
As of 2018, Maori interests have been represented on the city council by five Maangai Maori who have full voting rights at the committee level but do not sit on the full council.
The nominees are chosen by Waikato-Tainui and the Maori Urban Authority Te Rūnanga o Kirikiriroa.
Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura President Linda Te Aho was in the boardroom to watch the vote and described it as a momentous occasion.
“The next step is for Maori to mobilize, come forward and get involved in local government. We didn’t see ourselves reflected, so we didn’t go to the polls, ”Te Aho said.
“For so long, we felt so disconnected, and that’s why we didn’t participate. Now we will.
Ngira Simmonds, also speaking on behalf of Waikato-Tainui, said the message from the Kīngitanga is that the Waikato iwi are ready to take a seat at the council table.
“No one will be hurt when passing Maori quarters. There is nothing to fear here, there is only good for all of us, ”said Simmonds.
“We are not looking to take anything away from you, we are not looking to usurp your mana but rather to stay with you.”
Hamilton Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor, who previously expressed concern over the tight deadline for public consultation, said Maori neighborhoods would provide better representation for tangata whenua.
A lingering concern, however, is that creating separate neighborhoods for Maori could send the message that they cannot compete on their own merit.
“With Maori quarters within local government, there is nothing new, they have been around for 20 years. Again, did they really advance the cause? They were hardly revolutionary, ”Taylor said.
“I want something more, but I say this as a Pākehā who didn’t have to wait like you.”
Councilor Maxine van Oosten said community engagement in Maori neighborhoods gave the council clear direction. Voting takes place in a context of ongoing social change focused on building tolerance and awareness of one another.
“For those who are afraid of a backlash, this has not happened,” said van Oosten. “It is because we have awakened to a better understanding of our past.”
About half a dozen members of the public showed up at the council to protest the Maori neighborhoods. Some entered the debating hall with placards in hand, but few remained for the final vote.
Submission author Brian Burne attempted to deliver a belligerent speech but was upset by his lack of reading glasses. His chatter ended with one question.
“We should have an Indian room, a bloody Chinese room … why do Maori get a room when we are all one?”