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Speech: Wi Pere Book Launch - Hon Tariana Turia

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wi Pere Book Launch; Rongopai Marae, Patutahi, Gisborne

Friday 19 November 2010; 6.30pm

Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

It is absolutely fitting that we are gathered here, at Rongopai Marae, to celebrate the life and legacy of a remarkable man, a man of mana, a man well before his time.

For it was at this marae, that the attention of the world was transfixed at the setting of the last century; to welcome in the new.

On New Years Eve 1999 the world was invited here to a powhiri like no other. Overseas broadcasters including CNN, the Millennium Television Network, APTN and Reuters were here to capture the moment, at the dawning of a new age.

It is only right that we come here then, to celebrate past achievements, and look forward to new horizons influenced by the leadership of Wiremu Pere.

I come to honour Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Rongowhakaata; and indeed the five thousand descendants of Wi Pere who carry his memory with such pride.

This marae is imbued with a distinctive character which demonstrates the remarkable breadth of vision of Wi Pere.

We understand its significance in the history of Te Whanau-a-Kai in preparing to welcome Te Kooti.

We see the direct influence of Thomas Halbert and Riria Mauaranui, through both European folk art and the beautifully restored kowhaiwhai; the richly painted interior setting this marae into a class of its own.

And so we think of a man who lived through some of the most turbulent times of our nation's history; a man who was vastly educated in both the Maori and Pakeha worlds, having experienced the knowledge of both the Waerenga-a-Hika Tohunga school and the Church of England schooling system.

And through it all we see one word - kotahitanga.

Kotahitanga - the pursuit of tribal unity - is fundamental to the tangata whenua world view.

It is a concept which permeated every aspect of the lives of our ancestors, and a philosophy which many of us endeavour to uphold in our lives today.

It is, if you like, the full expression of our collective strength.

Kotahitanga is a kaupapa that has been at the forefront of many Maori movements right up to the present day.

The Kingitanga movement stands today as a vibrant and enduring expression of the desire of the people for unity. The poukai which King Tawhiao instituted over a century ago were to provide for the needs of the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned; and to foster tribal unity; to care for the greater good. And it is so wonderful that they are still just as strong today.

As Morehu, the followers of the prophet, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana; we hold fast to his aspirations to weave the people together, by embracing te ture wairua - our spiritual faith; and te ture tangata. A key part of the maramatanga was to unite the people by entrenching Te Tiriti o Waitangi into law.

And of course there is the Kotahitanga Movement itself, which emerged from a meeting of Māori leaders at Waitangi in 1892; brought together with the intention of forming a union of tribes.

Our ancestors were deeply troubled over the erosion of Māori ownership of land and they sought to form a kotahitanga or union, to achieve protection of their rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

I am deeply proud, that in our own movement, the Maori Party, we have embedded the notion of kotahitanga into our founding constitution.

We describe kotahitanga as the principle of unity of purpose and direction. It is demonstrated through the achievement of harmony and moving as one. All are encouraged to make a contribution, to have their say and then together a consensus is reached.

The reality is, of course, it is one thing to have an aspiration; it is quite another to live up to its ideal, and as the media love to point out, there have been a few occasions in which our understanding of kotahitanga is sorely tested.

But we will never resile from the challenge of living up kaupapa which our tupuna knew held the promise of our future.

Wi Pere lived his life by the notion of kotahitanga.

And I want to mihi to his mokopuna, Anaru Hetekia Te Kani Pere, better known as Joe, for the huge effort to ensure the knowledge of his legacy will be with us forever.

According to his own accounts, Wi Pere was called upon by his mother, Riria, to mediate disputes between Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Rongowhakata; apparently risking his own life in some of the situations he was called into.

He had been seen by the church as an emerging leader, and was also schooled in the whakapapa shared with him at the whare wananga called Maraehinahina.

He called upon these considerable skills to take up the mantle of the Repudiation Movement in Poverty Bay. He was deeply opposed to the confiscation of land and supported the movement which aimed to reverse fraudulent land purchases.

He also opposed the Native Land Court giving land title to individuals, believing - as I do, that the land should be in the ownership of hapu and whanau.

His defiance against the Native Land Court, and his promotion of elected block committees to give Maori communities greater control over their lands was extremely significant in his time, and remains an important lesson for us all about the expression of kotahitanga in the way in which we take care of our whenua.

It worries me when I hear of some whanau shareholders - living away from home - but effectively able to veto initiatives that other whanau may want to present, in terms of the use of whanau land; particularly when we know individualising land titles is the reason we lost almost all our land.

Kotahitanga is not another name for one view only - it is about the ability to be constructive, to believe in our roles and responsibilities. It is certainly not helped by processes or structures which seek to alienate land, or fragment our connections.

Wi Pere was MP for Eastern Maori for seventeen years; serving both in the House of Representatives and Legislative Council.

During this time he had also joined the Native Land Laws Reform League - to enable Maori land owners in multiple title to deal with land on a corporate basis. He supported the Native Rights Bill introduced by Hone Heke to support the Kotahitanga Movement, and to also boycott the Native Land Court.

And he also supported James Carroll's Urewera District Native Reserve Act of 1896 which would establish tribal committee to settle titles and manage Tuhoe lands rather than the land court.

It is so important to know this history; to understand the collective call for kotahitanga that existed across the Maori seats in those times; to see the absolute respect and endorsement of iwi aspirations being advanced by those who are our elders in the House of Representatives.

It is an absolute privilege and responsibility for people like me - and we hope soon for Na Raihania - to continue on in their footsteps.

The richness of kotahitanga is not reserved, of course, just for one House. We must strive for kotahitanga in whanau, hapu and iwi; to put aside our differences and look at what it is that binds people together; that unifies us - rather than the all-too easy and obvious mistake of dwelling on what it is that divides us.

That is why I am so excited about Whanau Ora - as providing us all with the opportunity and the reason to remember that our whanau are our greatest strength. Whanau Ora is about all of us working together, to reconnect and to build common unity.

I must admit I had a bit of a giggle to myself when I heard the korero about close and distant relations. I remember many years ago, saying well yes I am related to the Mareikura whanau - although distant. I will never forget when Ritchie Akapita came up to me and said, but how can you say we are distant when just five generations ago we came from the same two people? I can tell you I have never used the word distant relation again!

I want to mihi to all of the descendents of Wi Pere, for the inspiration you help us to maintain, about the value of sustaining harmonious and cooperative relationships.

Ultimately, I believe our maturing nation will be all the better for bringing together a shared heritage and an understanding of what we can learn from our collective history for the betterment of our peoples.

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.

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