Wed, Dec 13, 2023 11:00 AM
When protests were taking place across the country last Monday, led by Te Pāti Māori, “Blenheim was a little bit shy”.
That's how 18-year-old Honey Marzola Wairepo described the town's absence from the mahi.
National Māori Action Day, Toitū te Tiriti (Honour the Treaty), was in response to the National-led coalition’s policies related to co-governance, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and also grievances such as the promise to repeal the smokefree generation law.
Marzola Wairepo, of Rangitāne, Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Apa ki te Ra To, Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa descent, said the decisions being made in Parliament affected young people too.
So when Blenheim didn't get involved, the rangatahi (young people) took matters into their own hands.
It was why they felt drawn to organise a hīkoi (march)of their own, and walked through the centre of town on Sunday, nearly a week after the protests took place across the country.
“A lot of the rangatahi that have come together to organise this aren't actually even old enough to vote,” she said.
“But we are stressing the importance of learning about politics and changing this narrative that we are too young to understand or too young and naive to have fully formed opinions about what's happening in the political realm.
“We're working to be educated on the policies that are going through Parliament that affect us, because we're not too young to be affected by the policies that go through.”
She said the response to Blenheim’s hīkoi had been “amazing”.
”We were a little bit nervous. We didn't know how many people would show up, how many people would support us, or how the community would react,” she said.
“But the community was so supportive, we had triple the numbers we thought we would have. Everyone marched in solidarity. It was really, really beautiful to see and be a part of.”
The group was planning another hīkoi, at this stage set down for Saturday.
“We've had a lot of messages and support from people who didn't know about our first hīkoi, who are very keen to get involved with the next one.
“And a lot of support from our kaumātua (seniors) as well, who are just very, very proud that it's young people that are driving this movement in Blenheim.”
She said it had been a “no-brainer”.
“We're about to be the adults living in this world, and we’re about to raise the next generation.
“This isn't a new fight for young Māori. It's a fight that was protested by my grandparents in the 70s.
“Tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) and Toitū te Tiriti (honouring the treaty) has been protested for years and years.
“We know what's right. We know that it is essentially our responsibility to revitalise te reo Māori.”
Te Rūnanga a Rangitāne o Wairau trustee Keelan Walker, of Rangitāne, Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Apa and Ngāi Tahu descent, said Blenheim was “not always the fastest” to organise itself.
Walker was not in Blenheim on Sunday, but said he was keeping a close eye on what was happening.
“I was trying to understand who was organising it,” Walker said.
“From what I understand, there was a group put together on social media earlier in the week. I guess that's the power of social media.
“I looked at who formed the group, and who was shaping it, and it's a group of teenagers that ranged from the ages of 16 to say 20.”
He said he was “quite impressed”, as were those he had spoken to.
“I'm more, actually, quite impressed at how far they got, and the fact that they're actually interested in the politics of New Zealand and understand what's actually happening,” he said.
”I think in other centres it's well-organised, and there's a clear message coming out of it. I don't think it's any different here, just that it was organised by our rangatahi.
"Of course, in the end, there were kaumātua there, there were Māori, Pākehā, it was quite a diverse group.”
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.