April 13, 2024

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New Zealand: Tense relations between new government and indigenous Maori people – New York Times International Weekly – International

New Zealand: Tense relations between new government and indigenous Maori people – New York Times International Weekly – International

This is a rarity among once-colonized countries: a country that uses its indigenous language widely, its treaty with its indigenous peoples is often respected, and indigenous peoples have permanent representation in spheres of power.

However, a decades-old effort to support New Zealand's indigenous population, Maori – who lag far behind the general population in health and wealth and have high incarceration rates – is now in jeopardy.

Disenchanted with progressive politics, New Zealanders elected the country's most conservative government in a generation in October, which says it wants “equal rights” for all citizens.

In practice, this means dismantling a Maori health institution, abandoning other policies that benefit the community and ordering public institutions to stop using the Maori language.

One member of the new government, the three-party coalition, has raised a possible referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi, an 1840 agreement signed by Maori leaders and the British crown that is often described as the country's founding document.

Such a referendum would tear at the very fabric of New Zealand's society, sending race relations to a new low and decades-long attempt to right historical wrongs against Maori, who now make up about 17 percent of the country's 5 million people. , experts say.

Prime Minister Christopher Lacson recently hinted that a referendum on the deal is unlikely.

His party, the National Party, is the largest and most powerful member of the ruling coalition, and his own party's reluctance to vote for a wholesale overhaul of Maori affairs, a favorite of his coalition partners, would be distracting and divisive.

Earlier this month, the Maori Party, the indigenous sovereignty party, organized protests across the country, bringing emergency traffic to a standstill in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland. In the capital Wellington, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament buildings.

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That day, during the opening session of the New Zealand Parliament, members of the Maori Party performed a ceremonial haga dance and swore allegiance to the treaty.

Hana-Rawhiti Maibi-Clarke is part of the Māori Party's new lawmaker, and at 21 is the youngest MP in New Zealand's history.

“This government has attacked my whole world,” he said in his first speech to parliament. “How can I not take these policies personally when I think they're about me?”

By: Natasha Frost

BBC-NEWS-SRC: http://www.nytsyn.com/subscribed/stories/7038354, Import Date: 2023-12-20 20:20:08