I joined the hikoi today as it descended on Parliament. The mood was solemn - a sense of sadness pervaded the group. As the people marched through Wellington a strict silence was observed as a means of acknowledging the intense hurt successive governments have caused. It was incredibly moving both watching the hikoi and then joining it at Parliament. You could feel that the people walked with the wairua of their tupuna and this gave them strength.
The hikoi was, by my estimation, around 500-700 strong. Obviously this is well down on the hikoi of 2004. A respectable number anyhow. The group was, in terms of age, incredibly diverse. It was uplifting to see so many young people. The Greens also had a strong presence, as usual, and a number of sympathetic Pakeha marched with the hikoi. The only politician, or aspiring politician I should say, that joined the hikoi was Rino Tirikatene, Labour’s candidate for Te Tai Tonga.
As the hikoi arrived we were welcomed onto Parliament grounds by the local iwi. Unsurprisingly there was a huge police presence at Parliament. I like to contrast the heavy police presence at Maori protests with the relatively light police presence at, for lack of a better term, mainstream protests. At one of the mining protests I attended last year there would have been around ten police officers. At today’s protest there were well over 40, including plain clothes police officers.
To my surprise a number of MP’s were there to meet the hikoi. Labour’s Maori team was there, a number of National MP’s including Chris Finlayson, the Greens were there of course. The Maori Party was also present, however they tended to hide behind the Nats. And, as you would expect, Hone met the hikoi as well.
The formalities then began. The old people spoke, and spoke brilliantly at that, and a number of items were ceremonially placed, including the text of the MCA bill, in a casket which was returned to Parliament. This was a symbol of Maori discontent. A number of taonga were also returned to Kaipara and Tamaki Makaurau iwi signalling their regret in supporting the Maori Party. Unfortunately the weather did not permit any speeches from the other side.
It really did sadden me to see the hikoi. Many of those participating were clearly destitute. A number had just walked away from their jobs to support the kaupapa. I heard of a story of a kaumatua who felt so strongly about restoring our mana whenua that he walked with the hikoi all the way from Te Rerenga Wairua to Wellington. By the time the hikoi arrived in Wellington his shoes had worn away to almost nothing. This brings me to a point I want to make. This hikoi was so small, in comparison to the 2004 hikoi that is, because people just could not afford to march. In the current economic environment our people cannot afford to drop everything and march on Parliament. Not anymore.
Hopefully something will come of this hikoi. Not necessarily a backdown on the MCA bill. But perhaps it may awaken Maori political consciousness. This hikoi should not have been for nothing.