by K.R. Bolton
Kapiti residents have been libelled and ill-will has been provoked through false allegations and distorted reporting in regard to the KCDC council meeting of 25 February on the infamous Gateway to Kapiti Island project.
The facts about the meeting, including those in the public gallery, were accurately reported by Waikanae Watch at the time, and opinions offered by those present concurred, including by two women in the public space immediately affected by the actions of the Mayor’s invited guests, the satirical persona of Louisa Carroll, and myself.
The Dominion Post has published an article by Katarina Williams, entitled ‘Students racially taunted for te reo, haka’, 20 March 2021, and a slightly altered online version entitled ‘Kura students racially taunted for speaking te reo Maori and performing haka at council meeting’.
One would have to search far and wide to find a more racially inflammatory hit-piece that has provoked an immediate reaction of ill-will towards Pakeha residents from both Maori and self-flagellating Pakeha who were not present at the meeting and have swallowed the Stuff(ed) article.
According to the article, ‘Year 12 students from an Otaki kura say they were subjected to racial taunts at a Kapiti Coast District Council meeting while a teacher and student were allegedly hit by a chair by members of the public gallery’. The impression given is that of a race riot, with racist insults and even violence.
Ms. Williams states that students from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rito were invited to attend the council meeting to support the three ‘mandated iwi’ (as the council refers to them), who were ‘gifting’ a Maori name, Te Uruhi, for the Gateway. Ms. Williams states that some students say they were subjected to ‘racist comments from a “handful” of unknown members of the public’.
One comment was allegedly, ‘why do we need to listen to this monkey language’. Really? The complainant should be questioned as to details. Another asked whether she should speak Chinese, since Maori was being spoken. There was said to be ‘heckling’ while the haka was performed.
A letter of complaint to KCDC from the haka party school’s head teacher outlined complaints she had received from students. ‘When they were performing a haka, a lady [behind the students] picked up a chair, which knocked into one of the teacher’s head and one of our student’s backs. Something I find particularly disturbing and bordering on assault’. She stated that the students were ‘shocked’ by the experience. ‘They have never been exposed to such in-your-face racism’. The CEO of Te Runanga o Toa Rangatira, Helmut Modlik, stated he was ‘appalled’ by such ‘denigration’ of Maori, including ‘jostling’.
Before proceeding with His Worship, K. Gurunathan’s response, let us do some deconstructing of the article, based on my first-hand observations. There seems to be the implication that those opposing the Gateway project are motivated by racism. There are many reasons why the Gateway is opposed in Kapiti, and none of them involve Maori issues — what a vile red-herring!
Not mentioned was the presence of Mr. Chris Webber of Mana Whenua, who had to wait in the corridor outside, representing a hapu that claims ownership of the area on which the Gateway is being built, and which is vehemently opposed to the project, but which is not recognised as on an equal footing with the ‘mandated iwi’. Mr. Webber received a resounding ovation from the public gallery at the conclusion of his talk, which was concluded with a low-key chant that did not require chairs being pushed into women’s legs.
As stated, the background to this matter has been reported in Waikanae Watch. Katarina Williams could have consulted this, as could Mr. Gurunathan et al. At least they could have considered that there was more than one perspective. However, it is not in their interests to do so. Mr. Christopher Ruthe, who was present, wrote of the matter in his column of 27 February (How the Guru Kaj [Gateway] was won). On the 26 February I had given a detailed account of the meeting in commenting on an article by WW co-editor Geoffrey Churchman (‘The Council passes the Guru Gateway plan 7 votes to 4’).
Of particular significance were the comments made by Mrs. CC and Mrs. VC [names are withheld at their request following threats made to them] to the WW article, ‘Bad behaviour by the Mayor’s friends at Thursday’s council meeting’. Here we find Mrs. CC referring to an ‘assault by a young man who was part of the local iwi’, against VC, stating that Mrs. CC had a chair forcefully pushed into her legs, which she attempted to push away. ‘I could see the look on VC’s face that she was being hurt’. There was a struggle with the chair, until her husband managed to take it away. Mrs. CC felt ‘scared and worried’ that the assault would escalate’.
Now, what Mrs. CC is stating is fact, from what I saw and I was observing intently. The haka party complaint projects its own aggression onto others, and His Worship et al unquestionably accept it. The haka was loud, and performed with gusto. While I was impressed, for the mostly middle aged women sitting in the immediate vicinity, the look of worry on their faces was palpable. I saw Mrs. VC hold the chair up after pleading with the individual in front that it was being pushed against her, but to no avail as the haka became increasingly louder and vigorous. Mrs. VC states that she ‘felt very threatened and unsupported’. This is certainly the impression of what I observed, not only of her, but of others seated near the haka.
What is the Council’s response? It is to assume the accuracy of the iwi complaint, with Mr. Gurunathan hastening to apologise in person. Was any effort made by either His Worship, or Mr. Meng Foon, the Race Relations commissioner, who accompanied him, to ascertain that the iwi and haka party were providing an accurate account? Mr. Gurunathan states that he had not been aware of any incidents at the time, and that efforts to identify those involved were unsuccessful. This has to be nonsense. How much ‘effort’ does it take to consult WW, KCDC staff and certain councillors having scrutinised it in the past? The problem is, had Mrs. VC been approached as to the incidents, the iwi and haka party accounts would have been called into question, and the whole phoney scenario presented by Ms Williams would have risked being debunked.
Mrs. CC indicated that she was thinking of making a formal complaint. Whether she did, I do not know. If not, now is the time to do so, before more needless damage is done.
Mr. Meng Foon’s office serves an agenda and investigating facts that might contradict that agenda is not something that is likely to happen. Rather, this nonsense will be detailed as ‘proof’ that ‘hate speech’ is rampant, and hence the Human Rights Commission will justify its existence in its annual report, no doubt giving much space to the ‘Kapiti race riot’ and naturally, the sterling efforts of the HRC.
The written complaint asked how students can ‘feel culturally safe at council-run spaces?’ However, it was members of the public who felt threatened by the attitude of the iwi and haka party. Most of the seating in the public gallery had been reserved for the haka party, and this caused consternation among much of the public who were shuffled wherever room could be found, while many, including speakers, had to wait in the corridor until called. The haka party could have waited outside until the iwi speakers had concluded, then entered to perform the haka, but not amid the rest of the public in very constricted space. This in itself is a safety issue.
The damage caused by the Stuff article has been swift and probably runs deep. This is indicated by the dozens of comments that appeared after the posting of the article on the Kapiti Coast Community Facebook page. In particular the Williams article gives the impression that the haka party was comprised of little boys and girls who were subjected to cowardly abuse. This is particularly the impression given by the picture used in the online version of the article showing a haka party of children.
In fact, the haka party was composed of young adults whom I assumed were in their early to mid-twenties, but who are apparently a few years younger. That this is indeed the impression is indicated by the mass of ill-informed and even threatening comments that quickly appeared on the Kapiti Coast page. For example:
Marama S.: ‘I don’t think the children involved in this disgusting display can just put a smile on their faces’…
Stephanie K. G.: ‘What messages are tamariki receiving…?’
Chris W.: ‘Imagine saying to a child that was affected “I hope that didn’t happen”’…
Otaki Kai: ‘If anyone knows whom this was who spoke like this to our tamariki please speak up they need some education’.
Jess R.: ‘Interesting, so the council understands there’s a lot of upset and anger revolving around the gateway and you invite young children…’
Marie B: ‘What an awful experience for these children…’
Loryane B: What kind of sick person says this let alone to children, and then to children who have dedicated themselves to kapahaka’.
The Kapiti Coast FB page ran hot with anti-Pakeha bigotry, all assuming that the Stuff report was accurate, and that little Maori kids had been subjected to verbal and even physical abuse. Then there was the Mau Mau-ing from Marie L. P.: ‘Watch out Tanagta Whenua may react accordingly if this crap continues. Mana Maori Motuhake go take your racist crap somewhere else or be prepared for Wero and UTU to take over…’
Others commented in reference to a Chinese woman who felt that she was not being treated with ‘equality’, that such foreigners should leave Aotearoa. Go figure that one, Mr. Meng Foon.
… And into this volatile scenario enters Cr. Jackie Elliott, posting a photograph of five women holding up ‘Vote no’ signs. As it happens these women were seated on the opposite side of the chamber, in the section of seats behind me, and would not have been involved in any dispute. Will Cr. Elliott be held accountable should any of these women be victimised? As it is, Stuff needs to be held to account, as do one or two others.
But fortunately there is an unimpeachable ‘witness’ to all this ‘racism’, Cr. Rob McCann, writing on the Kapiti Coast page: ‘From my perspective as a councillor, what I witnessed was a clash of two worlds….. It was racism, and there is no place for it…’ From Cr. McCann’s perspective, where he was seated at the councillors’ table, he could not see or hear a god-damned thing of what was alleged to have occurred. A pattern begins to emerge of this whole matter being turned into a red-herring by those councillors who voted for the Gateway, and the issue is made into one of ‘racism’.
Councillors who voted for the Gateway are the apparent paragons of humanity. The four councillors who voted against, and those who spoke against, are apparently racists — really?
It will be remembered that the present mayor last year described opponents of his Gateway as ‘neo-colonialists.’ This Stuff article has his fingerprints all over it, a means of retaliating against his opponents. —Eds