Otago Daily Times

Ratana chairman calls for split from Labour

- MERIANA JOHNSEN

WHANGANUI: The chairman of the Ratana Church executive has called for the return of its own political party, rather than continuing to align with Labour.

The annual celebratio­n of the church’s late founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, is closed to political parties and other groups this year, as the church grapples with internal arguments.

It is only the second time the Labour Party will not be at Ratana in the 84year history of their alliance — however, some Labour MPs with ties to the church will attend.

The Ratana Church was establishe­d in 1925, but it began as a political movement.

Church leader Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana sought redress for land confiscati­ons and breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, founding his own political party in 1919.

The Ratana Party won its first seat in 1932 when Eruera Tirikatene became MP for Southern Maori.

However, the next term he ran under Labour — and won — after Mr Ratana and thethen Labour Party leader Harry Holland formed a strong relationsh­ip.

‘‘I believe that he found that Harry Holland and later Michael Joseph Savage of their times seemed to be more open and empathetic to the demise of our people . . . The both of them were devout Christians,’’ Ratana Church national executive chairman Hareruia Aperahama said.

‘‘Ratana saw in Holland a humble heart and someone who was willing to go beyond his call and to go against the prejudice and the racism that was prevalent in his time.’’

In 1936 under the leadership of Mr Savage, Labour cemented its relationsh­ip with Ratana at a ceremony at the pa.

A number of taonga representi­ng land loss and broken promises were bestowed on the prime minister, including a broken watch that Mr Aperahama said was buried with Mr Savage.

However, the RatanaLabo­ur alliance has been tested.

In the 1960s, the Labour MP for the Western Maori seat, Iriaka Ratana, crossed the floor saying the government was a failure to her people.

Her niece, Dame Tariana Turia, followed in her footsteps in 2004 over the foreshore and seabed legislatio­n.

‘‘Those are the only two times that I know that the Ratana leadership, particular­ly the women I might add . . . had spoken out and said that Labour was not honouring their obligation­s and the relationsh­ip,’’ Mr Aperahama said.

‘‘Other than that, the heads of the church and the movement have remained loyal to Labour only out of tradition, not out of policy, and not out of the advancemen­t or the effectiven­ess of the relationsh­ip.’’

He said it was time for Ratana to reinstate its political independen­ce again.

‘‘We have lost our grip and our way and our own political legacy, that being the Ratana Independen­t Party. The time should come again that the Ratana Independen­t Party be reinstated so it is no longer suffocated under the history of Labour and the tendency to silence the Maori voice for the sake of the mainstream.’’

Te Tai Hauauru MP and greatgrand­son of the Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, Adrian Rurawhe, doubts there is any support from Ratana followers for breaking away from Labour.

‘‘I don’t believe Hareruia Aperahama has a mandate to express that. I think that’s a conversati­on for Ratana and the followers of the Ratana faith and the Ratana movement to decide on that.’’

Mr Rurawhe is one of four Maori MPs in Labour who have ties with Ratana and said the historical relationsh­ip between his political party, whanau and church was a good one.

‘‘We’ve definitely come a long way and if I go back over the 84year relationsh­ip of Labour and the Ratana movement, there’ve been milestones along the way that are worth pointing out that’s upholding that relationsh­ip and the expectatio­ns,’’ Mr Rurawhe said.

‘‘Has it moved quick enough? No, certainly not — but there’ve certainly been some key changes that have happened, like in 1975 with the act establishi­ng the Waitangi Tribunal.’’

Morehu (followers of the Ratana faith) were taking part in a series of wananga over the weekend, which included examining the role of the Treaty in their constituti­on and separation between church and state.

A final church service and hakari marking the birthday of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana will be held today. — RNZ

❛ . . . The time should come again that the Ratana Independen­t Party be reinstated so it is no longer suffocated under the history of Labour and the tendency to silence the Maori voice for the sake of the mainstream Ratana Church chairman Hareruia Aperahama

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