PR Disaster

We should thank Te Tii Marae for their Waitangi antics

It constantly amazes me when I see public relation disasters unfolding. There is the slight thrill as I read the first sentences and suck in my breath and smile. So it was when Te Tii Marae allegedly demanded $10,000 for media rights and then set about aggressively blocking access to well, everyone from the look of it. A stunning PR disaster for the marae, however, it may have an upside.

My first thought was “this is just going to give the racists out there a lot of ammunition.” I don’t need to write the subtext here, you’ve all heard it. Personally, we have a lot of dumb leaders floating around, and the colour of their skin or ethnic background makes no difference to the utter stupidity that an idiot in power can unleash.

Now, all of this started a few weeks back when the Prime Minister was told he couldn’t speak. In this day and age allowing Bill English to speak may have broken some rules (we can’t break the rules!) however it would have been a respectful move.

So what is Waitangi Day? The short answer is that it is the day that we celebrate the signing of the treaty between Maori and the Crown. That’s it.

As I write this Winston Peters has arrived at the marae and got into a confrontation with the officials, who objected to him holding a press meeting then threatened to have him arrested. This plays straight into Peter’s hands of course and I think was potentially pre-staged. Winston is not an idiot, he knows what he’s doing.

It’s pretty clear that the marae has no idea what they are doing.

Labour turned up anyway with an entirely wishy-washy approach to the ban because to not turn up would have hurt their political ambitions. They are desperate to retain Maori seats in this election which are well under attack by other parties.

In what I think is a further sign of desperation Andrew Little announced that Willie Jackson was joining Labour because “He will be a strong voice for urban Maori.” A loud voice I agree, a good voice I suspect not. Willie’s record was soon being thrown around on Social Media with a lot of people pointing out his views are not Labour views based on the past.

What this is going to do is start one of two discussions, or perhaps both.

First, the location of the official day Waitangi celebrations. If we, New Zealanders, can’t actually see what is going on at the official event, then what is the point of it exactly? Worse, that attitude actually damages relations. Far better for it to be moved somewhere it can be actually celebrated, protested, and discussed.

Where to hold it is the critical question, and some have suggested it move each year. I think that’s a relatively good idea. It seems to me that getting the various views of Maori from different parts of the country would be beneficial.

Second, we are bound to see the resurgence of calls to rename Waitangi Day to “New Zealand Day.” It’s a populist policy that Labour and National have bounced around on for four decades or more.

In 1973, under Labour, the New Zealand Day Act was passed. For Norman Kirk, it was a move towards a wider concept of nationhood.

Then, in 1976, Rob Muldoon turned it back into Waitangi Day, because he didn’t like the name.

So we’ve been there before, briefly, with little result.

The driving psychology behind wanting to call it New Zealand Day is the feeling that somehow it’s not all our celebration day. Te Tii Marae is pushing that feeling very hard. When people are not allowed to speak, and we (via the media) are not welcome on the marae grounds unless we pay $10,000, then it feels rather like our day is being held hostage.

What is heartening is that Te Tii Marae is squarely in the sights over this shambles. This is not a national call by Maori to block media over money. This mess is all their own and people do recognise that I think.

That may allow us to wrest back control of the day and put it in the hands of all New Zealanders. We can still celebrate, protest, and debate the treaty. However, Te Tii Marae has proven themselves to be unsuitable to participate in that process.

Those dumb actions by those leaders may just start a healthy debate about our identity. And it needs to be a real debate, because identity discussions in a national election year can be very dangerous as the U.S. has discovered.

Here’s hoping we see some new, younger leaders coming through with smart ideas about how we can take back our day rather than the raggedly old long-toothed politicians who are still living back in the 1970’s.

There is no better time for them to stand up and start debating than right now.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to the local Strathmore School that runs an afternoon event called Kotahi for a gold coin donation. There is music, performances, a lot of food, and an ever growing crowd that just gets together to celebrate the day.

One thing is for sure, there won’t be a single tarpaulin there.

PS Here’s hoping that Wellington’s “summer” doesn’t make an appearance. In which case, there may be tarpaulins. And raincoats. And ponchos.

Categories: PR Disaster

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