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‘Like the Treaty in practice’

Pakeha congregation hosts Maori visitors to Waitangi

Waitangi Day is a time of celebration but also a time when New Zealanders explore their cultural differences and the nation’s shortcomings. This is especially true at Waitangi itself.

Though not easy, such self-examination can be enlightening, and this year Waitangi Day helped two church groups reap the rewards that can come when we get out of our comfort zones.

Top: The Tuhoe delegation arrives at Paihia Uniting Church.

Middle: Rt. Rev Pamela Tankersley addressthe church service on Waitangi Day.

Bottom: Judy Te Whiu

For just the second time in its 168-year history an official delegation from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ went to Waitangi for the national day. The delegation was made up mostly of Tuhoe people, prompted to make the pilgrimage by last October’s police raids.

During their visit to Waitangi, the Presbyterians stayed at a retreat centre run by the Paihia congregation of the Bay of Islands Co-operating Parish. A predominantly Pakeha church, it was the first time many members of the congregation have taken part in the Maori customs involved in welcoming and hosting another group.

Leading the 18-strong Prebyterian delegation were the moderator of the church Rt Rev Pamela Tankersley and the moderator of Te Aka Puaho, the Presbyterian Maori Synod, Millie Te Kawa. Pamela gave the lead sermon at the ecumenical service on Waitangi Day and Millie did some of the readings.

The link between the Presbyterian delegation and the Paihia congregation was forged by Jenny Te Whiu. Jenny is a national youth coordinator for the Presbyterian Church. Jenny is Nga Puhi but also has links to Te Arawa and Tuhoe and she is also a member of the Paihia congregation.

“As part of my national work I had learned from Te Aka Puaho about what people’s experience had been during the police raids. We felt that it would be a good for Tuhoe to take part in Waitangi celebrations,” Judy says.

An important ingredient in the visit materialising was the encouragement of Anglican bishop Rt Rev Te Kitohi Pikaahu.

Judy explains that the Presbyterian Church has not had a presence at Waitangi because it was not one of the early missionary churches. Presbyterians came to this country as settlers, and when they did turn their attention to Maori, they focused on Tuhoe, who had been overlooked by the established missionary churches – the Anglicans, Wesleyans and Catholics.

When the Paihia congregation heard the proposal for the Tuhoe delegation to stay at their guest houses rather than at a marae, there was some initial hesitation. A group of members came forward, however.

“Full credit to the parish council and Rev Dave Mullan who accepted the challenge,” Judy says. “My husband Wi and I helped but they took ownership of the situation. It was fantastic to see two churches and two cultures come together. God truly moved in that situation.”

During the powhiri two church members offered the main mihi and others supported them with carefully chosen waiata. One speaker commented that the parish had wondered if they should have a notice: ‘Please check your guns in at the door.’ He encouraged Tuhoe to take up weapons of compassion and caring and to go to war against injustice.

Half a dozen large lasagna dishes, salads and desserts made for a hearty meal after the powhiri.

Millie’s son Rev Wayne Te Kaawa was a member of the Presbyterian delegation. Wayne says the Tuhoe who travelled to Waitangi were overawed by the experience.

“Once we were settled at church centre, it became like an embassy. Lots of people came to visit us including Bishop Kito and [Methodist tumuaki] Rev Diana Tana. We were repeatedly told that we shouldn’t be strangers and we should return every year.”

Wayne says the Presbyterian delegation was originally supposed to be welcomed onto Te Tii Marae with the group that included National Party leader John Key and Tuhoe activist Tama Iti. Instead, they opted to wait and enter on their own, at which time they were received by another powhiri.

“After that we walked around the tent village and lots of people called out to us ‘the Tuhoe are here’,” Wayne says.

The delegation also took part in an Ash Wednesday service led by Anglican theological students who visited the Tuhoe area last year.

On the last night of their stay in Paihia the visitors turned the tables on their hosts and provided coffee for the members of the local congregation.

From the perspectives of both parties, the experience was extremely positive. It was summed up by the words of congregation member John Hatchard who says it was “extraordinarily moving, and heart warming’ and of Wayne Te Kaawa who says it was “like the Treaty in practice”.