A Māori councillor is withdrawing his complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner over an “insulting” Grey Power newsletter ahead of a meeting with its author.
Ōpōtiki district councillor Louis Rapihana submitted a complaint to Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon about the newsletter in which Siva Panadam suggested Mr Rapihana could not speak English after he gave a closing karakia in te reo Māori at a meeting late last year.
However, he is now withdrawing that complaint after hearing through mutual friend and Bay of Plenty regional councillor Toi Kai Rākau Iti that Ms Panadam had stepped back from her comments and now wanted to meet in person to come to a resolution together.
“I’m absolutely open to that and I will be retracting my complaint,” Mr Rapihana said.
“While I’m more positive about the situation, I’m glad that this did come out so people understand that we will not stand for it and that we need to work together if we want our communities to be strong and safe.”
Mr Rapihana said all race-related issues like this needed to be called out, no matter how small, so people could be educated, and wrongs could be rectified.
Since making the issue public, Mr Rapihana has received many messages of support, as well as a few against.
Those in support included Rotorua Lakes councillor Fisher Wang who sent a letter to Whakatāne Grey Power about the newsletter.
Mr Wang said he had to read the newsletter twice because he was so shocked at Ms Panadam’s comments.
“It’s something so innocent as a karakia, as a mihi, and it has been twisted,” he said.
“Councillor Rapihana is a good friend, he’s a colleague and I just wanted to show my support.”
Mr Wang said for someone not to be racist, they had to be actively anti-racist, and to do the right thing and call it out.
Although Mr Wang was born in Rotorua, his parents are immigrants. He said New Zealand was becoming increasingly multi-cultural and there was a beauty in having different languages to share with each other.
“We all have a duty as Kiwis to really support and preserve this culture and the taonga that is te reo,” he said.
Mr Foon said he could not comment on this situation specifically, but all New Zealanders needed to understand that te reo Māori was the first language of this land.
He said tangata whenua were entitled to speak their own language and practise their own customs under Te Tiriti and as an official language of New Zealand.
“Te reo is all around us – in our place names, in common words and phrases, on TV, in our schools,” Mr Foon said.
“More and more New Zealanders are embracing and celebrating this. My view is that we should all do that, and – even if we don’t understand all of it – be prepared to listen and learn.
“Languages are vital in connecting us to our cultural identities, carrying our values and stories and, helping us navigate our relationships with each other,” he said.
“Personally, I have experienced how speaking te reo Māori has helped me appreciate tikanga and te ao Māori, especially as the son of a migrant growing up in rural Gisborne. These learnings over the years have played a pivotal role in my personal journey and have today uniquely positioned me to help bridge the gap between our diverse ethnicities, cultures and tangata whenua.
“Everyone in this country should fully embrace and encourage a positive attitude to language diversity. This is how we continue to nurture a more harmonious, collaborative, respectful, and multicultural society.
“By embracing te reo Māori, our own indigenous language, we all help towards fostering positive race relations, peace-building and intercultural dialogue.
“I would encourage the use of te reo Māori at work, at home, and in our social circles. We all have the responsibility to support all New Zealanders, especially Māori to speak the indigenous language,” Mr Foon said.
Whakatāne Grey Power and Grey Power New Zealand were both approached for comment.
Whakatāne Grey Power president Betty Hudson said she wished to speak to her committee before responding.
Grey Power New Zealand did not reply in time for publication.