Laying down the challenge


Northerners are going to say I’m greedy, but I’m going to make the call anyway.

We need to bring Te Matatini, the national kapa haka festival, south again.

Yeah, Ngai Tahu were host in 2015, and Te Tau Ihu – the top of the South Island – are hosting in 2023, and Wellington (granted not part of “the South” but as part of Te Tai Tonga they make it in on a technicality) did such a spectacular job last weekend that it’s hard to think any other region could host the festival ever again.

Surely it’s Dunedin’s turn soon?

All right. Maybe I am getting greedy. But it’s hard not to dream. Te Matatini really is a spectacle.

It’s art – think of the choreography, aesthetics – think of the singing, and politics – think of haka, in one.

Hosting rights are allocated for the next decade, but beyond that it could be Dunedin’s game.

We’ve got Forsyth Barr stadium, after all, and if Te Matatini in Wellington proved anything it’s that your venue needs protection against the wind and rain.

Dunedin’s climate isn’t that much flasher than Wellington’s, but our stadium does have a roof.

What got me thinking about this is the growth in Dunedin’s Maori and tangata whenua community in my time as the MP for Te Tai Tonga.

More Maori are coming to us to study – and I mean a lot more are coming – and the tangata whenua are hosting more and more events and hui, like the Iwi Chairs Forum and the Labour Party conference last year.

It’s not a stretch to think in a decade or so Dunedin could host Te Matatini, as well.

This has been a big thing for me.

In the public imagination usually what’s thought of as “Maori” is thought of as things northern-orientated.

Ngapuhi – at the very northern tip of the North Island – is the biggest iwi.

Rotorua and Te Arawa are the Maori tourism kings and queens, and often the first and only Maori international visitors meet.

The Te Matatini winners are usually northern, too. It’s the North Island all the way up.

Then again, we Southern Maori still lead in business, and we Dunedin Maori are beginning to lead in education.

Last year, the University of Otago recorded a record number of Maori students.

We’ve educated some of Maoridom’s great leaders and intellectuals too, from Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) to Jacqui Sturm, the famous writer.

This is why I’m particularly proud of Labour’s fees-free tertiary education policy, where New Zealanders can access their first year of tertiary education free.

It doesn’t matter whether that’s at university, polytech, or another education provider.

I have no doubt that this policy is behind the jump in Maori student numbers.

For the first time in more than a generation tertiary education is equally accessible to all.

When the full policy is implemented – that’s three years of fees-free tertiary education – students will be able to earn a bachelor’s degree without having to take out loans in the tens of thousands of dollars.

That’s going to be huge for us as Maori, and it’s going to make another huge difference to our Maori community in Dunedin.