New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made history by becoming the female prime minister granted the right to speak during the traditional welcoming ceremony (powhiri) at a Maori meeting house.
Ms Ardern, 37, was speaking in Waitangi in the far north of NZ’s North Island ahead of the country’s national day, Waitangi Day, celebrated on February 6.
Waitangi is where the country’s founding document, a treaty between Maori chiefs and the British Crown, was signed on February 6, 1840.
Ms Ardern is NZ’s third female prime minister, but the first to be granted the right to speak from the veranda of a marae, the traditional meeting house which has strict protocols about who speaks and in what order.
In 1998, former Labour leader Helen Clark was moved to tears after she was barred from speaking on a local marae on Waitangi Day.
One of those who objected on the day was Maori activist Titewhai Harawira, who on Monday escorted Ms Ardern during the powhiri.
In her historic speech – the preamble to which was delivered in Maori – Ms Ardern promised changes that she hoped would reduce inequality for the country’s indigenous Maori.
“I do not take lightly the privilege extended to me to speak from the veranda today, not only as prime minister but as a wahine (woman),” she said.
The Labour leader spoke about the inequalities that still existed between Maori and the rest of the population.
There was unemployment and poverty that existed among whanau (family) and rangatahi (youth), Ardern said.
She also raised access to mental health services and the rate of Maori incarceration as important issues.
“So long as this [inequality] exists, we have failed in our partnership. But I inherently believe in our power to change,” she said.
The Labour politician, who is about 20 weeks pregnant with her first child, urged the assembly of Maori dignitaries to hold her accountable for her work.
“Because one day, I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here, and only you can tell me I have done that,” she said.
About 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population identifies as being of Maori heritage.
– with AAP