Do you ever have dinner guests that arrive at the worst possible time? Ones that you can’t or shouldn’t refuse, but you know it is not going to be a life giving event. How do you suck it up and get through? More importantly, how do you make sure everyone else in your house behaves themselves, doesn’t embarrass you by articulating the real feelings of the whānau? Do you threaten your kids with timeout for the next decade, do you bribe people with the great thing we will do tomorrow, do you try and make them happy as well as this unfortunate guest?
Now imagine that the guest sent out a press release about what time they were going to be at your house and the entire national media camped out on the road side pointing cameras into your house and at you for the days before your guest arrived. Do you try and make space to treat them as guests as well? Do you trespass them? Do you try and do what you’ve seen others on TV, give them a statement and go back inside?
Now imagine that you coped with this circus that your guest brought with them. It all went pretty well, you kept your smile for the cameras when the guest tried to tell you where they were going to sit at your table and what you were going to serve, you somehow managed to ask your son politely to eat with his fork when he grabbed the fish with his hands and you shook hands as they all left and graciously accepted their list of things to do better next year.
And now an email has arrived. That guest is coming back, same time, same place, same circus, next year.
Are you starting to get your head around what life is like for the marae committee at Te Tii Marae?
Ninety percent of the year, most marae are not conference facilities, accommodation, or a hotbed of iwi and hapū politics. Most marae are just a centre for a small community of people. Whilst maybe hundreds could conceivably connect with each marae throughout the country, most are run day to day by a small handful of people. Having been to Te Tii Marae outside of Waitangi Day, it was my perception that it was not much different in this sense from my own.
The other thing you may not have considered is that Te Tii Marae probably received no money from the Crown. Zero. Zilch. I imagine they apply for grants year in, year out, and use those to provide everything on that day for themselves. When the government or other parties arrive, they no doubt give a koha, but it will be your normal public service koha: it is barely polite and never ever generous. Te Tii Marae, in essence, pay for the right to be the collision space where the long term suffering of tāngata whenua meets the blithe ignorance and arrogance of the Crown.
This year 2017, my own view is Te Tii has put their foot wrong a number of times. Attempting to charge the media made the marae, not the Crown, the story, not letting English speak and then letting him and then apologising played right into the narrative the National Party wants to run about divisive Ngā Puhi, the weird stoush with Winston Peters telling him to get off the grass which is literally the road edge was petty and overly intimidating, another gift of a week of media to Winston.
However, I am deeply sympathetic for what it is like to actually run a marae. There are fewer people willing to put their hands up, most marae is an almost uninsurable million plus dollar facility, fewer people understand te reo Māori and hold the knowledge of the appropriate tikanga. On top of all of that, you are carrying all of this with your close relatives, the ones you love, the ones that love you, and the ones you hate.It is a wicked alchemy that none of us would choose to put on camera.
Te Tii Marae doesn’t get to make that choice unfortunately. But you and I get to choose how we regard the people of Te Tii Marae. We can choose to put expectations on them that we ourselves would be unwilling to carry, or we can see their humanity and their best intentions, and just say thanks to them for trying to carry the burdensome legacy of our Tiriti o Waitangi, however flawed the effort.