New Zealand MPs pay tribute to Queen mixed with sharp rebukes of colonial past

While all lawmakers offered condolences to the royal family, several also discussed the monarchy’s fraught and complex history

As New Zealand’s parliament gathered to pay tribute to the Queen, honours and admiration were mixed with sharp criticism of a monarchy built on “stolen land, stolen resources, and stolen treasure”.

On Tuesday, parliament held a special debate to allow politicians of all parties to acknowledge the monarch’s death. While all offered condolences to the royal family for their loss, a number of MPs also discussed the monarchy’s fraught and complex history.

“As I stand in this House as a representative of te Iwi Māori, we must always speak our authentic truth,” said Māori party coleader Rawiri Waititi. “The British empire and the power of its monarchy was built of stolen whenua [land], stolen resources, and stolen taonga [treasure].”

Waititi said that Māori held clear protocol [tikanga] that the dead should be mourned, and the royal family should have time to grieve their loss. But he also said the person of the Queen could not be separated from the institution she represented.

“I see a lot written on social media. The righteous anger of Indigenous people all over the world. I take those stories as stories I carry with me, and my tikanga,” he said.

A number of other Māori politicians reflected on the monarchy’s mixed legacy in New Zealand – paying tribute to her family and their grief, while also acknowledging past wrongs.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson described the late Queen as “smart and aware,” continuing: “she would not be surprised in the least about any peoples raising the role of the monarchy in oppressing the power of others, including here and countries around the world …. She knew what she was a part of.”

Some of those wrongs have also been acknowledged by the Queen herself: in 1963 she described the treaty of Waitangi, which guarantees rights and sovereignty to Māori, as “imperfectly upheld” and in 1995 personally signed a crown apology to the people of Waikato/Tainui for atrocities and the stealing of land by the crown.

“Many Māori leaders … while holding a rightful space of aroha [love], have also been very clear that we cannot ignore the oppression of Māori as very real and continuing,” Davidson said. “We are accustomed to the importance of being able to bring to bear the fullness of a person’s life, especially at their death.”

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta noted that the new King Charles III had spoken at recent Commonwealth meeting in Rwanda about acknowledging past wrongdoing.

“He noted that to unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past. He spoke of colonialism, he spoke of slavery, and he understood the challenge in front of him,” she said “Aotearoa knows too well the hurtful damage that historical wrongs can cause. It is the way we overcome them that has defined us.”

Other politicians offered more straightfoward tributes to the Monarch’s death. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who set off for the UK on Wednesday to attend the Queen’s funeral, spoke of the Queen’s dedication and New Zealand’s “enormous sadness” at he news. On becoming monarch, the Queen had “quickly became the exemplar of consistency and public service: loyal, humble, devoted.”

Opposition leader Christopher Luxon said the Queen’s death had prompted “a renewed appreciation and greater gratitude for her unprecedented legacy of selfless public service”. “The Queen’s life is an example to us all. She demonstrated that in public life, living your values every day, and keeping going matters. Her life reminds us that service is noble and powerful and influential,” he said.


Tess McClure in Auckland

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