Parliament backs down a day after ejecting a Maori lawmaker over his refusal to don a tie at a plenary session.
New Zealand’s Parliament has allowed a Maori MP to speak a day after ejecting him because he refused to wear a tie, an accessory he labelled a “colonial noose”.
The issue flared on Tuesday when Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was removed from the parliamentary debating chamber for not wearing the required attire during question time.
Waititi, who has a full-face “te moko” tattoo and dons a black cowboy hat, argued that he was wearing legitimate Maori business attire – a traditional pendant.
“This is not about ties, it’s about cultural identity,” he said as he left on Tuesday.
Indigenous Maori make up about 15 percent of New Zealand’s five million population but are overrepresented in statistics such as poverty and imprisonment, with many blaming injustices dating back to the days of British colonial rule.
Waititi, who was elected for the first time in last October’s general elections, said the tie row showed race relations still needed to improve in the South Pacific nation.
“This is a breach of the rights of Indigenous peoples, we [must] have the freedom to express our cultural identity in a space like this,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took to Waititi’s defence, saying she had no objection to lawmakers not wearing ties.
“There are much more important issues for all of us,” Ardern said.
After strictly enforcing the dress code on Tuesday, parliamentary Speaker Trevor Mallard took a more relaxed approach when a tie-less Waititi spoke on Wednesday.
Rather than have the Maori leader ejected, Mallard simply let him ask a question unhindered, later saying a permanent rule change was being considered.
“I will adorn myself with the treasures of my ancestors and remove the colonial noose around my neck so that I may sing my song,” he said as he removed his tie and recounted the story of an ancestor wrongly killed by the British for murder.
The New Zealand Parliament is the most inclusive ever elected in the country. Nearly half of the 120 seats are held by women.
It has an 11 percent LGBTQ representation and 21 percent Maori representation.
The parliament saw its first MP of African origin and of Sri Lankan origin after the election last October.
Maori are nevertheless overrepresented in prisons, majority children in state care are Maori, and poverty and unemployment are rife in the community.