Kaipara: A Struggle For Political Legitimacy And Cultural Power


THE QUESTION dividing Kaipara’s electors, and the rest of New Zealand, is one of political legitimacy and cultural power. Whose protocols should prevail: the standing orders of the local council; or, the tikanga of the local iwi?

In strictly legal terms, the standing orders of the Kaipara District Council, as interpreted by the elected head of the council – Mayor Craig Jepson – must prevail. The order of business, and the manner in which that business is conducted, is for him – and for him alone – to determine.

Except, in the rolling maul that is New Zealand’s racial politics, the letter of the law no longer counts for very much. As events in Kaipara have proved, it’s all about who can mobilise the most outrage – especially in the news media and online. On that score, the woman at the centre of the controversy, the woman representing the Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward, Pera Paniora, is well ahead on points.

At the heart of the controversy lies Ms Paniora’s attempt to begin the first meeting of the newly-elected Kaipara District Council with a karakia, or prayer. According to standing orders, it is the Mayor who has the responsibility for opening the Council’s inaugural meeting. This he was attempting to do when Ms Paniora interrupted the proceedings with a request to recite a karakia, and upon being refused permission, protested, and had to be brought to order by the Mayor.

Ms Paniora justified her interruption of the proceedings by claiming that the Mayor was acting in defiance of tikanga (custom and practice). Mayor Jepson responded by taking a firm stand on the secular character of political authority in New Zealand – a doctrine derived from the liberal-democratic insistence upon the separation of Church and State:

“This is a council that’s full of people who are non-religious, religious, of different ethnicities and I intend to run a secular council here which respects everybody and I will not be veering from that.”

Given that New Zealand is one of the most secular nations on earth, with fewer than half the population evincing religious belief, the Mayor would appear to be on solid ground. Rather than privilege one councillor’s religion over everybody else’s, his solution, to have no prayers at all, struck many New Zealanders as eminently sensible.

In the ears of many Māori, however, Mayor Jepson’s words struck an unmistakably “racist” note. In their estimation, it is not for Pakeha, no matter what political office they may hold, to prevent a young Māori woman from upholding tikanga by initiating a hui (meeting) with a karakia seeking God’s blessing upon the proceedings. Jepson’s actions kindled an angry response from Māori (and not a few Pakeha) across the country. Who did he think he was?

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Well, he probably thought he was the legally recognised leader of the Kaipara community. The 4,228 votes he received from the electors of the Kaipara District, representing 50.5 percent of the 8,366 votes cast, earned him the title, status, and powers of Mayor.

Once, that title would have merited the respect of the news media, but – no more. The mainstream news media remained steadfastly silent on the subject of Mayor Jepson’s political legitimacy, and his legal authority as Chair of the Council. It similarly refused to address the question posed by the Mayor concerning of the appropriateness, or otherwise, of injecting religion into what are generally understood to be secular proceedings. All that seemed to matter was that he had silenced a young Māori ward councillor at her first meeting – an action which most of the news media’s reporting strongly implied was racist in both intent and effect.

Few, if any, reporters raised the question of who carried the most democratic weight in this argument. Ms Paniora had secured 246 out of the 535 votes cast by electors on the Māori Roll in the Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward. At 45.9 percent, her support was impressive, but not as impressive as Mayor Jepson’s 50.5 percent. Also unremarked upon was the fact that just 246 votes were required to make Ms Paniora a Councillor, considerably fewer than the 4,228 votes required to make Mr Jepson a Mayor. Or that the General Roll turnout in Kaipara District was 50.4 percent, compared to the Maori Roll turnout of 29.4 percent.

That none of these numbers were taken all that seriously is attributable to the widely held view among Māori, and some Pakeha, that New Zealand’s liberal-democratic system is a relic of colonisation, rendering it both oppressive and morally repugnant. Accordingly, in the mainstream news media’s reporting of the Kaipara controversy the political weight of the protagonists has been determined, almost entirely, by their ethnicity. That Māori have taken offence at the behaviour of a Pakeha politician is deemed to be resolvable only by the latter’s more-or-less total capitulation to the former.

That Mayor Jepson has announced a compromise solution to the contretemps, whereby each councillor will, in turn, be given the opportunity, before the formal opening of Council meetings, to invite his or her fellow councillors to join them in a meditation, prayer, or incantation of their own choosing, has been represented as too little, too late. In matters of this sort only the most complete abasement before the tikanga of the mana whenua (local wielders of power) will do.

It is important to acknowledge what is happening here. What the country has been witnessing in Kaipara is a struggle for political legitimacy and cultural power. Intended, or not, Ms Paniora’s bid to recite a karakia in the opening seconds of the newly-elected council’s first meeting constituted a test to see whose ways would prevail in the Kaipara District. The ways of the inheritors of the Anglosphere’s liberal-democratic system of government, with its historical suspicion of social hierarchies and religious sentiments, and its secular faith in the egalitarian rules of orderly deliberation? Or, the ways of Te Ao Māori: imbued with spirituality, guided by tikanga, and executed by those with the mana to both convince, and to command?

It is difficult not to sympathise with Mayor Jepson, to whose aid and comfort so few people have sprung. Where were the electors of Kaipara District who, just a few weeks ago, thought this man Jepson worthy of their support? Is there really no one in the North willing to stand up for liberal-democracy? Certainly, the comparison with the hundreds of local Māori who were willing to come out yesterday (14/12/22) in support of their representative is a telling one.

The game is far from over, but at the moment the score is definitely: Paniora 1, Jepson Nil.


  1. The previous Mayor has said karakia have been the norm in commencing council proceedings for decades. So the current Mayor will definitely lose this issue. And deservedly so.

    • Not for decades, but for two terms (six years) according to reports I have read, Kaipara District Council has used karakia to open council meetings.

      Moreover, according to an NZME/1News report, the karakia the council has used in the past is nonreligious, and invokes no gods. Had this been the one Pera Paniora attempted to recite she would have been on firm secular ground, and Craig Jepson would have been exposed as a racist bully determined to suppress tikanga Māori:

      ‘The karakia for opening meetings:

      ‘Kia hora te marino
      ‘Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana
      ‘Hei hurahi mā tātou I te rangi nei
      ‘Aroha atu, aroha mai
      ‘Tātou i a tātou katoa.’

      ‘(May peace be widespread, May the sea be like greenstone; a pathway for all of us this day. Let us show respect for each other, for one another. Bind us all together).’

      Unfortunately, it seems the karakia that Pera Paniora ultimately recited was a Christian prayer, and she did therefore err by imposing religious baggage on what was a civic occasion for people of all religions and none:
      ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’

      • Why is a karakia needed at all? It’s just a meeting to discuss things like drainage and rubbish collection. It’s absurd that all these meetings, ceremonies and god knows what else have this clap trap forced onto them

    • Saying a prayer before any activity, reminds me to respect all others and to be ethical In my decisions.

      However I can not force a prayer down anyone’s else’s throat, as prayers are personal, and forced prayers have no value. Just because something was a norm, doesn’t give it licence to carry on to eternity.

      Panioras prayer was all about making a statement, and nothing to do with god.

    • Your missing the point, Wayne.

      The conduct of the meeting is in the hands of the presiding officer – in this case, the Mayor. If he or she opts to begin with a prayer/karakia, then that is his/her prerogative. Likewise, if it is the Mayor’s/Chair’s preference to adopt a secular stance.

      If Ms Paniora wishes to begin the Council’s meetings with a karakia, then she should get herself elected Mayor, and then, like Mr Jepson’s predecessor, make it a part of the proceedings.

      The principle, however, is clear: the Chair’s in charge.

      • Yes and i think another point that is being missed is that somewhere in NZ legislation (I think possibly in 2 pieces of legislation – Human Rights or Bill of Rights being one) are anti religion provisions. 1 I think might relate to public services (division of church and state) and the other to individual’s rights to be free from religious interference.

        So on that basis as well, all these prayers shouldnt be happening. I am not sure where I read this but I will scurry off and see if I can find it.

      • With respect, no I am not missing the point. Which is not about the Mayor being in charge, but whether public institutions make a relatively modest acknowledgement of New Zealand biculturalism, no matter who is in charge. This is particularly relevant for representative institutions, such as Councils or Parliament.

        In this respect, the Mayor utterly fails. All the more egregious because it is in the North which has a large Maori population. Though in the Kaipara they do get some rather strange people in representative office.

    • So we need to destroy democracy and come up with a new system of governance based on race? Tell me where that has ever worked?

    • Well Ada it would be nice to remove references to gods and religions from any public proceedings not just those supposedly tied to Māori. From memory the words in this particular instance seemed to be more about respecting each other rather than particularly ‘religious’

    • Pope Punctilious 11. “ NZ is becoming ruled by outrage.” It’s global. Meghan M and Harry the Halfwit have perfected it well. Cry eg racism, become an instant victim, deflect dubious realities.

  2. What a storm in a very small tea cup. Have a karakia. It’s perfectly fine!

    Where are the people who voted for the mayor who have been conspicuous in support of him? Answer, just getting in with life! They’ve got real things to worry about!

    • No, it isn’t fine. It’s an offensive waste of time invoking made up sky fairies whose only purpose in being invented is manipulating people and politics.

      While I’m at it there is no momentous occasion of the civic blah, politicians are basically decision janitors – we’d all be a lot better off if they weren’t nearly so far up themselves.

    • “They’ve got real things to worry about!”

      Unlike the Dame and her placard-toting followers, who found time to mount a shrill mid-week protest?

    • Ihapera Paniora is a first term Maori Ward councillor. Her first move is to impart Maori culture into council proceedings. Just like new MPs like Rawiri Waititi rebelling against having to wear a tie, and Elizabeth Kerekere relocating a painting of Winston Churchill to make way for a painting by a Maori artist.

      It pushes buttons, get support from their base and it makes headlines. But the sky doesn’t fall in and we soon move on to the next moral outrage.

    • Didn’t you read the article? The current representative democratic process means the Mayor gets to decide. He decided. That’s it. Why should he concede this irrelevant demand from someone representing a tiny number of people?

      • What a storm in a very small tea cup. Have a karakia. It’s perfectly fine!

        Where are the people who voted for the mayor who have been conspicuous in support of him? Answer, just getting in with life! They’ve got real things to worry about!

      • Yes, funnily enough Rob I did read it. You’ve seen our Coat of Arms, eh?

        It’s a tiny component of an overall meeting that shows collaboration, goodwill and there’s nothing wrong with it anyway. It’s actually positive. Seen plenty and there’s is no harm in them whatsoever.

        It is not worth anyone dying in a ditch over nor the needless aggro that will now exist!

      • And so, say all of us the same should apply to our PM she was voted in a democratic process. And what about eh small minority of NZers who caused havoc over the covid enforcements do we ignore them because they are/were a small minority but hey they lit a fire and trashed our city and tramped on mana whenua.

        • This is a democracy. Citizens have a legal and moral right to protest. That small sliver you speak of, were citizens exercising their rights.

          I disagree with your depiction of the mandate protest.

          I don’t understand the parallel you seem to see in the two different situations beyond your unhappiness with them.

  3. Brave writing again Chris.

    I suspect Mayor Craig Jepson just secured his next term already. If he first doesn’t get hounded out of town by the media lovelies, I hope he stands his ground.

  4. Demonstrations are so much easier to arrange mid-week when the participants don’t have jobs to go to. Dame Naida Glavish a perfect example of the old adage that empty vessels make the most sound

    • This country has been ruled by old adage and the divide and conquer mentality. I trust you bunch of wankers on this site are all working on Christmas day since it is a religious holiday.

        • Soloview it actually makes the argument stronger, it’s calling out the hypocrisy of some of the comments on this page. Being offended is obviously the purview of the right wing anti anything diverse.

  5. Just another example of (some) Maori holding the rest of NZ hostage with the threat of racism . . and the more that you appease them the more they feel they can get away with.

  6. I’ve already emailed my support to the Mayor, so he doesn’t feel he’s along in this matter.

    As a school volunteer I have to watch the kids go through multiple karakia every day. As an atheist, it really grinds my gears. Our education system is supposed to be secular, but this drivel is being shoved down the throats of the kids regardless.

  7. In the Far North Karakia are part of daily life, and even in the “mid North” are regularly used.

    The non religious generally go along with them out of courtesy and respect, not because they buy into Christianity or spiritualism.

    What other rituals do people of all stripes tolerate or even quite enjoy? There are hundreds of them in public life if you have any contact with Courts, Justices of the Peace, Lawyers and various cultural groups of the range of nationalities in NZ. etc.

    This attempted Karakia ban was barely disguised racism from what has long been a right wing Council. It will change from public pressure, just as the Far North District Council is at long last changing.

    Life does not work on Standing Orders alone as you will see.

    • By all means have a greeting and welcome in Te Reo Maori, but draw the line at including prayer.
      that’s a ‘no’ to all prayer made to make-believe spirits or gods in any form. It’s the height of arrogance to insist others compulsory participate in prayer they don’t have a religious or “spiritual” affinity with.
      Prayer has nothing to do with the management of public assets and systems.

  8. I guess one should admire Mayor Jepson’s democratic stand on disallowing the karakia for the reasons stated in the above article. The easiest thing would’ve been to play along and just bow his head in tokenistic reverence and let the chant go ahead.

  9. A very good article explaining the situation in Kaipara, I wonder if the secular nature of NZ has blinded many to the way certain people hold onto whatever belief they have & how it affects how they live. From my point of view as a conservative Christian the separation of church & state is essential, one of the most important freedoms we have is the choice to decide if or who we want to worship & nobody should be allowed to force their views onto others. While the dark ages were a long time ago their history along with various countries around the globe that still enforce some form of religion should be enough of a warning to us that we need to keep the separation in place.

  10. The Maori culture enriches the lives of those who cherish it and is a distraction to those who partake in it out of respect only. The Karakia performed at the Kaipara Council is a microcosm of what happens around the country at various institutions. Whether it be Councils hospitals Universities etc. I’m picking that many of the less culturally aware participants of these occasions would look more kindly upon them if they were quick and less theatrical. A bit like saying a quick grace before a meal because everybody’s Hungry. However I suspect some of those who deliver these greetings and Karakia may be in no hurry to cut short their own enjoyment and use up valuable time many others don’t have. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if that is not the case. In my non cultural opinion if an agreement to keep these occasion’s brief was adhered to, the problem would go away, but if the agenda is to embed the culture into these occasions without compromise we will see more of these cultural disagreements in the future.

  11. The new maori councilor in a small town near me not only had a karakia but had bought school children from 50 km away for a haka. Knowing this guy he probably had a lengthy korero of his own as well. That’s how you hijack the meeting.

  12. Absolutely 100% behind Mayor Jepson. Great article Chris.

    I have very much enjoyed and appreciated your columns this year. Merry Christmas

  13. The irony. The northern Mowrees who let the Pakeha in to NZ and tried to live like the Pakeha dont want to now?

    Which treaty are they reffering to in this case? The first one or the Waitangi one?

  14. Would the same argument apply to our current PM (Jacinda) she was given a mandate to govern our country, yet our MSM hammer her on a daily basis as does a lot of clowns like Hosking’s, the Soper’s and Kerry what’s her face to name a few. The people of NZ voted for her yet where is the respect shown to her and respect for those who voted. What happens to majority rules and why do we have to listen to the loud mouths on our radio and tv channels who seems to have the loudest nastiest bias dog whistling voices.

  15. If only the protest was about inequality for Maori, about housing, homelessness, over representation in the prison population. Instead it is about the right to say a prayer at a secular public meeting…

    • Neil it’s actually the right to stand up and be heard. The picture of the council speaks a thousand words, 7 men and 3 women, 6 pakeha men, 2 pakeha women and one man of colour, so the fact that this proud wahini stood up in the face of such bigotry on her own is to be applauded.

      • Racist comment ‘made up Maori culture’ of today.

        Did it occur to you Daniel that culture is changing all the time.

  16. I think it’s interesting that more than two hundred years after settlement of Europeans and 182 years after the signing of a treaty, the people of the country are only just getting down to sorting out the formalities of starting a meeting.

  17. The facts are: On 7 November Councillor Paniora approached Mayor Jepson and suggested a compromise solution to the karakia issue. An open and frank discussion took place between the Mayor and the eight Councillors present. All of the elected members, including Councillor Paniora agreed to the arrangement, and it was published on the KDC website on 8 December: https://www.kaipara.govt.nz/news/post/444-Kaipara-District-Council-meetings-Mayoral-statement
    “Agreement was reached that each Councillor will have the opportunity on a rotating basis immediately prior to the opening of the ordinary Council Meeting to recite karakia, make statements of choice and forms of reflection.”

    At the Council meeting of 14 December a Notice of Motion by Councillor Vincent – with a broader arrangement – failed to gain sufficient votes. The agreement of 7 December is therefore the final decision of the Council.

    On 13 December Mayor Jepson posted a Mayoral statement on the KDC website setting out the legal situation in respect of the opening of council meetings: https://www.kaipara.govt.nz/news/post/450-Kaipara-District-Council-opening-of-meetings-Mayoral-Statement

  18. Wow there are some pretty unthinking people here. Lots of people who do not see Maori as tangata whenua.
    If it is about what the law says then we will be giving back every piece of land that was forcibly taken from Tangata whenua. Or is it only in this instance that we are beset on worrying about the law.
    Most of the Maori ‘prayers’ are secular. We should be proud to honour Tangata whenua wherever and whenever karakia is said. These are undoubtedly cultural matters and should be respected.

    Yes Neil I agree with this below but it wasn’t about that but about cultural heritage.
    If only the protest was about inequality for Maori, about housing, homelessness, over representation in the prison population.
    I am truly astonished that the mayor didn’t know this before.
    Sure some are Moslem and Hindi and Christian and Hari Krishna but Tangata Whenua should take precedence in these matters. After all the white man has had more than enough time to run the show.
    I have never understood why pakeha norms must continue forever.
    You lot should have some respect.

    • You may never understood why pakeha norms must continue forever but there are many who cannot understand, let alone tolerate, why pakeha norms should be challenged.

      Respect? Respect is having power and expecting everyone else to kowtow to it. The term ‘white supremacist’ is used in many contexts. White ‘superiority’ is a common attitude.
      The joke is the Supreme ones, the Superior ones are so discombobulated by the mere thought of any accommodation of Māori norms. The big Supreme toughies throw their tantrums and dramatically demonstrate their inferiority when there is any suggestion of acknowledging norms outside their own..

    • There are many amongst the 84% Tau Iwi who believe in liberal democracy and dont believe Tangata Whenua are special in some way.

      The ToW says we have equal rights and responsibilities. So why exactly should we promote their culture before all else? Not saying we shouldnt just wondering why you feel this way? Is your argument ideological? Why wouldnt the rights of 84% not matter in any equal society?

      • Sorry, I wasn’t aware that the Treaty mentioned percentages and what was to happen would be decided on the basis of the percentages of ethnicity in the citizenry.

        “Why exactly should we promote their (Tangata Whenua) culture before all else?” you ask. I wasn’t aware we did. I still am genuinely surprised when I hear it said that everything is about Māori culture and it being valued and no attention or value being placed on ‘European’ culture.

        Which is totally ludicrous of course.

        • I was responding to Michal who said
          “but Tangata Whenua should take precedence in these matters”.

          The percentages are relevant within a liberal democracy and irrelevant also as this kind of democracy is effectively embedded into the ToW where it says we have equal rights and responsibilities.

          And then asking Michal on what basis Tangata Whenua should take precedence in a liberal democracy? Equal suffrage etc

          So I am not saying we are putting Maori culture before all else, I am simply asking the Poster why they believe we should? He/she did make that comment after all.

    • There are no indigenous people in this land. All our ancestors travelled here from somewhere

      and anyhow I thought nationalism was bad?!

  19. Some people will simply not accept rules. They must have their own rules. Get yourself elected as mayor. If not, shut the fuck up and go by the rules.

  20. There is nothing more culturally appropriate (or is that cultural appropriation) than a 60+ year old, white man butchering Te Reo to recite a religious based karakia to an ethnically & religiously diverse meeting (with plenty of atheists & none of who identify as Maori), where no one can understand a word of it.

  21. if people want their little ‘spiritual’ moment fair enough it’s no worse than calling on your the pixie of choice..it’s the enforcing of any ‘spirituality’ I find objectionable

  22. I will get myself elected next time and DEMAND that all meetings start and end with German Marching Band Songs! The reverse outrage will be oh so ironic.

  23. Simply more evidence that religion is a curse upon humanity, the most divisive force in the world.

    The arrogance of religion thinking it can itself down everybody’s throats knows no bounds.

  24. This country has been ruled by old adage and the divide and conquer mentality. I trust you bunch of wankers on this site are all working on Christmas day since it is a religious holiday.

  25. When I was organising conferences, we were expected to have a Karakia at the beginning. I was told the Kaumata I had organised (who wanted a koha) was not kaupapa. We were told we had to use a more corporate group, which back in the day cost us $300.

    I have no time for any of this. A karakia before our conference had absolutely no relevance. It just seemed part of the gravey train.

  26. This is nothing but arrogant, in-your-face,cultural muscle-flexing and racism by a brown supremacist part-Maori, who has elevated her brown ancestors while turning her white ancestors into a toilet bowl to identify monoculturally as ‘Maori.’

    Racism occurs whenever a group of people with an ethnocentric membership base creates or colonises a system to afford themselves separate, different, or superior rights on the basis of group membership.

    When brown supremacist part-Maori bang on about‘racism’ they don’t mean getting rid of any‘racism’ that might exist.

    Just placing it under new management.


    These utu-seeking bitter clingers to a collectivist ‘Maori’ identity are usually less than half-Maori by blood quantum but ‘Maori’ by appearance.

    They want to shove everyone else’s noses into the racial/cultural turd by way of revenge on the ‘whiteness’ they’re shut out of by how they look.

    As Commie racemonger, Frantz Fanon, reminds us: “The native is an oppressed [sic] person whose constant dream is to become the persecutor.”

    Quite why public policy should validate someone else’s adjustment issues eludes me.

  27. Wow:Marxism 101:As a Catholic I pray to God through his son Jesus Christ:The first commandment says “I am the Lord thy God:you shall not have strange God’s before me” :Well and good for me and those whom are like me:I certainly would Not want a Pagan of any persuation intoning karakia on my behalf to one of a pantheon of many God’s (In the Te Ao Maori world there are many God’s as in Roman times) :there is good reason why Church and State have been seperated in Wester Civilisation:I do not mind a prayer to my God been invoked on my behalf but to be part of a congregation praying to a pagan God would be unacceptable to me and I would not respect it all and to the ignorant I would be called a racist

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