Māori parliament member removed from chamber for rejecting dress-code

New Zealand experienced an issue in Parliament on Feb. 8, with regards to the formal dress code. MP (member of parliament) Tawiri Waititi represents the Māori Party which is a left-center party that advocates for indigenous people’s rights. Waititi also represents the Waiariki region in the North Island of New Zealand.

According to the BBC, Parliament’s male members are only allowed to speak or ask questions in the chamber if they are wearing a tie.

Instead of a tie, Waititi was wearing a hei-tiki, a pendant known as a taonga (treasure) to the Māori people that is made of local greenstone or nephrite jade.

“I do not recognize the member, he will now leave the chamber,” said the Speaker of Parliament, Trevor Mallard, to MP Waititi, according to the Associated Press.

According to RNZ, because MP Waititi was not wearing a hei-tiki instead of a tie, he was forced to leave the chamber after attempting several times to speak in the debating chamber. Waititi was told by Mallard to not return again unless he was wearing a tie.

“That is not part of my culture, ties, and it’s forcing the indigenous peoples into wearing what I describe as a colonial noose,” Waititi said to RNZ reporters after leaving the chamber. Stating also that the dress-code is a breach of his rights as an indigenous individual.

“If you see the way I was dressed it wasn’t disrespectful…Why are Pākehā making Māori dress like they want us to dress?” Waititi said. Pākehā is a Māori term that refers to New Zealanders of European descent.

Waititi expressed that the dress-code is hypocritical and an example of how colonialism is still impacting the Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, according to RNZ.

As reported by the New Zealand Herald, Waititi also made the point that MP Ricardo Menéndez March, a member of the Green Party, is of Mexican descent was allowed to wear a bolo tie rather than a traditional tie. Waititi explained that the taonga was like a tie in his culture and should be accepted as such in Parliament.

The event occurred only a couple of days after Waitangi Day, Feb. 6, a New Zealand “holiday” that commemorates the Treaty of Waitangi that was signed in 1840 by 500 Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. The holiday is a celebration for some but a somber day of reflection for others.

Waitiri said that this event occurring only days after Waitangi Day highlights how the relationship between Māori and pākehā is a “long way off.”

Gillian is a student journalist at Florida Atlantic University.

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