Yesterday a nearly 70,00-strong petition was presented to Parliament calling for the revocation of Sir Bob Jones’ knighthood following racist comments made in the NBR. Kera Sherwood O’Regan was there.
A petition containing 68,760 signatures asking for the removal of business magnate Sir Bob Jones’ knighthood was presented at a pōwhiri on Parliament steps yesterday, following a swiftly removed National Business Review column in which Jones proposed a “Māori Gratitude Day” in place of Waitangi Day where Māori would serve non-Māori out of “gratitude for existing”.
Over the past six weeks, petition initiator Renae Maihi and Bob Jones have faced off in the media, with Jones accusing Maihi of defamation and threatening to mount a legal case. Maihi has refused to back down from her criticism, saying that his words were ‘takahia mana’, or trampling on the mana of her people.
Despite the continued standoff, Maihi yesterday issued an invitation over social media for Bob Jones to attend the pōwhiri prior to petition delivery, to face the people and have an opportunity to apologise for his comments, which she labelled “racist”.
Kaikōrero for the petition rōpu, Waikato University professor Pou Temara, who was named in Jones’ column, said that if Jones attended “then he could meet the person he said those things about”.
“It is my job to push back against things like this, against injustice, and that’s why I’m here… It’s a person who named me in his tirade who has never met me. I’m here to be part of this petition so he can meet the person he is so critical about,” Temara said.
While Jones did not attend, the pōwhiri process proceeded as planned, with the ope welcomed on by Parliamentary Services’ Kura Moehau and Labour Māori caucus representatives including MPs Willie Jackson and Kiritapu Allan, who received the petition.
Following formal whaikōrero, the original NBR column was read by 16-year-old student Ruby Arahanga of Ngāti Rangi, Ngāti Raukawa, and Kāi Tahu iwi.
Reflecting on Jones’ comments, Arahanga said, “Now, I understand that everyone has the right to freedom of speech, but that does not mean that you have freedom from consequences.”
“As someone who has forged a life where he… has subsequently earned a knighthood, Sir Bob Jones has a responsibility to be an upstanding member of society, and to be someone who people can look up to.”
Given his “base and hate-filled column,” Arahanga questioned Jones’ suitability as a community leader and title holder. This sentiment was echoed in Maihi’s own speech, which highlighted her whakapapa and her own experiences of racism as a child.
Responding directly to Jones’ assertion that there are “no full blooded Māoris,” Maihi said: “I am a direct descendent of Tamatekapua of Te Arawa, and the same blood that ran through Hone Heke of Ngāpuhi runs through me. I am not ‘part’ Te Arawa, nor ‘part’ Ngāpuhi. Both these strands of my whakapapa are wholly me and do not detract from one another. Nor am I ‘part’ Pākehā or ‘part’ Māori. My identity is not divisible. My Māoritanga is not divisible.”
“What it means to be Māori is not definable by outdated and oppressive notions of blood quantum. Every fibre of me is Māori. We are still here.”
Labour list MP Kiritapu Allan received the petition, which was presented in a kete woven by the late pioneering filmmaker Merata Mita. Following the ceremony, Allan said: “Sir Bob Jones made some pretty poor, and I believe, offensive comments. There’s no doubt they caused a lot of pain and heartache. In this day and age, racism is not okay – overt, satirical or otherwise.”
The petition will be sent to select committee to be assessed. While the bar for removal of a knighthood is high, Allan said, “It was important for me to accept the petition because it’s vital we ensure parliament is accessible to the public, and that their voice is heard.”
She added, “Anything that encourages Māori to participate in our processes is also something to be applauded.”
Collaborating with community campaigning organisation, ActionStation, Maihi says that the fight is not over. “Bob Jones is only one man, but his words are only the tip of an iceberg of racism that has been left behind by colonisation of our whenua and our people.”
Continued consultation between Maihi, ActionStation, and petition signatories has prompted a larger movement that will call for greater education to support the antiracism kaupapa. The campaign calls for all tamariki to be taught about local hapū and iwi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the impacts of colonisation. It also calls for a nationwide Treaty education strategy and improved status of te reo Māori in education and public media.
Maihi believes that this will help to lay the foundation for greater understanding of the structures in our society that give rise to the sentiments expressed in Jones’ column. She quoted Dame Whina Cooper:
“Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear, take care of what they see, take care of what they feel for how our children grow so will be the shape of Aotearoa”.
The new campaign can be found here.