Thousands gather in New Zealand to protest government’s Indigenous policies

Right-leaning coalition has pledged to review affirmative action and remove references to treaty with Maori people.

New Zealand flags fly in front of The Beehive during the Commission Opening of Parliament at Parliament on October 20, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand [Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images]

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in New Zealand to express opposition to the new government’s policies towards Indigenous people.

Protesters gathered in front of the parliament and on motorways on Tuesday after the minor Te Pati Maori party called for nationwide demonstrations against the newly elected right-leaning government.

The protests coincided with the opening session of New Zealand’s 54th parliament, following elections in October that ended six years of governance by the centre-left Labour Party.

In a breach of protocol, Te Pati Maori, which holds six seats in parliament, swore oaths of allegiance to the upcoming generation and the Treaty of Waitangi, a colonial-era founding document between the British and the Maori people, before pledging allegiance to King Charles.

The new National Party-led coalition has pledged to review positive discrimination policies, change the names of some departments from the Maori language to English and strip legislation of references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

“This is not a protest, this is an activation,” Te Pati Maori co-leader Rawiri Waititi told protesters in Wellington.

“Make our voices heard, let our voices fly and be proud to be who we are today.”

New Zealand police said two people involved in the demonstrations had been arrested and there had been disruption to traffic in a number of cities, including the largest city Auckland.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who is in coalition with the libertarian ACT New Zealand and populist New Zealand First, described the protesters’ criticism of his government as “pretty unfair”.

“The reality is we’ve been in government for a week,” he told reports. “We are going to get things done for Maori and non-Maori.”

David Seymour, the leader of ACT New Zealand, accused Te Pati Maori of being more interested in “divisive theatrics” than providing solutions for Indigenous people.

“New Zealanders elected a government that will treat people equally, regardless of their race,” Seymour said in a post on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies