By Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
This year I once again travelled to the Bay of Islands to mark the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – our country’s founding document.
It’s a trip I look forward to every year, because it’s an invaluable opportunity to reflect on who we are as a nation. It’s also a chance to look forward and be hopeful about our future, and to take stock of all the work we have left to do.
There have been some major changes since I took my first steps onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds as Prime Minister back in 2018.
Māori unemployment is at some of the lowest levels in 10 years, and 30 percent more Māori, are now in apprenticeship under this Government – many training fees-free for the first two years.
We’ve significantly increased the minimum wage, extended paid parental leave, extended free GP visits to children aged up to 14 years, increased funding so parents at almost all decile 1-7 schools don’t have to pay for donations, and increased funding to Whanau Ora.
However, we know there is more work to do.
In 2018, I stood on the marae at Waitangi and called for our Government to be held to account - not just for what we do, but also how we do it. If we want to build proper understanding, share knowledge, and strengthen the relationship between Māori and Pakeha, then the way we do things matters.
The last two years, we've worked hard to lift the representation of Māori at the seats where decisions are made. For the first time, the number of Māori Chairs and Deputies reflects the Māori proportion of our population.
We’re also working to integrate te reo Māori into our schools – over 500 teachers and support workers have already graduated from Te Ahu o te Reo Māori. We’re making sure that New Zealand history is taught at every school and kura in the country by 2023. It is a right, not a privilege, for every child to know the history of the land they call home.
Just this past week, we celebrated the life and legacy of Dame Whina Cooper with a statue in her honour at Panguru. It’s a monument to a woman of great leadership, rangatiratanga and mana, and a timely reminder that there’s still much to do to recognise how women and Māori have shaped our society.
We also announced a national body of kaupapa waka hourua experts, supporting rangatahi to learn about Māori and Pacific voyaging traditions – building off the success of last year’snational commemoration Tuia 250 and the legacy of Sir Hekenukumai Busby.
We’ve introduced Te Kawa Matakura, a new educational programme designed by Māori, for Māori, which will grow future Māori leaders by supporting 17-25 year olds proficient in te reo Māori to learn an advanced level of mātauranga Māori.
I said this year, standing on the Upper Marae, that Waitangi is the place where we acknowledge our past, where we challenge our present, and where we are collectively hopeful about our future.
The changes we’ve made so far are good cause to be hopeful, but there’s still more work to do.
It’s up to us to keep doing the work needed of us, to bring the Māori and Pakeha houses together, and, ultimately, to keep building an Aotearoa we can all be proud of.
Jacinda Ardern is Prime Mnister and Leader of the Labour Party.