Renewed and radical: Could the Māori Party make it back to Parliament in 2020?

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer lives on land that was once stolen from her ancestors. 

Halfway between Hawera and Patea in South Taranaki, she shares an eight-acre block with three generations of her family, including two grandchildren, a teenage son who threatens to move out every Saturday night, and a 12-strong flock of chickens. 

Don’t mind the clucking of the chooks, she says over the phone.

Or the desire to blow open decades worth of Treaty of Waitangi settlements and open up privately held land for dispute. 

“Nothing scary, nothing to send the grandparents out of retirement,” she says.

Ngarewa-Packer is currently the sole candidate for the Māori Party, running in what was its former stronghold: the Māori electorate of Te Tai Hauāuru.

The seat was formerly held by party founder Dame Tariana Turia, and Ngarewa-Packer presents a credible prospect of claiming the seat. And therefore a pathway for the Māori Party to return to Parliament.

It has been a “humbling” three years in the wilderness, she says. Māori voters resoundingly booted the party out in 2017, a signal that more than a decade of supporting a National government had worn their patience thin.

The message that September was defiant. “They’ve gone back like a beaten wife to the abuser who has abused our people over and over again,” then co-leader Marama Fox said.

But now the party, founded on tino rangatiratanga (Māori sovereignty), is plotting its own path back to the “abuser” – the Labour-led Government. The party is renewed, trying to grow within the cracks in Māori-Crown relations, and hoping to achieve the near-impossible. 

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