Councilor Toi Iti refuses to 'be that token Māori at the table'

By Taroi Black
Tame Iti (left) stands proudly with his son, newly elected councilor Toi Kai Rākau Iti (right) at Te Mānuka Tūtahi Marae / Source: Tūmeke FM

Toi Kai Rākau Iti, son of the famous Tūhoe Activist Tame Iti doesn’t want to end up being the ‘token Māori’ after he was sworn into the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.    

“Don’t just show up at the door and be an adornment at the table or be that token Māori at the table,” says Iti.

He won the Kōhi Māori constituency seat over Tīpene Marr from Ngāti Rangitihi who held it last term. The role now lies with Iti who aims to build strong ties between local Māori communities including the Iwi Rūnanga throughout the rohe. Iti wants to ensure the council lead the way in environmental management, as opposed to merely following regulations. 

“The token Māori are the ones there to do the pōhiri, are there to do the karakia.”

“You’ll see the brochures come out and there will be some beautiful whakatauki (proverb) which will be at the front end and there will be some ferns in the imagery or some bush or something like that, it’s just adornments, it’s just lip service.”

Toi Iti's first day in BOP Regional Council / Source BOP Regional Council

Iti has been campaigning against climate change, improving water quality and placing Māori in their traditional place as kaitiaki (protectors) of water. 

“The language of local government is full of jargon. It comes from a different sector and history and my role is a role of translation.”  

With Māori making up 48% of Whakatāne Iti says, that had they turned up to vote then more Māori candidates would have entered council.  

“It’s not about us showing it to the Pākehā it’s about we got a lot to offer.”

“In terms of Hinerangi Goodman just by a draw of the hat getting the council seat at the Whakatāne District Council for Murupara / Galatea, that’s huge. For me why that was huge, the last councillor struggled to pronounce Ruatāhuna correctly," says Iti.