Sunday, 7 December 2008

Te Runaka ki Otautahi o kai Tahu

Sharon told me that the Christmas meeting of the Runaka would be a very good antidote to my farewell blues and she was absolutely right. When we arrived we were handed a standard minutes/matters arising/any other business agenda of the kind I have seen a thousand times before.

The Runaka is open to Maori in Christchurch and deals with any and all issues of relevance. The guest at the previous meeting had been the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Sharon and her colleagues are welcome at the meetings as she has proved her active support. Today people were congratulating her on the legal case - many Maori live in the housing affected.

Sharon and I were warmly greeted by Louise - the organising powerhouse behind it all. She is a blond lovely with a traditional Maori facial tattoo. It is patterned on that of her grandmother and denotes her status and authority within the community. Sharon told me that it was not an easy decision for Louise - who otherwise looks entirely pakeha - to make but that the elders had asked her to have the tattoo to show her importance.

Maurice, a Minister, is the leader of the Runaka. He was running late as his son was ill so Louise got the meeting and the party off to a good start with some singing. I have no idea about the words but many of the tunes reminded me of the sing songs we had at family Christmasses when I was a kid. There were some very good voices and guitar players.

When Maurice arrived he started the meeting with a formal welcome and blessing and the next hour was spent dealing with the business - largely matters arising from 4 pages of minutes.

You've all been there and met the one who
  • is 2 pages behind everyone else
  • has their own agenda that's never committed to paper
  • just thought of something interesting that everyone should know
  • is more interested in talking to their neighbour

Despite lots of exhortations for progress so that the party could start the meeting lasted 30 minutes longer than planned - just as well because lunch was delayed. But the meeting was interesting and very good humoured. Wally my Koumatua from yesterday was part of the kitchen team today so I didn't see much of him.

Traditionally Maori cook in underground pits called hangi but the health authorities have something to say about that these days so a steel version is used. Lunch was great - honey roast chicken and beef with all sorts of veg. Followed by some fabulous pavlova. I passed on the trifle and Christmas cake! No alcohol - all sorts of soft drinks.

Just before the singing started again I got to make a presentation to Maurice and the Runaka. I had taken some Quaich's with me engraved with UNISON Scotland as gifts and wanted to leave one with the Runaka. Most Maori know and can recite their lineage back to the first settlers in NZ. I wasn't expected to do that but explaining that I am an English woman with a Welsh name living and working in Scotland generated several comments about rugby - only my Welsh ancestry got any accolades here!

After a hug and a hongi - touching noses and foreheads with Maurice - the quaich was passed round and much appreciated though the general view was that it would have been better if I'd brought the whiskey too!

Sharon and I returned to her office so she could catch up and I could arrange to meet Campbell from the Service & Food Workers union. I also arranged a hire car for the next 4 days.

Campbell collected me from the office and took me to the CTU offices - with a brief detour to visit the memorial to the suffragettes and Kate Shepherd. NZ is justly proud that they were the first country where women achieved the vote and Kate is acknowledged as leader of the campaign.

Campbell is the southern Regional Secretary of the SFWU and was keen to know about UNISON and it's similarities/differences. We had a too brief discussion before joining colleagues from other TU's based in the building for Christmas drinks. Sharon and her sister Fiona came to join us and a great networking session was had by all. Understandably the unions are very supportive of the action taken by ChchCOSS on housing costs. I also got to meet my 2nd Labour MP - a Cabinet Minister until three weeks before. Campbell also provided me with a practical itinerary for my tour of south island that would take me to some fabulous places and ensure I got time to appreciate them.

My day ended with a brief visit to Sharon and Murray's local followed by an indian takeaway with the family - now enhanced by a visit from Fiona's son Phil. It was a very comfortable and relaxing end to a really great but busy working week. Many many thanks to Sharon and Murray for making me so welcome.

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