It’s been 20 years since the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi arrived at the stairs outside of Parliament in 2004. 

Tens of thousands of people came together to protest the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

A documentary called Hīkoi - Speaking Our Truth, which launched on TVNZ+ on May 4, showcases the movement and the kaupapa. 

Re: News spoke to producer and director Whatanui Flavell (Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Taranaki iwi) about his new documentary and his thoughts on experiencing the hīkoi at 11 years old. 

Director Whatanui Flavell. Photo: supplied. 

What was the Foreshore and Seabed Bill about?

It was an iwi [Ngāti Apa] or a few iwi down at the top of the South Island who wanted to utilise their moana.

They went into discussions on whether they were allowed to do that. 

They ended up taking it to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal said they couldn’t make a judgement on whether Māori have rights over that whenua or not. 

What they could say is that Māori were eligible to take it to the Māori Land Court. 

The most interesting thing about the whole issue is this idea of a customary title. 

The customary title is a thing that you get as Indigenous peoples to a whenua. 

By being the first people of the whenua. We had customary titles over our moana. 

That's what the iwi at the top of the South Island wanted to have recognised.

Before Māori were given the opportunity to go to the Māori Land Court, the government saw that it could potentially open up a can of worms for all other iwi around the country to go to court and contest the customary rights over the takutai moana [marine and coastal area].

They didn't want that because it would mean all of the takutai moana could potentially go back into the ownership of Māori hands.

So they created the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

Which meant the government or the Crown owns the foreshore and seabed. 

What did the hīkoi 20 years ago look like?

The hīkoi was a reaction to the ruling of the Crown creating this piece of legislation, a lot of Māori lawyers like Annette Sykes, Moana Jackson and Mereana Pitman and all these activists started hearing about it, thinking, heck, this isn't right.

What they were doing was denying people the right to go to court.

The activists started to come together and started to think, actually, we're gonna create a hīkoi, because we've done this before. It was done in 1975 with the land march

Like any other big hīkoi, it had to start from the north. Hone Harawira and Hilda Harawira took it upon themselves to start it from the top of the North Island.

Activists say it got up to 50,000 people, others say 20,000. It was a movement we’d never seen before.

The hīkoi arriving outside of Parliament in 2004. Photo: Getty Images.

What pushed you to make the documentary?

I was 11 when the hīkoi started happening, and Tāmati Rimene-Sproat, the presenter in the documentary was 10. 

As young boys, we never understood what the hīkoi was about. 

All we knew was that it was really important. There were a whole lot of Māori who were pretty angry at this lady Helen Clark.

We didn't quite know who she was or what she did. But we knew that Māori were angry.

It’s a very complex issue. Our job, in terms of this documentary, is to try and unpack it all so it’s understood better.

Tamati is 30 now, he has the ability to unpack some of the information and the technicalities of the hīkoi and why it was established. 

As well as the importance of it and the significance of it in terms of how much it has politicised us as a generation now.    


Tāmati Rimene-Sprout interviewing Ken Mair. Photo: supplied.

Why was it important for you to make this?

At the time it was funded, we still had a Labour government, we had two Māori Party MPs. 

Māori weren't that angry at the Crown, we were pretty complacent. 

I'd be lying if I said that it was really important at the time, I was more just wanting to make a documentary for the 20-year anniversary. 

Since I got the opportunity to make this documentary, there's been so much political activity. 

So many things that are almost identical to 20 years ago, in terms of some of the narratives coming in about us.

In terms of some of what's been said by right-wing politicians about Māori, It’s almost word for word what Don Brash and others were saying 20 years ago. 

Tell me about the day of the hīkoi. What did it feel like?

It was a big contributor to the way that I think now. 

I was just a young 11-year-old boy following whatever my teacher said, but also following where my dad was going.

He was one of the organisers of one of the legs of the hīkoi and he was also the MC for our leg once we arrived in Wellington.

After the hīkoi was done, many people realised they couldn't put their vote towards Labour like they'd always done, they needed a new political voice that would really represent them.

So they created the Māori Party. And that was when Tariana Turia famously crossed the floor

[Turia, a Labour Party MP, disagreed with Labour’s proposed Foreshore and Seabed Act, and intended to vote against it. She resigned from Parliament, co-founded the Māori Party, and won her seat back in a  by-election.] 

My father, Te Ururoa Flavell was part of this new party. 

It's a really unique story for my family because it completely changed the way that our whānau lived. 

We went from a pretty humble kickback whānau to being in the limelight and being children of an MP.

How did that day change you?

I think just being a part of a movement has you realise the power of unity. And knowing that you can make a difference if our people are united.

We are a product of those who have gone before us. 

Do you think we’ve made progress or are we going backwards?

If you'd asked me maybe three months ago if we had made progress, I'd say yes, because we were in some pretty good positions. 

We were complacent under a Labour government only six months ago.

Māori have made progress. Māori have definitely moved on. I don't think the Crown has and I don't know if it ever will. 

When push comes to shove, whenever there's a really difficult position or whenever a government is really after a vote, Māori get thrown under the bus. 

We're always the first to be thrown under the bus. You've got to question whether that is progress.

When the Indigenous peoples continue to get thrown under the bus, I can't say that we have made progress.

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