MP Shane Jones fuming over Mickey Mouse powhiri (the Stuff)

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The Stuff has reported that Labour MP Shane Jones has called for a debate over when official Maori welcomes are used, saying the current “dial-a-powhiri” is devaluing a national treasure. Mr Jones’ comments come after a powhiri was performed by Ngati Whatua kapa haka group Te Puru o Tamaki for Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse, ahead of the Disney on Ice show in Auckland.

The Northland-based Labour list MP described the welcome as a “joke” and “a wake up call”, saying a debate about when powhiri were appropriate was “long overdue”.

He said he understood the cultural relevance of the Disney characters but said this was “one haka step too far”.

“We shouldn’t be doing these things just because of money,” he said.

“We’ve got to stop guilt-tripping Pakeha that the powhiri is something of high customary value yet at the drop of a hat and for the clinking of some dollars, we’ll turn on a powhiri for Mickey and Minnie.”

The overuse of powhiri trivialised what Mr Jones described as a key Maori institution.

He said that while the powhiri for the billion-dollar Disney characters could be viewed as frivolous, acts of this nature were leading to the trivialisation of “key markers in Maori identity”.

And we actually want wider society to take on board these, and if you cheapen them too much then you make them common and we’ll soon find that much of our Maori culture will be not unlike Disneyland creations.”

Head of Maori and Indigenous Studies at Canterbury University, Rawiri Taonui, said while there was a risk of “powhiri fatigue”, they could be used on all occasions, provided they were done properly.

If it was a parody of a pohwiri, in terms of Goofy performing a powhiri, then that would probably be offensive but if it’s honouring what those cartoon characters, those icons of the world of children represent, then it’s probably quite a positive thing.”

Powhiri could be tailored to suit the occasion, as long as someone with proper knowledge of Maori customs, or tikanga, was consulted. Mr Taonui said powhiri were today performed for a wide variety of things.

“It’s been part of the integration of Maori and Pakeha in a bi-cultural, multi-cultural society.”

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