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New Zealand: Bill Pardoning Māori Prophet Convicted in 1916 Passed

(Jan. 2, 2020) On December 18, 2019, the New Zealand Parliament passed historic legislation that pardons Rua Kēnana, a pacifist religious prophet from the Tuhoe iwi (tribe) who was convicted in August 1916 of “moral resistance” to a police attempt to arrest him in February 1916. In April 1916, around seventy armed police officers came to the religious community established at Maungapohatu to arrest Rua. This led to an exchange of gunfire in which Rua’s son and another young man who lived at the community were killed. Police have also been accused of other abuses during the raid, including rape. Following his arrest and subsequent conviction, Rua spent 18 months in prison. The “wartime arrest and prosecution of Rua Kēnana remains one of the most controversial episodes in New Zealand’s history.”

The bill, Te Pire kia Unuhia te Hara kai Runga i a Rua Kēnana/Rua Kēnana Pardon Bill 2019, “gives effect to the agreement of 9 September 2017 between the Crown and Ngā Toenga o Ngā Tamariki a Iharaira me Ngā Uri o Maungap[o]hatu Charitable Trust to provide a statutory pardon for Rua Kēnana.” The agreement followed the Waitangi Tribunal’s finding, in its report on its Te Urewera district inquiry, that police used excessive force against the Maungapohatu community and that the arrest of Rua Kēnana was unlawful at the time due to being effected on a Sunday.

The bill, which is written in both English and the Māori language, consists of a preamble, historical background, Crown acknowledgments, a Crown apology, and the pardon itself, as well as a declaration to restore “the character, mana [prestige/status, etc.], and reputation of Rua Kēnana, his uri [descendants], and Ngā Toenga o Ngā Tamariki o Iharaira Faith.” An “unusual element” of the bill is the inclusion, in the preamble, of the lyrics of a song that Rua composed while he was in prison.

The Crown apology in clause 8 of the bill reads as follows:

The Crown unreservedly apologises to the descendants of Rua Kēnana and Ngā Toenga o ngā Tamariki a Iharaira for—

(a) the lasting damage to the character, mana, and reputation of Rua Kēnana, his uri, and Ngā Toenga o Ngā Tamariki o Iharaira:

(b) the deep hurt, shame, and stigma suffered by them as a result of the invasion of Maungap[o]hatu.

Around 200 descendants of Rua Kēnana attended the final reading of the bill in the Parliament.