Waatea News Update

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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Brass gets serve for sandbagging inquiry

The Prime Minister is blaming defence brass for the time it took to address problems among Vietnam veterans caused by exposure to Agent Orange defoliant.

Helen Clark will today make a formal Crown apology for the way New Zealand's troops were treated when they came back from the war.

It precedes a three day commemoration in Wellington this weekend, including a whakanoa or tapu lifting ceremony for the 37 New Zealanders who died in Vietnam.

She says it took far too long to address the needs of veterans and their families, and it's now taken from granted that certain illnesses were probably a result of their service in South East Asia.

“Governments had always been told troops hadn’t been exposed to Agent Orange. Finally when it got to a select committee inquiry in Parliament, out came the files, and the Ministry of Defence/ Defence Force admitted that their had been exposure to Agent Orange. Now it beats me quite frankly how that silence could have been maintained for so long. It leaves governments in a very difficult position,” Ms Clark says.

The Tribute 08 commemoration will not be the end of the veterans' struggle - Maori veterans are also taking a Waitangi Tribunal claim about their treatment.


King Tuheitia has chosen to give his first in depth interview to veteran Maori journalist Derek Fox.

It's the cover story in the latest issue of Mana Magazine out this week.

Mr Fox, who is a familiar face at Turangawaewae marae, also interviewed King Tuheitia's mother Dame Te Atairangikaahu shortly before she died.

He says readers will find the king to be a very down to earth man.

“There’s some good little insights into him growing up. He’s done things that many people in our society have done. He’s worked at a freezing works, he’s worked on a farm, he enjoys tinkering with vehicles, something both his father and his grandfather used to do,” Mr Fox says.


The return of a rare native parrot to an island on Auckland's doorstep could bring back some stories from the past.

31 kakariki are being moved from Hoturu-Little Barrier to Motuihe Island, which is now predator free.

Luis Ortiz-Catedral, who is leading the project, says their numbers have declined over the years because of the effects of humans, rats, cats and dogs on their habitat.

He says scientists are interested not only in their physical survival, but in finding more about their importance to Maori.

“What we are lacking now is an integrated study about the way kakariki were present for Maori. They are considered a part of the mana of the land, they are a treasure and they enrich to dawn chorus as well so bringing them back to motuihe as well as tui and bellbird and all the other species there, they certainly create a more complete cultural experience,” Mr Ortiz-Catedral says.

Maori valued the red feathers on the kakariki's rump, which were believed to be the blood of Tawhaki, the demigod responsible for thunder and lightning.


Today's the day for the official apology to New Zealand's Vietnam veterans, but one soldier turned politician still holds a grudge.

Ron Mark had just joined the army when troops started coming back from the war, but he remembers the treatment soldiers got from some sections of the public at the time.

He also witnessed the fight the veterans and their families waged to get the army to acknowledge they had been exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange, which contained traces of dioxin.

He says New Zealand First leader Winston Peters negotiated a full inquiry as a condition of the 1996 coalition agreement, but it was undermined once Jenny Shipley became National's prime minister.

“Many of those people who were in that cabinet who sat on the front bench of that government and did that appalling injustice to Vietnam vets are still on the front bench of the National Party hoping to get back into government as cabinet ministers again. God forbid that some of them should ever get anywhere near the Ministry of Defence or the veteran’s affairs portfolios. Their records are appalling and people shouldn't forget it,” Mr Mark says.

Today's apology is a prelude to Tribute 08, a three day commemoration in Wellington this weekend.


An archaeogical study on an offshore island may give Northland iwi Ngati Wai some closure on a past tragedy.

James Robinson from Otago University spent three years researching Tawhiti Rahi, the northernmost of the Poor Nights group off the Northland coast.

It's been virtually untouched since December 1823, when it was declared tapu after a raiding party slaughtered the inhabitants.

Mr Robinson says while life on the New Zealand mainland was starting to change by the 1820s because of contact with Europeans, Tawhiti Rahi was still a traditional Maori society.

“It hadn't got any metal or glass or ceramics or anything like that that was associated say in the 1830s and 40s so what it’s sort of giving us a snapshot of sort of what Captain Cook would have seen and reported of an indigenous society that had developed in New Zealand from its Polynesian ancestry,” he says.

Mr Robinson says until now Ngati Wai has remembered the island because oif the battle, but another story can now be told.


Moana and the Tribe has added to New Zealand's environmental reputation and to its carbon footprint.

The band is just back from Bonn in Germany, where it played a short set some of the 5000 delegates attending a United Nations conference on biodiversity.

Backing singer Amiria Reriti says it was one of five indigenous bands chosen to perform, and the invitation came because of this country's green image.

“They were enamoured with our nuclear stance and investments in diversity, the whole sustainability environmentally as well so we were seen as a green attraction. It was really bizarre because you travel for 30 hours for a 25-minute gig,” Ms Reriti says.

Moana and the Tribe will return in July for shows in Germany, Italy and Poland.


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