Councillor’s family racially snubbed

The Samoan family of new Auckland councillor Efeso Collins were refused allocated seating at his swearing in ceremony. This is appalling in the city with the largest Polynesian population in the world (about 200,000 or 15% of the population).

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RNZ: ‘Racial discrimination’ mars Auckland councillor’s swearing-in

The Tuesday evening ceremony was a proud moment for Efeso Collins, who was the first in his family with a university education and was sworn in as one of two representatives in the Manukau Ward in south Auckland.

But the joy wasn’t fully shared by his wife, daughter and elders, who were refused their allocated seating in the councillor’s family area at the Auckland Town Hall.

“My family was told that they couldn’t sit where they were because that was reserved for council guests, and that’s when my wife said ‘We are council guests’, but no one believed them,” he said.

In the formal atmosphere of a gala-style ceremony, Mr Collins had no doubt as to what happened to his Samoan relatives.

“The fact that we don’t look ‘normal’, and that’s the problem – too many people offering the suggestion, which is essentially racially discriminatory, that brown people don’t belong there.”

The lack of Polynesian representation is in part due to ongoing racism.

He said Auckland Council needed to break down racial preconceptions.

“If I’m still being challenged like that now, you can imagine the experience of the very people I represent, where every day we’re confronted with this type of thinking.”

New Zealand and Auckland in particular are multicultural by numbers but  entrenched European attitudes are still apparent.

The council’s general manager of democracy services, Marguerite Delbet, said she was appalled and mortified after looking into the incident, calling the staff member’s behaviour “completely unacceptable” and has apologised profusely.

Ms Delbet said the usher, who was employed by a council agency, had been very rude and tried to push away Mrs Collins.

“There really is no excuse,” she said.

There would appear to be no good excuse.

Mr Collins noted the strikingly Anglo-Saxon tone of the the inauguration ceremonies, of which this week’s was the Auckland Council’s third.

From the opening fanfare to the now customary performance of Handel’s Messiah, there are few signs of the evening being the work of a council elected by one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities.

Māori protocol is a given at council functions and the ceremony included a rendition of Pokarekare Ana by the Stellar Singers.

Mayor Phil Goff thought the evening’s mix was appropriate.

Tradition can be important but if Auckland is serious about wanting multicultural representation then the city has to move with the times.

The make up of Auckland population (from the 2013 census):

  • European 59.3%
  • Asian 23.1%
  • Pacific Island 14.6%
  • Maori 10.7%
  • Middle Eastern/Latin American/African 1.9%
  • New Zealanders 1.1%
  • Others 0.1%

I’m surprised so few identify as ‘New Zealander’. It’s likely that quite a few putting themselves down as ‘European’ have a mix of ethnicities.

Auckland Council recently spent $1.2 million in a voting campaign trying to convince the city’s different communities that it was relevant and important to them.

Perhaps they should spend a bit of time convincing their staff  of the importance of different communities.

Mr Collins wants to see future council inaugurations do better.

“Because it’s important that the wider population feels that they are being represented, that they can see their colours and flavours in it, and I think we need to do better to ensure that everybody feels a part of it.

“I don’t think we’ve got the diversity right in those inaugurations.”

Now he is a councillor Collins can perhaps push for deal with diversity better.

Watch: Efeso Collins makes his maiden speech at Auckland Council