Māori tribe tells anti-Covid vaccine protesters to stop using its haka

Anti-vaccine protesters in New Zealand have been told to stop using the “ka mate” haka by the tribe who have ownership of it.

The haka, a Māori war dance made internationally famous by its performance by the All Blacks at rugby matches, is considered a cultural treasure, or taonga, in New Zealand. It was performed last week by anti-vaccination and “freedom” protesters, who marched in their thousands to parliament.

Ngāti Toa, the tribe that has legal guardianship of the ka mate haka, said on Monday that it “condemns the use of the Ka Mate haka to push and promote anti-Covid-19-vaccination messages” and “request that anti-vaccination and anti-mandate protesters cease the use of Ka Mate at their protests immediately”.

The tribe’s request comes amid concerns from some that Māori sovereignty movements are being co-opted by anti-vaxxers, some of whom argue that vaccination represents a form of “modern day colonisation”. Vaccination rates among Māori are concerningly low in New Zealand: Ministry of Health figures show 77% of eligible (those aged 12 and over) Māori have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 61% are fully vaccinated. In the total eligible population, 90% have had one dose and 81% both.

Even as vaccination rates gradually rise, an increasingly vocal dissenting cohort have begun to organise demonstrations against vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions. Several thousand gathered on Tuesday to protest in front of parliament, and their concerns were eclectic: among the signs and slogans were pro-Trump and QAnon flags, calls for violence against prime minister Jacinda Ardern, as well as flags of the Māori sovereignty movement. After a number of speeches, members of the crowd performed a ka mate haka.

But Ngāti Toa leaders said that the tribe had lost many tupuna (ancestors) to pandemics during the course of colonisation – and that they were embracing vaccination to protect against this one. “Many of our tupuna lost their lives in previous pandemics and our iwi [tribe] suffered greatly,” Helmut Modlik, chief executive officer of the tribal authority Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira, said.

“We are absolutely clear that the Covid-19 vaccine is the best protection we have available to us, and we are committed to supporting our whānau (family) to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

“Protests are promoting the views of individuals ahead of the needs of collective whānau.”