Maori lawmaker kicked out of parliament for wearing a cultural pendant instead of a tie

People love to point to "identity politics" as if it's a new, progressive phenomenon, but there is no shortage of examples of how racial and cultural identity has always played a role in politics. It's just that up until recently, the identity in identity politics was white.

This has not only been the case in the U.S., where white, male identity politics kept women and racial minorities out of power for most of our history, but in other Western nations as well. Case in point: A story from New Zealand of a Maori lawmaker who was ejected from parliament proceedings because he was not wearing a necktie—or at least not a necktie that fit Western standards of "business attire."

The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and Maori representatives make up nearly a quarter of the country's parliament. Rawiri Waititi, a Maori MP, was kicked off the parliament floor after the Speaker Trevor Mallard twice refused to recognize him due to his attire. Instead of a necktie, which male parliament members are required to wear, Waititi wore a hei tiki—a traditional Māori greenstone pendant—tied around his neck.

"It's not about ties, it's about cultural identity, mate," Waititi said as he was leaving.

Watch the parliament exchanges here:


Māori MP ejected from New Zealand parliament in necktie row www.youtube.com

Waititi had argued in the parliament's recent "business attire" debates that the Western necktie was like a "colonial noose." Mallard pointed out that he himself wished to eliminate the tie requirement, but that the consensus had disagreed.

In an interview following his ejection from parliament, he said, "As you can clearly see, this is a tie, as far as I'm concerned...this is a tie to my people."

Speaking to Reuters, Waititi said, "Māori have not been treated equal in its own country and indigenous people all over the world have been subjected to discrimination due to racist systems that keep our peoples in second place. For us to stand up against subjugation, to stand up again assimilation, to stand up against those who try and make us look, feel, make us think like they want us to think ... this was standing up against that."

Māori Party co-leader kicked out of Parliament for not wearing a tie www.youtube.com

Waititi showed up to parliament with the same attire the next day, but this time he was allowed to remain. According to Radio New Zealand, the male necktie rule has now been dropped after the Standing Orders committee met and decided it should be optional.

"The noose has been taken off our necks, and we are now able to sing our songs," Waititi told Reuters.

If kicking a lawmaker out because their cultural dress attire doesn't line up with an arbitrary perception of what makes up business attire seems silly to you, you're not alone. Dress codes are meant to keep a sense of professionalism in a proceeding, to say, "This is serious work we are doing, so showing up in your workout gear or loungewear isn't appropriate." They should not be used as an excuse for upholding white Western standards of dress and keep people from diverse cultures from wearing something appropriately formal.

Not to mention, how much of a waste of time and energy is this when there are important issues to discuss and problems to solve? Maybe this is what happens when your country manages to control a pandemic and isn't dealing with an insurrection and impeachment trial. You find ridiculous things to argue about.

In all seriousness, though, good for Waititi for illustrating how racism and white supremacy can be reinforced through something as simple as a dress code. And good for the members of parliament who stood up for his right to wear traditional attire from his culture.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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