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Ardern pledges Maori New Year holiday

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rebooted her election campaign with a crowd-pleasing promise of a new national holiday.

Kiwis would enjoy a long weekend during the Maori New Year – known as Matariki – from 2022 should Labour be returned to power at the October 17 poll.

Matariki is a traditional commemoration, named after the bright stars of the Pleiades cluster, and held in winter each year when they rise into the night sky.

“Matariki will be a distinctly New Zealand holiday and a time for reflection, celebration and to look to the future as we take increasing pride in our unique national identity,” Ms Ardern said on Monday.

“As I’ve travelled around New Zealand I’ve heard the calls for Matariki to become a public holiday. Its time has come.”

Ms Ardern made the pledge while campaigning in the tourism centre of Rotorua but the idea is not new.

The Maori Party have campaigned for a public holiday for a decade and the Greens, Republican Movement and news outlet Stuff have all pledged support.

Labour’s announcement was welcomed by the Greens – one of their government partners – but opposed by opposition National, libertarians Act, and their other coalition member, NZ First.

Ms Ardern’s move is the latest by her government to entrench Maori history and customs within the mainstream.

Previously untaught New Zealand history – including bloody battles between Maori and European settlers – is being made compulsory in schools.

Ms Ardern has also elevated an annual commemoration of the country’s Land Wars in October.

Kelvin Davis, Labour’s deputy, most senior Maori office holder and tourism minister, said he would be proud to see Matariki become NZ’s 12th public holiday.

“None of our current public holidays recognise Maori culture and tradition. Making Matariki a public holiday is another step forward in our partnership as a people and a further recognition of te ao Maori in our public life,” he said.

Matariki is an annual time of reflection and planning among Maori whanau or families.

Traditionally, Maori iwi or communities gather at night during Matariki, making use of the period between harvests to celebrate and make offerings for a bountiful future.

More recently, councils and organisations have used the occasion to explain its significance and run family-friendly events featuring cultural displays and light shows.

If implemented, it would be New Zealand’s first new public holiday since the establishment of Waitangi Day in 1974.

Waitangi Day is observed on February 6, commemorating the signing of New Zealand’s foundational document, the Treaty of Waitangi, or Te Tiriti O Waitangi.

Polling has Ms Ardern’s Labour on track to win the election, which was originally planned for September 17 until COVID-19 re-emerged last month.

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