Catholic support for Matariki as a public holiday

11 Matariki

Three Catholic organisations have expressed support at a parliamentary select committee for the establishment of Matariki as a public holiday. 

The Archdiocese of Wellington Commission for Ecology, Justice and Peace, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Challenge 2000 made submissions to the Māori Affairs Committee supporting the Te Pire mō te Hararei Tūmatanui o te Kāhui o Matariki/Te Kāhui o Matariki Public Holiday Bill. 

The Catholic organisations recognised the importance of respecting the rights of cultures of indigenous peoples, as emphasised by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’, and in Catholic social teaching.  

Challenge 2000 said this public holiday would recognise “the mana of matauranga Māori” and “revitalise traditional practices”.  

“We support Matariki becoming established as a public holiday. There is not a day that recognises solely the mana of matauranga Māori, and yet we acknowledge the Queen’s birthday. Matariki holds as much mana, and arguably more than other days acknowledged and respected as public holidays,” the group said in its submission.  

The Archdiocese of Wellington EJP commission cited the Statement on Religious Diversity made by the Catholic Bishops in 2019 that called for educational institutions, workplaces and public services to “recognise and accommodate diverse religious beliefs and practices”.  

“We see providing a public holiday to celebrate Matariki as a natural extension of that principle,” the commission said.  

“We recognise that Christian holy days have been among celebrations privileged to be recognised formally as public holidays. We wish to express our strong support that this recognition be given also to Matariki, as one step in a much longer journey of recognising the ‘rich and ancient heritage’ of this land, as Pope John Paul II expressed it on his visit here in 1986.”  

The Catholic organisations also recognised the need for “collective rest and restoration” that a public holiday would bring, but they expressed concern about how economic pressures would affect low wage workers and young people.   

“We have seen in recent decades in Aotearoa the gradual erosion of ‘public holidays’ being readily available to all workers, as shop trading hours have become among the most liberal in the world,” Caritas said in its submission.  

“There can be both overt and unspoken pressure on some workers to work, especially low-paid workers and young people. We ask that the committee and Government consider additional measures to promote Matariki as a collective rest, and protect the rights of more vulnerable workers.”  

The EJP Commission added that fewer New Zealanders are able to take time off during holidays.  

“With retail and other support services operating now almost every day of the year, our experience is that the designation of ‘public holiday’ no longer guarantees that the most vulnerable are able to participate in communal time off, such as at Easter. This is especially the case for low-income workers and young people,” the commission stated.  

It called on the committee to “consider ways to overcome other economic and social barriers that make it difficult for people to share in such celebrations”.  

The three groups recognised the traditional Māori way of telling time is different from the Western Gregorian calendar, and suggested that both can be accepted and co-exist.  

Challenge 2000 also raised concern about the description of Matariki and Pleiades.  

“We have concerns at the description in Part 1, clause 3 of the Bill: Ko Matariki te ingoa   

Māori o Pleiades/Matariki is the Māori name for Pleiades. We think this would be better expressed that Pleiades is the Greek name for Matariki. In Aotearoa, Matariki is and always has been the name of the constellation. Describing it as a translation of Pleiades takes away from the mana of Matariki,” the Wellington-based rangatahi development agency said.  

According to the bill, for many Māori, the eastern pre-dawn appearance of Matariki in the winter sky, during the last quarter of the lunar month of Pipiri (June), marks the beginning of the Māori New Year (also known as te mātahi o te tau).  

This bill sets the dates for the Matariki public holiday from 2022 to 2052, and provides for future dates for the Matariki public holiday. 

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Rowena Orejana

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