A New Zealand Maori leader who was ejected from parliament this week for refusing to wear a necktie in the chamber said forcing him to a Western dress code was a breach of his rights and an attempt to suppress indigenous culture.
On Tuesday, Speaker Trevor Mallard twice prevented Rawiri Waititi from asking questions in the debating chamber, insisting that MPs could only ask a question if they were wearing a tie.
When Waititi continued with his question after being stopped a second time, Mallard ordered him to leave.
“It’s not about ties, it’s about cultural identity, mate,” Waititi said as he exited the chamber.
The New Zealand parliament is the most inclusive ever elected in the country. Nearly half of the 120 seats in parliament are held by women.
It has a 21% Maori representation. The parliament saw its first MP of African origin and of Sri Lankan origin after the election last October.
Waititi, who has called ties “a colonial noose,” was told last year that he would be ejected from the House if he did not wear one. On Tuesday, he wore a taonga, a Maori greenstone pendant, instead.
Mallard said on Tuesday that while ties were outdated in his view, an overwhelming majority of members asked that the rule be retained in consultations on the issue in the last few months.
Writing in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday, Waititi said his action was not about ties, but about the right of Maori to be Maori, whether in Parliament or in the pub.
“I took off the colonial tie as a sign that it continued to colonize, to choke and to suppress out Maori rights that Mallard suggests gives us all equality,” Waititi said.
“This is about more than just the tie or the taonga, this has everything to do with equality.”
Asked to comment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that it was not something she had a strong opinion on, and that she had no objection to someone wearing a tie in parliament or not.
“There are much more important issues for all of us,” Ardern said.