Topic: Politics

Bridges responds to criticism surrounding his Māori heritage

By Talisa Kupenga

National's first Māori leader Simon Bridges is being questioned about the authenticity of his Māori heritage. He's the first Māori in history to be elected leader of a major New Zealand political party.

Simon Bridges the Māori who won the National leadership race.

"Look I'm excited about the opportunity that I've got ahead I hope Māori are proud of me," he says.

His Maniapoto ties to King Country stem from his father.

“My grandmother was Ngaku Joseph and she grew up in Oparure not far from Waitomo.”

But Bridges, the youngest of six, grew up an urban Māori in West Auckland.

“[I can’t do my pepeha] but the hapu there is Kinohaku and a number of great people, whether it be the Weteris the Te Kanawas or the Josephs which is myself, my middle name, in fact, is Joseph which harks back to that. My middle son, I have two sons and a daughter, Harry Joseph also has that name so we keep that tradition alive." 

He's drawn attention and criticism for identifying as Māori. 

"My view frankly is whilst it's highly desirable to speak Te Reo, while it's highly desirable the more of one's whakapapa that you know, actually if you don't, if you're like me and grew up in West Auckland and perhaps you haven't acquired those skills, it's not to say you shouldn't, but I don't think that makes you less Māori."

He was also heavily criticised for supporting offshore oil exploration in the Raukumara basin and ranges, prompting Rob Ruha to write his song 'Swing Tag'.

Bridges says, “I think Tiki Taane did as well actually so I've been immortalised in a couple of songs.

"People have different views and I understand that and our environment is incredibly important and I've signalled I want to emphasise that more as leader of the National Party."

So what can Māori expect from the new leader?

Bridges says, "This is not a case of first Māori leader of a major party saying 'ok we'll accept everything we're told' by anyone who's Māori not at all but I think they can expect someone who stands on a proud track record of former National Governments doing some very significant things for and with Māoridom and that to continue thoughtfully."

Bridges says he aspires to meet more with Māori leaders around the country to be an effective leader of the Opposition.