Plenty of experts will tell you about what Matariki ‘means to us’. Here’s what it means to Ardern.
Prime Minister Ardern is the set piece queen. When there are highly concentrated media moments, she and her staff are the best I’ve seen here at commanding and delivering the media cycle. Arguably too good. Whether it be one of the multiple crises that have befallen this government, appearances on Colbert, or a speech at the United Nations, she is the best of the small state leaders in the world today. Matariki is now precisely one of those set pieces.
The state funding in advertising, events, and public education programmes is having a big impact this weekend. It has extended to all public departments and by extension to the massive companies that support them. Hundreds of thousands of business team briefings this week have had solid Matariki acknowledgement and education slots. Ardern has made a new ANZAC Day and the state machinery will by necessity profile her across dozens of shining occasions. Key didn’t get close to this. Matariki is Ardern as star.
For Ardern Matariki is a political inhale moment. She reshuffled her Cabinet last week. She is gearing up her team for major legislative contests in water and in resource management. Her future has the next election starting to light the horizon. Whether this translates to a reset in public attitude to Ardern, well, maybe not this year but it will build.
Matariki is a popular and populist delivery for Ardern’s powerful Maori caucus. While there will remain a rump Euro resentment of Maori culture, Matariki is a near-perfect elision of the Undead Queens’ Birthday with something local requiring ever-deeper local knowledge. It sets Maori understanding into state permanence. It matches in time and in emphasis the major shift in the history curriculum in New Zealand education. Matariki will make resistance to the water reforms just a little harder.
It does not matter that it is a day manufactured out of nearly nothing.
It matters that Matariki redefines for Ardern how she leads us.