May 13th, 2010
10:49 AM ET

New Zealand P.M. criticized for comparing tribe to cannibals

John Key made a joke at a dinner that one Maori tribe may have made him the main course.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was facing heavy criticism Thursday after making a cannibalistic comment about a Maori tribe for the second time in a week.

Key angered the Tuhoe, a tribe of Maori, on Monday after ruling out turning over part of a national park to the tribe as part of a treaty settlement, according to a Radio New Zealand report.

On Tuesday, during a dinner meeting with another Maori tribe, the Ngati Porou, Key said he was glad he was with them instead of with the Tuhoe, who would have made him the main course. He repeated the remark as a joke during a meeting with tourism officials in Auckland on Thursday.

"The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi, which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner, which wouldn't have been quite so attractive," Key was quoted as saying.

Asked later about the remark, Key said he was sure the Tuhoe would get the joke, Radio New Zealand reported. The prime minister’s office characterized the remark as flippant and light-hearted, according to a New Zealand Herald report.

Key later issued an apology. "Ah look, it was a light-hearted joke, a bit of self-deprecating humour - but if anyone is offended, then I deeply apologise," Radio New Zealand quoted him as saying.

But Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger wasn’t laughing or very forgiving.

"I'm just astounded that the prime minister can make light of what we regard as a very, very serious situation regarding ... our future relationships with the Crown. I don't think it's becoming at all of a prime minister," Radio New Zealand quoted Kruger as saying.

Kruger went further in the New Zealand Herald report.

"It gives me the sense that whatever we say or do he will never, ever take it seriously,” Kruger said in the Herald report. "He is affirming a rigidness which is not really in the spirit of good faith negotiations. He is really going to force Tuhoe into a position that makes us look like the bad guys.”

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Filed under: New Zealand
soundoff (282 Responses)
  1. imuststandup

    Mr. Ok Sounds good, "the same mentality", wehat do you mean? For the Tuhoe or the Aussie PM?

    May 13, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dan NZ

    @ 225
    since this is about New Zealand, I might as well mention that severall Northern Maori tribes declared independance and most of the 'invasion' was not an invasion at all, they liked making deals for land as they got blankets and guns as payment which they wanted so they could all go and kill eachother which they did. Each country has it's own history of colonisation and you can't lump them all together, and many were mutual with the native population, some even welcomed the Europeans.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ThrowMeaBone

    Such a dark topic... I prefer white meat, myself.

    Insensitive, yes. Worth spending any more time on? Defintely not. We have much bigger problems, folks.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ali

    To Joanna –
    It's easy to talk from where you sit – or stand – in America, just like in Canada, the natives who have been pushed aside were robbed of more than just their land – also of their pride. Do you think money solves every problem? Think again. I'll call racism by what it truly is – a superiority complex the conquering people – usually white europeans have and the belief that they really are better than non-whites. I don't believe in whining but I'd love to see some white people wear a brown skin for ONE DAY and see the looks – and ignorance you would encounter. Then maybe you'd 'GET IT'. Don't talk until you've walked a mile in someone elses shoes. Go and grab some integrity and do some thinking why don't you and join the HUMAN RACE.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AceRider

    Maybe he simply meant "they'd eat me alive" as in "they hate me and won't give me a break.

    I've said before when I'm in trouble with someone and not looking forward to the "grilling" that "he's going to eat me alive."

    Just because they are tribal, this has to be a racist joke? Was this tribe cannibalistic in the past?


    May 13, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Raul

    Good jokes – keep ' em coming.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Another Canadian

    Joanna – I am also a Canadian..a proud Canadian who is 100% ashamed of the comments you made. It is quite clear – you are a racist!

    You need to get a life

    May 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Matthew Hahn

    The tone is patronizing and typically used by those in power against those without. He did differentiate between two tribes, the one he was sitting and the one he was not. The problem with the post by Brad Lendon is that it offers no context as to why the visited tribe is requesting the land. Nor does it say why the PM declined it. This context would've helped explained the tone.

    One interesting thing we never think of is that the way we treat indigenous populations defines who we are as humanity. Historically the West has viewed indigenous groups as backward so that the subjugation/assimilation/annihilation of whatever group could happen for economic gain. Religions helped justify this as needed. Fortunately, we exist in a time where word carries as soon as it is said by our leaders. As we treat humanity so we are humanity.

    As to cannibalism, if it is practiced, it should be viewed as a crime, regardless of tribe, country, or custom. What the PM should do is say cannibalism must be abolished by the iwi and then we'll seriously consider what we can do here; if it's going on at all and unfortunately again Lendon provided no context.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan NZ


    No they don't still eat humans, and Tuhoe want their land back, well that's obvious right? Don't you think say the American Indians would want all of the USA back etc as a starting point? Same thing here, except in New Zealand, we are actually trying to deal with those claims, and give the land back, or provide monetary compensation. The reason it was rejected is that it is a national park, and this would create a 'floodgate' precedent in legal terms for future settlement claims.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. slozomby

    im sorry but if your tribe has a history of eating people you should expect to get cannibal jokes.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Avocado

    I would change the term prime minister to prime ribs.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John Q. Public

    Key's joke was awfully undiplomatic of someone who is supposed to be a diplomat. Shows how seriously human relations are taken by him and many who've commented.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    If you read the history of the Maori, they make Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer seem perfectly well-adjusted by comparison: Eating women and children during festivals and using body parts as furniture. Who would want to defend such brutal practices?

    Modern Germans make no apologies for the Nazis, and eagerly protest that they themselves are not Nazis. Any German claiming to be a Nazi today would rightly be shunned. Why hold tribes to lesser standards than we hold ourselves?

    May 13, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 1oneeyejeff

    I love his joke! That was great! That is a true fact – in the past, Polynesian people ate European ship wreck survivors on islands. Maori ate their own people during the Maori war. Europeans finally taught them a lesson to stop eating people and act civilized to become human beings. His jokes encouraged me to go to visit New Zealand! Keep up a good jokes!

    May 13, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    "So, it is ok to say in a meeting with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce that I am glad I am there and not in Germany because the only chamber I would get to meet with in Germany would be a gas chamber. Ha Ha Ha."

    It would be OK if the Germans still called themselves Nazis. Oh, that's right – most Germans are horrified by the Nazis and do not voluntarily associate themselves with Nazis.

    May 13, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
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