Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Thoughts on Waitangi - Our National Day

In the wake of our national day in Aotearoa (New Zealand) I had some very interesting discussions with friends and whanau about Waitangi Day.

For my international readers, Waitangi Day is considered our national holiday - similar to Independence Day in the US or Canada Day for my Canuck friends.
The significance of 'Waitangi' is that it denotes both the place of signing, and the name given to our nation's founding document - The Treaty of Waitangi.

A few significant points were made to me by several different people in the wake of our latest national day. 

1. That people are sick of Maori protesting
My reply to this is - fine. be sick of Maori protesting. But before rejecting the images you see, and the words you hear, THINK about whether there is any justification for the protest.
Have there been injustices perpetrated? Has there been systemic assimilation of Maori, particularly through the early and mid 1900s? Are there elements of previous law and governmental decision making that run counter to the letter and intent of the treaty?
Yes, yes and yes.
So is protest justified?
Protest is also a vibrant and graphic example of our freedom. It is a clear and marked indication that we have, for the most part, a free and democratic country with freedom of speech and freedom of press. These two factors are really the ones that separate freedom from tyranny and so even if we don't agree with the message we can at least value the expression.

2. That we should have a 'true national day' (like Australia has...)
We HAVE a true national day....
It is called Waitangi Day and it celebrates the (albeit imperfect) founding of our nation and an agreement between the founding peoples of our nation to co-operate. What could possibly provide a better substitute?
The call often goes up for us to replace Waitangi Day with 'New Zealand Day'.
My question is why?
As mentioned we have a perfectly good national day that recognises the importance of Maori. I can only wonder whether it is the vestige of a desire to assimilate Maori and tikanga Maori that is lurking behind the desire to 'white wash' our national day.

Several people mentioned Australia Day as an example of a fun and festive national holiday that we could emulate...
Seriously? Would people really want to emulate the national celebrations of a nation that completely rejected the native populace in a systematic and entrenched culture of assimilation? (and ostracisation and destruction when assimilation was not an option.) Australia Day is really a celebration of white/settler Australia. It is not a day of cohesion for a nation, but one of division.

3. That people are sick of Maori being given 'hand outs'. 
Oh...that old chestnut. The cheeky hories are putting their hands out again...
Many pakeha have a latent fear that they will be put at an economic disadvantage if Maori are given land, money and resources.
Maori have traditionally been at an economic disadvantage due to many factors, not least of all loss of land and resources, underrepresentation in the early days of the colony and nation' and the cultural effects of having to fit into the supplanted British culture that took root here with colonisation.
Many pakeha further worry (in the case of land ownership) that they may be 'stolen from'.
This fear is not justified. The government won't allow wholesale taking of private land for treaty reparations. I have faith that the treaty process is, on the whole a fair and just one and that reparations are accorded where there have been injustices commited.
If you have been stolen from, or there has been nefarious (and illegal) activity that has caused you to be disadvantaged in some way, you would too seek reparations in court and no-one would say that in being given recompense you are getting a 'hand out'.
The treaty grievance process is analogous to this.

It's not a 'hand-out' (or the patronising term 'hand-up' - i.e. 'let's give the poor noble savage a hand'...) But is justified pay-back. Plain and simple. 

An interesting occurrence is happening now....
Iwi who have been beneficiaries of treaty settlements are beginning to reap the rewards of sound and solid investments.
There is a mistaken assumption on the part of many Kiwis that Iwi have squandered their settlements and misappropriated funds. But on the whole this is not a reflection of the truth!
And who hasn't made a bad investment here and there anyway? I certainly have made a few...(maybe my poor investments of the past were due to some of the tiny sliver of 'brown' genes of various types that I have inherited!)....
It smacks of bigotry when people assume that Maori and other groups who have traditionally been over-represented in poverty statistics are less able to succeed financially (leave the money making to pakeha and the touch-rugby to Maori).
I can see that there may be a rising 'white fear' in response to the growing wealth of Iwi. And sadly I have heard it said that this wealth is due to 'us' (who are 'us'? - I hope I'm not included in that) giving 'them' a hand-out.
Firstly this US and THEM mentality has to stop. We are one nation. We are ONE nation founded by an agreement between two peoples.

Assimilation and white washing do not make for unity - respect and diversity do. 

Secondly if by prudent investing an Iwi is able to increase their wealth base, then good on them! It certainly puts paid to the antiquated and racist notion that the noble savage is no good with his money.

Thirdly I have heard that at least one Iwi will be at a point soon of ensuring higher education for all it's members, and many are ensuring that money is invested in health initiatives. What a great example of collectivity and community! We could all learn something from that. Sound collective economic strategies to ensure that their community members are healthy and have greater knowledge and skills to succeed in the world - Tino pai!

We dishonour ourselves by not knowing, honouring and valuing the cultures that have made our nation what it is, and that can make it so much more. 
Aotearoa CAN be so much more than it is! We can be even more vibrant, more unique, and more wonderful in our mutual appreciation of one another. We can replace fear (from ignorance) with love and appreciation (from knowing). 
I think a lot of that appreciation needs to come as a result of pakeha learning more about NZ history, te reo Maori and tikanga Maori. Because if you don't, you're not a New're simply a settler. 

The Treaty - Super Brief
Te Tiriti o Waitangi was something of a rarity for the British Empire at the time and laid out an agreement between the signing tribes and the crown for co-operation in this new colony.
The reasons for this were many, and I am no historian - but there was certainly the desire by some of the Maori chiefs to ensure a greater degree of governance over the increasing numbers of settlers, rather than risk lawlessness on the part of Pakeha. The specter of French colonisation is also often quoted as a rationale behind the treaty - I think for Maori perhaps  a case of 'better the devil you know', and for the British a way to ensure Maori co-operation as allocating the resources for subjugation by force alone may have been too risky due to the already stretched nature of logistics and supply lines across an empire that literally reached around the globe.

Not all tribes signed, but within a fairly short time it became assumed (by the British at least) that New Zealand was a colony of the empire.

The treaty itself in brief allows the British government (now the NZ government as the crown) the right to rule New Zealand, whilst guaranteeing the use, ownership and possession of land and property (in the Maori language version of the treaty this definition is broader as 'taonga' or 'treasures') by the Maori owners, and imparts the full protection of the crown to Maori - with all the rights and privileges of British subjects.

That the treaty was almost ignored until the 1970s does not change it's crucial place in NZ history and that we should honour and value it now.
It may well be that many of the reasons behind the treaty- particularly from the crown point of view were a subterfuge to solidify power in New Zealand, BUT the document itself can still be taken as written, and not-withstanding it's imperfections, as a foundation of mutual co-operation and understanding.

The treaty, imperfect as it was has a kernel of co-operation and aroha that we can use as the basis for us to move forward as one.


  1. Hi,

    I will admit this a little negative as I was put off from the very first line when you said that NZ had just had "its national day". This is not true. The 1973 Act of Parliament created the public holiday on Feb 6 and renamed it from Waitangi Day to "New Zealand Day". This upset many people, including Maori and only 3 years later a new Act was passed changing the name back to "Waitangi Day". This in itself should be enough to express how strongly the vast majority people here feel that Waitangi Day is NOT "our national day".

    Interestingly it was the 1970's Labour Minister of Maori Affairs Matiu Rata (himself Maori) whom introduced the bill to Parliament to change the name to New Zealand day. This was an effort to diminish the aggravation of Treaty claims that he foresaw would pull Maori and non Maori apart, and allow a complementary relationship to develop between all New Zealanders on 'New Zealand Day'.

    He saw that it would be useful to separate the struggle over Treaty claims from the issue of a national day. He introduced two Acts, one was to change the name to 'New Zealand Day' the other was to create a new body to discuss Treaty claims in the correct forum, he called this new body "The Waitangi Tribunal" (now familar to us all). The two acts were intended to be complementary. The New Zealand Day name change was passed, but the Waitangi Tribunal would not come to exist until 1977 after the name had already been changed back to Waitangi Day and Maori protests had become the norm.

    So the original idea was good, defuse Waitangi Day by setting up the Waitangi Tribunal, and create a national day for all New Zealanders to do whatever they want, but specifically NOT focus on Treaty issues.

    Unfortunately this never happened and as a result it is called Waitangi Day and it is not our national day. It is now nothing but a platform for radical racist Maori separatists to get a day in the media spotlight.

    So, in my opinion, should we replace Waitangi Day? No. But we should have a completely separate day to be treated as a national day. Maybe the last Friday of each February. This will leave Waitangi day free for racist Maori separatists to protest all they want about whatever it is they are protesting about, I don't actually know because I along with most NZ'ers I stopped paying attention to them several years ago. I presume they want the mythical "us" to give "them" "their" country back.

    I know these protesters are a tiny tiny minority of Maori and are not mainstream, but they are the only thing that Waitangi Day is about now. So hopefully the media will stopping giving them air time and the current "Waitangi Protest Day" can fade away into a real national holiday of unity with genuine Treaty grievances going through the correct channel, the Waitangi Tribunal.

  2. I would say that the change to, and back again showed that many Kiwi (Maori and Pakeha alike) wanted to retain Waitangi as our national day in name and spirit. Why should it have to be NZ day as many still propose. I stick to my original point that Waitangi is significant.
    Treaty claims are in my opinion different to the celebration of the treaty itself as our national day.
    Treaty issues - if they still exist are in part because there has been a dishonouring of our founding document (not withstanding those who 'protest for protest sake'). Simply having a different national day will not serve any purpose other than to sweep the issue under the rug so that we can have a good ol' knees up. I dare say that it would become the object of even greater protest. I agree that we should celebrate our collective nationhood, but there will always also be issues to face up to.
    Waitangi in my humble opinion we can keep, warts and all, and celebrate in the manner that we each see fit.

    Thanks Chris - I always appreciate your comments mate, and although we may have slightly differing opinions on this I think that we, in the main, sing from the same song sheet!

  3. Hi,

    I am doing an assignment entitled "in what ways did the welfar state improve Maori social conditions"..I am going to quote u on a couple of sentences u mentioned above. I hope that is ok, Thank you. You are so insightful look forward to ur future posts.

  4. Hi Schanelle, thanks for your feedback!..And of course you can quote me. I'm honoured.
    Aroha nui e hoa :)