Time to change Waitangi Day format

How rare it is to have a Waitangi Day go past without some sort of controversy. Whether it is grandstanding local Maori kicking up a fuss because they feel they have been hard done by a grievance settlement system; protests by disgruntled Iwi or a Marae trying to tell media how to cover this significant New Zealand anniversary, few in the last 3 decades have been wholly peaceful.

Some of the protest events have been entirely legitimate, reflecting concerns of the day about how the Treaty of Waitangi grievances settlement process is getting on. Some of the others were no more than adolescent males looking for a confrontation with the police, who for their part have done admirably, walking a fine line between keeping the peace and sending rowdies packing. The most notable incidents have involved nephews of former Maori Party Member of Parliament (and later Mana Party leader)Hone Harawira, who was expelled from the Maori Party for poor conduct and whose Mana Party was destroyed in the 2014 election.

And then there have been the Marae politics. Some have involved controversy as a result of politicians having speaking rights denied. Others involved misinterpreting the purpose of a powhiri (to welcome, and accept the welcome – not make a political discourse).

It is however quite improper to shut out the media on the most important day of the New Zealand calendar at the most important site in New Zealand. If the Marae kaumatua are not willing to permit streaming coverage going live on the internet and on the free to air channels, perhaps it is time to consider whether to change the format of the celebrations.

Whilst it would be a shame to do this, 06 February 1840 is New Zealand’s national day. There are 364 other days this year that there could be/could have been protests on.

I therefore propose that Waitangi Day becomes a travelling event, with the major marae in each of the large centres or a signifcant regional marae taking turns at playing the host. There are for example well organized celebrations at Okains Bay Marae on Banks Peninsula every year that are attended by hundreds. I am also quite sure that Ngai Tahu, Ngati Arawa, Tuhoe, Ngati Porou, Tainui, Ngati Tuwharetoa would be interested in having input into how national commemorations are run.

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