Reflections on the purpose of Waitangi Day


On 06 February 1840, British Commodore James Hobson, in a tent at the village of Waitangi in Northland, signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori tribes (Iwi) from around Aotearoa. Thus Aotearoa became New Zealand. 179 years later, as politicians converge for another Waitangi Day commemoration, I have been contemplating a what the day means to New Zealanders. And I have been wondering in particular what it means to those New Zealanders who were not born here, particularly those from countries with little or no British influence and might not understand “Britannia” in a historical context or Te Tiriti O Waitangi.

There are 365 days in a year, and the day most likely to draw Te Tiriti O Waitangi protests is – inevitably – going to be Waitangi Day. And this has me wondering what our ethnic communities think of Waitangi Day, what significance it holds to them as New Zealanders. Do they see the protests and get put off; is it just not relevant to them – and if it is not, what day on the New Zealand calendar IS important to them?

I think this is a conversation we as a nation need to have. New Zealand is more than a bicultural nation now – to call it bicultural would be to undercut the significant and ongoing contributions of communities of people from Pasifika, Latin American, African, European, north American, Middle Eastern, Asian nations.

Next week for example is the Chinese New Year. I have a colleague from China who brought dumplings in on New Years Day, which were delicious. And I have been invited to and had to very sadly decline an invite to attend Chinese New Year celebrations hosted by friends this Wednesday coming.

Others of you will have been invited to attend Diwali festivals and other cultural events of significance to particular nations, which have all looked great in the photos on Facebook. Others of you will have celebrated the national day of the country you are from.

I look at these and wonder what a single unifying day for New Zealand could be.

As New Zealanders we come together on A.N.Z.A.C. Day to commemorate our war time sacrifices. But A.N.Z.A.C. Day is not a day of celebration of who we are. It is a deliberately solemn day on the calendar to recognize some truly horrible sacrifices and hope that we learnt the lessons from them. Yet, this is the day of the year we seem to be closest to each other.

It also makes me ask questions about whether new comers to New Zealand are taught enough about us. We cannot blame them for any ignorance they might have if we don’t first teach them!

But how much do these communities know about Te Tiriti O Waitangi? Are we as the nation that these people are settling in doing enough to make them aware of our national day, and for that matter, given the beautiful kaleideoscope of diversity that we now have, can Waitangi Day actually be called a day for ALL New Zealanders?

I personally am starting to lean towards making Matariki a big thing on our calendar. There is nothing political about the Maori New Year – it is solely based on the Pleiades, a cluster of stars which appear in June. Waitangi Day is a day to acknowledge our past and the fact that we still have work to do, but Matariki could be a day to have all New Zealanders of all walks of life, ethnicities and so forth come together and celebrate all that is good and great about New Zealand.

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