Waitangi Day – not a day of celebration

The Waitangi Sheet of the Treaty of Waitangi, ...

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I’d like to tell you a story about Waitangi Day, when we first arrived in New Zealand.

We expected a big party, just like Canada Day.  After all, it was the day set aside to honour New Zealand’s birth as a nation.  In our experience, that’s what happened on national birthdays.

We found a single reference to a Waitangi Day party at a Marae nearby, and decided to go.  Bundled up The Boy (The Girl wasn’t born yet), and headed out early, thinking that parking would probably be horrible.

There was lots of parking when we got there, and we walked straight in. No one stopped us, but they did look at us very curiously. Our very white skin made us stand out in the crowd.

We were the only people of European descent there.  We were politely ignored unless we spoke to someone.  When we asked questions, they were answered quickly and incompletely. We managed to figure out that we were supposed to pay a donation at the door.  That we were supposed to bring our own chairs and food, although there was food to buy there.  That there would be entertainment on the stage, if we’d care to wait.

There were a few food stalls, a sunscreen stall (top up with sunscreen here!) a couple of stalls where you could buy pounamu (greenstone/jade), and another stall where some women were making harakeke (woven baskets and other items).  And one big stage.  Many people were sitting in family groups on the grass near the stage.

So we staked out a piece of grass and sat, and waited.

When the entertainment started, it wasn’t celebratory.  Or happy. It was full of anger, injustice, rage, unhappiness, sadness.

We didn’t stay long. We got home and explained our experience to Hubby’s parents, who then filled us in on the actual situation. And then, when I joined Playcentre, I learned more.

Waitangi Day is held in honour of the Treaty of Waitangi, or, Te Tiriti o Waitangi (in proper Te Reo Maori).

Notice I didn’t say “in celebration of.”

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a controversial document. First off, there are two versions of the Treaty. One is in English, and the other is in Te Reo Maori.  The translations do not match, in a serious way.  And the Tangata Whenua (People of the Land, or the Maori people) did not sign the English translation.

The English translation assumes that the Tangata Whenua, on signing the treaty, become English subjects, and are bound to give the Crown first right to buy their land.  The Te Reo Maori version grants the Tangata Whenua sovereignty, says they get to keep all their taonga (treasure), and that the English will protect them and their rights.

To the Tangata Whenua, the land is one of their treasures.  The English didn’t see it that way.

Since the Treaty was signed, the English did their best not to honour the treaty. They forced Tangata Whenua to sell land to them, or took it in land wars, and in general dishonoured the Treaty every way they could. The Treaty was even forgotten and was shoved in a corner somewhere, to be eaten by rodents.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Treaty was again given an honourable place, and European New Zealanders recognised that reparation must be made.

It is a long, hard fight.  Even understanding that the English side had not honoured the Treaty, the European New Zealanders have not always been properly understanding of what reparation means, and why it is important.

And that is why Waitangi Day is considered a day of protest, rather than celebration. Why the Hikoi (walk/hike) to the Waitangi treaty grounds on Waitangi day is sombre.

Why a couple of white kids who have no idea what’s going on are not completely welcome on a Marae on Waitangi Day.

And why we stayed home today, knowing it isn’t a day of celebration to most of the population of New Zealand.

Even still, Hubby & I sometimes feel that it’s a pity that the successes of New Zealand as a bicultural nation do not have a day when they can be celebrated. Preferably with fireworks, BBQ, parties, and fun. That would be a really happy thing.



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About Broot

Thoughts about learning and life that are lost in a sea of blogs.

4 responses to “Waitangi Day – not a day of celebration”

  1. Karen V says :

    What an interesting history. It seems to parallel the history of Native Americans and the English settlers. I can see why you would have felt awkward there! That was a few years ago what with the girl not even with you yet! Funny how quickly you learn & change. There must be some time of year there with fireworks, isn’t there? If not, you know where to find them – just time your visits back here for your kids’ winter breaks!!

  2. Lizbeth says :

    That is interesting and I can see where you’re coming from. Here in the State’s I can’t imagine not having the 4th of July. And gawd, I can just see your confusion going to the first event. That makes me uncomfortable for you just reading.

  3. ElizOF says :

    Love the story… very engaging.

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