Waitangi, Elephant in the Motu? – part ii

Waitangi Day is over for another year, the elephant didn’t exactly roar around the motu, but it made its presence known. The day was recognised in various ways. Many of us commemorated the signing where it all began, others in different settings around the motu, while the majority probably simply enjoyed the ‘free’ day.

the lower marae Te Tii

February 6th has yet to enter into the national imagination like Anzac Day, which many have adopted as symbolic of our national identity and as a metaphor for our ‘coming of age’ as a nation. I wish to question this perspective without at all diminishing the sacrifice of so many young Kiwis on that beach in Gallipoli. There was, truly, great trauma, woundings and death on that foreign soil. Instead I question the way so many revere Anzac Day, while comparatively few view Waitangi Day as significant.

I  noticed the somewhat cynical comments by the presenters of TV 1’s Seven Sharp. Mike Hosking referred to Waitangi Day as, ‘that annual ritual that masquerades as our national day, and which we brace for some level of upheaval and acrimony…’ His co-presenter, Toni Street continued, ‘And so we are braced, we are waiting for it all to hit the fan…’

So what about the ‘masquerade of Waitangi Day as our national day’? Does it deserve such condescension? What should a national day look like? These questions could yield a variety of responses, but for a good number of New Zealanders, Waitangi Day is a day worthy of commemoration. A brief glimpse at this year’s gathering reveals a little of ‘what the national day looks like’.

At Waitangi and its environs, thousands turned up to participate in a variety of activities over a three day period.  Hosted by Ngapuhi, the Crown and local residents, these thousands included the rich and the poor, Māori and Pākehā, the political elite, the young and the old. They included the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, and the leaders of the minor parties. The National Māori Council hosted a hui in their marquee with a variety of voices, including Sir Eddie Durie, Donna Awatere-Huata, Winston Peters, and Gareth Morgan, who amongst much good-natured banter covered a range of topics from Māori ownership of water, to Māori wardens and the current role of the Treaty.

Close by, anti-oil exploration protestors rubbed shoulders with John Key, curious bystanders and a benign police presence. Our own Karuwhā Trust marquee ensured that the contribution of early missionaries to the Treaty was not forgotten. The marquee, a few metres away from the spontaneous rapping of a member of the multi-talented Harawira whanau, hosted a variety of visitors and inquirers.

Discussions both informal and formal were held in Waitangi meeting houses, hotels, marquees and over cups of coffee, fried bread and raw fish. The Constitution, water ownership, the flag, the Treaty itself and the Black Caps’ chances in the World Cup were discussed and debated. People participated in the powhiri at Te Ti Marae, the Dawn Service and the later church service at Te Whare Rūnanga – the nation’s marae on the Treaty grounds. They watched the navy band, the flag being raised and waka being launched. Some bought stuff from the craft markets, Māori bibles from the Bible Society, while others protested in close proximity to those doing bombs off the bridge. Add to this, buskers, Ardijah on the main stage, swimming, sleeping on the beach and political fora against the backdrop of a sparkling Bay of Islands, and a glimpse of our national day can be seen.

Not a ‘masquerade’, and neither did whatever ‘hit the fan’, but it was a day of significance that provides an opportunity for our nation to commemorate, celebrate and also ponder how the Treaty relationship can be restored. This is a day of conversation that looks back, examines the present, and dreams about the Waitangi aspiration of unity or kotahitanga, spoken of 175 years ago by Lt. Governor Hobson in his famous words: He iwi tahi tātou! We are now one people! Not all the same – no – but all belonging to this land because of the Treaty’s invitation to be here and prosper here, together.

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Alistair Reese

Waitangi, the Elephant in the Motu

We've asked one of our trustee's, Alistair Reese 
for his whaakaro...

It’s that time of year again, when the ‘elephant in the motu’ makes its appearance. I am referring to the nation’s commemoration of Te Tiriti or the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6th. This year, however, the ‘elephant’ might trumpet more regularly because it happens to be 175 years since the signing, and perhaps even more importantly, because the Constitutional Advisory Panel’s recommendations on a Constitution, which were tabled in 2013, will be considered by the Crown. Although the Government has given no clear timetable yet for constitutional reform it is clear that the Treaty will be a major talking point. Indeed, one of the recommendations of the Advisory Panel to the Government is that it: ‘develops a national strategy for civics and citizenship education in schools and in the community, including the unique role of the Treaty of Waitangi, te Tiriti o Waitangi, and assign responsibility for the implementation of the strategy…’

A question. How will these recommendations be received by the wider populous?

Perhaps somewhat simplistically I suggest with regard to Te Tiriti, “the populous” might be characterized in the following way. To some, February 6th is simply an opportunity to enjoy a day free of work or school responsibilities, with scarcely a thought to the holiday’s raison d’etre.  I would call this group the agnostic or silent majority – without any clear perspective on Waitangi, and even an ambivalence towards the Treaty conversation.

The other two other groups hold stronger opinions; they are numerically less than the silent majority and occupy positions that are diametrically opposed to each other.

One of these groups, made up of mainly Pākehā and later settlers, holds that the Treaty is merely an historical or cultural artefact, and one which is presently an aberration in our national commemoration calendar. In their view, it privileges on the basis of ethnicity and has the potential to divide a nation that holds a proud record of race relations. The refrain from this group proposes that Waitangi is a Trojan horse for a system of apartheid in Aotearoa NZ – this narrative continues the negative tenor of the 1877 pronouncement by Justice Prendergast that the Treaty is a “simple nullity”, or Donald Brash’s 2004 Orewa Nationhood speech, where he iterated that the document had passed its ‘used by date’ and implies that it is an unsuitable reference point for any Constitutional discussions.

The third group – a mixture of Māori, Pasifika and Pākehā, argues that the Treaty is an inviolable document, the founding document of this land and one that is not only worthy of annual commemoration but one that needs to be at the centre of any Constitutional formulation. This position is exemplified by the Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson, who says: ‘The Constitution needs to fall out of the Treaty, not the other way around’. In other words the Treaty is the cornerstone from which any talks on the Constitution should proceed.  To use an analogy from te ao Māori, Te Tiriti is the tuakana, and the Constitution is the teina – the Constitution is the younger sibling that needs to acknowledge the Treaty’s elder status.

In my view the third group is on solid ground, for reasons that I shall explore in future posts. This February 6th, with many others, I shall make the annual pilgrimage to Waitangi to engage with ‘the elephant’ kanohi ki te kanohi. I look forward to hearing its sound. Perhaps I shall see you there!

Alistair Reese