Waitangi Day or Aotearoa Day?

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a big deal in New Zealand’s history as well as at present. Annual commemorations and celebrations and discussions and debate are an important tradition, as well as a way of trying to deal with things better now and in the future.

A problem though is that most of the attention is in Waitangi, in the far north of the country. And most of the interest and involvement seems to be from far north Māori , Nga Puhi. Many New Zealanders see it mainly as a Northland thing in the main.

I think that Waitangi Day will and should continue. But do we also need a more general, national celebration, perhaps an  Aotearoa Day?

Incidentally Waitangi means ‘weeping waters’, although most of the annual commemorations there are positive, despite protester and media efforts to highlight tioronei hoki tōna reo and ki ngā niho e tetē haere ana (that’s supposed to mean speaking in strident or shrill voices, and gnashing of teeth).

Waitangi Day is supposed to be ‘the national day of New Zealand’.

NZ History:

Every year on 6 February, New Zealand marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In that year, representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs signed what is often considered to be New Zealand’s founding document. The day was first officially commemorated in 1934, and it has been a public holiday since 1974.

For some people, Waitangi Day is a holiday; for many, and especially for Māori, it is the occasion for reflecting on the Treaty. Since the 1970s the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day have been influenced by the increasingly heated debate surrounding the place of the Treaty in modern New Zealand.

Waitangi Day is recognised as New Zealand’s national day, but the long-standing tensions associated with it are always likely to surface in one form or another. The date is an important marker in the country’s history. Recognition of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation’s founding document will continue to encourage leaders, communities and individuals to mark the day in new ways.

Wikipedia:

Waitangi Day is the national day of New Zealand, and commemorates the signing, on 6 February 1840, of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ceremonies take place at Waitangi, Northland to commemorate the signing of the treaty, which is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document.

It may officially be recognised as our ‘national day’, but it doesn’t have a national feel about it for me, and I think probably for many if not most New Zealanders. It is more a distant gathering albeit with some national significance.

The first Waitangi Day (NZ History):

In 1932 Governor-General Lord Bledisloe gifted the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi to the nation. He hoped that the site would become a national memorial, symbolising that the Treaty of Waitangi had initiated a unique relationship between the indigenous and the colonising peoples.

In February 1934 Bledisloe’s gift was marked by celebrations. A pattern for subsequent events was set. It involved two sites – the Treaty House grounds (where the whare rūnanga would be built) and Te Tii marae close by – several organising bodies (Māori, Pākehā and government), and Bledisloe’s prayer that ‘the sacred compact made in these waters may be faithfully and honourably kept for all time to come’. A second prayer hoped that the two races might unite as one nation through Christianity – Bledisloe’s interpretation of Lieutenant-Governor Hobson’s words at the 1840 signing, ‘He iwi tahi tātou’ (Now we are one people).

The Christianity goal seems to have largely been dropped, fortunately.

The events had special meaning for many as they looked back to their independent status before the signing of the Treaty: 1834, when northern tribes chose a national flag at Waitangi, and 1835 when they issued a Declaration of Independence.

Māori and Pākehā perceptions of past and present events were clearly at variance in 1934. Waitangi became a stage on which the interplay of relationships – past and present – was repeated.

1940 Centennial

In 1940 New Zealand marked the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The government made a great show of national pride and unity at Waitangi. Newspapers talked of Waitangi as the ‘cradle of the nation’ and the Treaty as the ‘foundation of nationhood’. The Treaty and Waitangi began to find a place in the national consciousness, although for most New Zealanders they were of historical interest only.

Post-war

The annual ceremonies at Waitangi expanded through the 1950s. Thousands attended, and the governor-general’s speech became a feature. Forging one nation from the partnership of two races by a sacred compact was a common theme, but the often expressed ideal of ‘one people’ provided an excellent opportunity for Māori to protest at the shortfall between promise and practice in race relations.

Waitangi Day Act 1960

In 1957 the Labour Party promised that 6 February would be declared a public holiday in view of the Treaty of Waitangi’s historical significance and its influence on Pākehā–Māori relations. Labour won the 1957 election and the four Labour Party Ratana Māori MPs (Tiaki Ōmana, Tāpihana Paikea, Iriaka Rātana, Eruera Tirikātene) tried to hold it to its promise.

The Waitangi Day Act 1960 declared that 6 February would be known as Waitangi Day, and would be observed throughout the country ‘as a national day of thanksgiving in commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi’. The act did not provide for a public holiday, although any locality could substitute Waitangi Day for any public holiday it already observed.

Northland Anniversary Day

 In 1963 the National government passed the Waitangi Day Amendment Act. Waitangi Day now supplanted the Auckland provincial anniversary day for Northland. This reinforced identification of the day with the north.

New Zealand Day – “a day for each New Zealander to enjoy as they saw fit”

The Labour government made the most of Waitangi Day 1973, with Prime Minister Norman Kirk announcing that from 1974 it would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day.

Minister of Māori Affairs Matiu Rata, who had introduced a private member’s bill for this in 1971, indicated the government’s intentions. The day, he said, was to be neither ‘a symbolic nor religious occasion’ but a day for each New Zealander to enjoy as they saw fit, and the forerunner of an effort to achieve a ‘full sense of nationhood’.

Rata was also working towards making legislative provision for the Waitangi Tribunal in the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. He saw that it would be useful to separate the struggle over Treaty claims from the issue of a national day. The two acts were intended to be complementary.

A New Zealand Day, still on 6 February and with a wide appeal, might build public support for Māori Treaty rights, especially if communities became more informed about the Treaty’s part in New Zealand history.

Kirk wanted the first New Zealand Day in 1974 (which involved a royal visit) to acknowledge the country’s multicultural identity. A two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza was organised, watched by 20,000 people at Waitangi and screened on television.

The show, Aotearoa, depicted the country’s journey towards nationhood and the part played by people of many cultures.

Waitangi Day again

New Zealand Day 1975 passed quietly at Waitangi, perhaps because of Norman Kirk’s recent death. Elsewhere there was little of the celebration of the national day by local communities that Labour had hoped for.

The concept of a national day needed time to take root. It was not to be given this by the National government that took office at the end of 1975. The Waitangi Day Act 1976 reinstated the name Waitangi Day. The government argued that a number of representations had emphasised that the name recognised the significance of the Treaty and its spirit.

The name change repositioned the public holiday as a Māori–Pākehā event – no matter what the content of commemorations – and underscored the likelihood that Waitangi would continue to be the focus for protests.

From 1975, the organisation of annual events reverted, in the main, to northern groups, and the day was very much a northern affair, despite the national holiday.

And that is largely how it is today. There are more events marking Waitangi Day around the country, but they are either unknown or ignored by most people.

The 1990 sesquicentennial

New Zealand marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990. The 1990 Commission, in charge of co-ordinating and promoting activities for the sesquicentennial year, was convinced that the Māori–Pakehā partnership concept had to be broadened to embrace the many cultures of the nation. The Treaty and Waitangi Day had their place, but they were not the only factors in the national identity equation.

Protesters were not absent, but it was Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa Whakahuihui Vercoe who made the most telling public statement. His speech signalled that no matter what the programme, the day was bound to produce tensions.

Those tensions have continued. For some it is more a day of expressing grievance than of expressing national unity.

The pattern of attendance by dignitaries, speeches and Māori and navy involvement at Waitangi resumed after 1990. There was no clear vision of what the day would mean were it ever to be a day for the nation as a whole; it often proved difficult to co-ordinate the various players in the event.

The Waitangi National Trust Board saw the day as the one time in the year when New Zealanders could be one people.

The formal Waitangi Day programme in 1991 and 1992 was intended to reflect the Māori–Pākehā partnership of tangata whenua (people of the land) and tangata tiriti (people of the Treaty), the latter being a concept that aims to give non-Māori partners a feeling that they have a right to call New Zealand their tūrangawaewae (a place to stand).

That didn’t really work out, there have been tensions, issues and protests since then, often political in nature.

The difficulties associated with events at Waitangi and Te Tii marae raised questions about whether official commemorations should continue to be held there. Cabinet decided that in 2001 there would be no official representation at Waitangi, but, in the end, two cabinet ministers were present.

The Crown returned to Waitangi in 2002, with the governor-general, attorney general and prime minister all in attendance. Protesters disturbed the welcome at Te Tii marae and an early church service in the whare rūnanga on the Treaty House grounds, but other events were held in a celebratory atmosphere.

Protests have continued at Waitangi, and the prime minister has not always attended events there on Waitangi Day.

Last year new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a big impression at Waitangi Day, but Leader of the Opposition Bill English stayed away. Not long after that Simon Bridges replaced English as Natikonal’s leader.

This year Bridges has taken part in Waitangi events alongside Ardern. Perhaps this marks a change for ongoing unity.

Moves to commemorate Waitangi Day across New Zealand have expanded in the early 21st century. Functions and events are now held throughout the country.

Māori communities have used the day as an opportunity to discuss the Treaty. Some marae hold open days or run talks on the place of the Treaty in New Zealand. New Zealanders elsewhere also now mark the day. There have been concerts in London, as well as less formal activities.

But it is still largely a Northland event, dominated by far north Māori and politicians, and a magnet for protesters wanting to attract attention.

Waitangi Day has changed a lot over the years since it started ion 1934. perhaps it will eventually evolve into more of a national day. Or perhaps it will always be just Waitangi Day, largely about the Treaty of Waitangi.

So should we also have a national Aotearoa Day at a different time of year?

Leave a comment

25 Comments

  1. Griff.

     /  6th February 2019

    meh
    The hype is over the top in just a week we will forget the Treaty crap for another year.
    It does seem a little more inclusive now that horrid mofo’s family is out of the loop.

    Reply
  2. adamsmith1922

     /  6th February 2019

    It is a day ofter dominated by grievances and when politicians, of all stripes, genuflect to the Māori minority and proclaim we are a bi-cultural society. It is the time of year when politicians spray money over Māori, especially in the North – but usually to no discernible benefit to society as a whole.

    We need a separate day where, much like July 4 in USA or Bastille Day each place celebrates and there’s a sense, even if only fleetingly, of one country. However,it’s unlikely to happen.

    Reply
    • I don’t see it happening either, at least in the next few years.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  6th February 2019

        I’d hate to see a cringe-making 4th of July clone here.

        Reply
        • High Flying Duck

           /  6th February 2019

          Why celebrate, when we can air dirty laundry and grievance for slights past.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  6th February 2019

            The American flagwaving and self-congratulation as people tell themselves how great their country is and put their hands on where they think that their hearts are is quite sick-making.

            Bastille Day celebrates the beginning of an era of mass murder !

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  6th February 2019

              ..especially when the face is screwed up and it looks as if the person has terrible indigestion.

              It looks even sillier when people here ape it, especially when they have that indigestion expression.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  6th February 2019

    Hobson’s Day – for one people.

    No, that will never work. Too many will lose their sinecures.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th February 2019

      Hobsons Pledge…Brash’s vehicle…Buckley’s Choice.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  6th February 2019

        Squirrel.

        Reply
      • Mother

         /  6th February 2019

        People are down on Christianity because it is misrepresented and misunderstood. Christians are the only people whose God died to save them. How sad, weak, silly, unnecessary, ungodlike is that?

        To the Christian, His death is everything – and very understandable. To those who don’t get it, respect is all that’s needed.

        We will never get unity between our races, nor safe decisions for our future until we have leaders who understand the historical significance of Christianity in the world, and especially in Aotearoa.

        Ratana did a lot of historical damage in the misrepresenting stakes. As far as I can tell, so are all the protestant denominations at this time. (And for the record, since (I think) Gezza will want to know, Catholicism is not Christianity – and I won’t be drawn into discussion about that on YourNZ.)

        It’s time for a new reformation Christians and Christian sympathisers. Let’s become known as the Uncomplaining Courageous. You don’t even need to be one to be one. You just need to be a critical thinker.

        I’d like to see us enjoy Aotearoa Day every day. I think it’s possible. I think, in general, this is what people quietly aim for in their private lives. The trouble is, we will fail if we don’t address the Christianity issue individually.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  6th February 2019

          I believe that all religions are basically aiming at the same thing (sorry, Mother) as you would see if you visited my house.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  6th February 2019

            I should have said real believers who live good lives, not nutters like the Westboro Baptists, extremists of all religions and devil worshippers.

            Reply
        • Gezza

           /  6th February 2019

          (And for the record, since (I think) Gezza will want to know, Catholicism is not Christianity – and I won’t be drawn into discussion about that on YourNZ.)

          I am well aware of what Christianity is, Mother. Being raised a Catholic didn’t prevent me from learning about & preferring some other Christian sects, nor from reading & researching the genesis and development of the Bible with an open, educated, rational and inquiring mind.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  6th February 2019

            It most certainly is; it came after the Orthodox Church, long before Protetantism was a twinkle in Martin Luther’s eye.

            Reply
  4. PDB

     /  6th February 2019

    Call the day whatever you like as most New Zealanders see it as just a paid day off work & yet another reason to avoid the MSM.

    Reply
    • High Flying Duck

       /  6th February 2019

      Don’t care about the name as long as the weather is like today every year!

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  6th February 2019

        Except in Nelson; what a dreadful thing.

        Reply
        • High Flying Duck

           /  6th February 2019

          Correct. Hot is good. That hot…is not.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  6th February 2019

            The downside of hot and dry.

            Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  6th February 2019

            I once had a scrub/bush fire near me, and although it was nothing like the Nelson one, not in the same league, it was frightening enough to give one an idea…the smoke and stink of burning were awful if anyone was outside, and came into the house even with doors and windows shut. It was close enough to see, but not to be a danger, but was still unnerving.

            Reply
  5. Kitty Catkin

     /  6th February 2019

    Aotearoa Day doesn’t sound right, too many vowels.

    Reply
  6. Zedd

     /  6th February 2019

    I still remember it being called “NZ day” (Norm Kirk ?)

    what ’bout : ‘kiwi iwi day’

    Reply

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