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At its signing, Pākehā lauded the Treaty of Waitangi as the greatest philanthropy to protect Māori. We were "he iwi tahi tatou" – one people. Those solemn guarantees proved less substantial than dew on the grass as war, confiscation, bounties on heads in the Taranaki, summary executions in the Ureweras and a litany of unjust legislation denuded Māori of land, mana and dignity. Rats nibbled stored Treaty parchments.
Thus was smoothed the pillow of a dying race. In 1890, Pākehā seeking identity separate from Britain revitalised the Treaty through a grand quinquagenary.
The Treaty house was gifted in 1934. Six years later a centenary predicated upon false racial harmony adopted God of Nations and erected a flagpole on the exact spot of the signing although no one knew precisely where that was.
Annual celebrations began in 1960. Waitangi is now a public holiday. The contradiction between the annual pantomime and the reality for Māori made inevitable that Waitangi would become the focus of Māori discontent and so it has been.
Ngā Tamatoa initiated protests in 1971. Dun Mihaka showed his bum to Prince Charles. Pakeha Christians once prostrated themselves before God and the police, who quickly re-prostrated them into paddy wagons. A dignified Archbishop Vercoe told royalty Māori were marginalised.
Hone Harawira and Wira Gardiner jostled chest-to-chest over the Fiscal Envelope. Tame-iti trampled the Blue Ensign and spat with great accuracy and even greater aplomb in the direction of Prime Minister Jim Bolger. A protestor was jailed presenting a souvenir t-shirt to the Queen. Titewhai Harawira made Helen Clarke cry and Jenny Shipley glow. Don Brash got a pie in the face for slinging mud. The choices we make on this special day reflect the sense we have of our place in New Zealand.
Many flock to the pomp and ceremony of the Treaty grounds. The navy parade around the flagstaff, waka cruise the bay. Some Pākehā pilgrimage in pursuit of the spirit of Waitangi, others are protest voyeurs, some just horrified. Many attend local body-organised family days. Ngāti Whātua regularly hosts 20,000. The Canterbury event at Akaroa marked its 20th year. There was a party in London. Mozzies celebrated in Australia.
Gisborne went with a multicultural theme. The embracing of the day by immigrants, Pasifika and Asian communities with their lesser Pākehā-Māori baggage and enthusiasm as new citizens adds calm and reinforces their place in the tapestry of our nation and the multicultural fibre that binds it.
Others chill at home. Some go fishing. There is also debate.
By symbolism and location Te Tii marae is the focal point of the big questions. Did the Treaty cede sovereignty, are settlements too little or too much, should the Treaty be constitutional entrenched, why do some Pakeha want rid of it, keep the Maori seats or nuke them, why did previous government oppose the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, what underpinned the Ruatoki raids and, this year, a 6,000 page document few have read.
The waters of Waitangi wept this year as John Key was simultaneously invited and uninvited and then sensibly withdrew from the northern celebrations leaving a loyal lieutenant to take one on the jaw for the team. Editorials and columns have admonished the chaos, reviled the rhetoric and lamented a lack of spirit and mana.
But that is Waitangi. Protests will continue and for important reasons. Without them we would not have the historical settlements, kohanga reo, Māori TV and a burgeoning Māori economy. Te reo Māori would not be an official language and the New Zealand and Rangatiratanga flags would not fly side-by-side on this best of special days.
Protest will subside when Māori are equal. A settlement for Ngāpuhi will help. They are criticised for being divided. The reality of our largest tribe is more complex. Many sub-tribes are larger than other iwi.
The Hokianga has more marae-based communities than many tribes have in total. Grievances pre-date other's claims and by some margin. Ngāpuhi will get there.
After 176 years, we need patience and maturity. Waitangi Day is our national day. Forget the impertinence of those who suggest a different New Zealand Day. Imperfect as it is immutable, Waitangi mirrors our growing pains as one nation, two peoples and many cultures. And as Steven Joyce might say there is something for everyone.
Professor Rawiri Taonui is the Head of School for Te Pūtahi a Toi – School of Māori Art, Knowledge and Education at Massey University.
Created: 18/02/2016 | Last updated: 18/02/2016
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