Waitangi Day: It's Time to Listen

Waitangi Day: It’s Time to Listen

For some, Waitangi Day will be defined by beach barbeques, family picnics, a day off work or time-and-a-half pay. Kiwis will enjoy long-weekend road trips, crates of draught beer and fish and chips in the sun. It’s a chance to reconnect with family and friends and celebrating what is means to live in New Zealand.

For others like myself, it’s a day of whanau huis (family meetings), Prime Minister speeches and welcome hakas. Activism, protests, and raising flags. Tossing dildos, throwing mud, wet t-shirts to the Queen’s face. Speaking rights, opinion pieces, attempts to rebel against ignorance.

There are two sides to Waitangi day, even though many feel too uncomfortable to acknowledge it. It’s a day full of mixed emotions running from pride, shame, anger and nostalgia, to indifference. This is one day of the year where the opportunity to redefine the narrative is available, where there is space to bring attention to issues we would much rather keep swept under the rug.

Wait, New Zealand has some of the best race relations in the world, right?

Well that depends on who you’re asking.

Waitangi Day is the annual commemoration of the moment the Crown and Māori signed The Treaty of Waitangi. Or so we are taught in school. The reality is that each party signed a different Treaty, with Māori believing that Te Tiriti – the version of the treaty the majority of rangatira (chiefs) signed – was going to ensure their land, power and rights would stay firmly within their control. Unfortunately, the last 178 years has proven that to The Crown, Te Tiriti was simply a tool to acquire another island to add to the empire.

It all began in the 1840s: the boats, the Pākehā (others), the land ‘acquisition’. While it would be easier and far more comforting to believe that here in 2018, New Zealand has progressed to a place where saying we’re “one nation” means we’re equal, hope and reality are two very different things.

As much as mainstream media would like to convince you our past never happened, colonisation is an ongoing process. Colonisation involves real people, has real effects, and real disadvantage. And this is why Māori protest.

New Zealand media has, whether purposefully or not, constructed a narrative of “us” and “them” come Waitangi Day: the Kiwis, who just want to enjoy their national day, and the bitter Māoris, mucking it up for the rest of us.

The New Zealand Herald’s ‘no protest zone’,  Mike Hosking’s ‘No Point Celebrating Waitangi Day’ and Duncan Garner’s ‘Te Tii Marae can stick it where the sun don’t shine’ highlight the ignorance that surrounds our knowledge of Waitangi. These articles also highlight the fear that comes with a threat to privilege. Māori are presented in the typical dichotomy – good or bad – depending on whether they choose to behave and go with the colonial status quo, or to protest. Those who choose the route of most resistance earn themselves a front-page seat – framed as angsty, ungrateful and a stone in the shoe of an otherwise commemorative day.

But everything happened a long time ago right? There are settlements and university scholarships, what more could we need? We live in a beautiful nation with Māori place names, and some Te Reo taught in schools. What could there be to complain about? How could we possibly improve? Why should “we” keep paying for what happened long ago?

Well, there’s the fact that our ex-Prime Minister puts the onus on our indigenous people to retain their language after decades of state enforced assimilation. How Māori remain at the lower end of most major socio-economic markers. Let’s not forget about the way the “norm” of being a kiwi is developed around the views of the majority. There are rising prison populations, economic disparities, health inequality, high crime rates and a struggle to regain not only what once physically belonged to Māori, but major aspects of New Zealand culture that defines us as a people.

For us Māori, Waitangi Day is a poignant reminder that these issues are not coincidental, they stem from the disparities in the two treaties, they stem from a process designed to do exactly what was achieved.

This is why Māori protesting on Waitangi is so integral. The tradition of protest in New Zealand is a part of our culture. It has given women benefits previously reserved for men, it has solidified workers’ rights and has set us apart from the rest of the world in so many social, environmental and economic issues. To believe that Māori do not have the right to protest, do not have any reason to protest or are ungrateful for protesting is just another way to invalidate the rights, trauma, and views of our indigenous population.

The protests are about getting recognition for injustice, and working towards reconciliation of what was promised and what was stolen. It’s not about “white guilt”; it’s about the Crown’s obligations. The texts do not mean the same thing, which puts into question whether or not it even legally allows the Crown to do what it does.

Perhaps that’s why we dig our feet in, and do our best to remain in ignorance – maybe it’s too hard to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, the very foundations of the nation we so proudly call home, are invalid, or worse – never existed in the first place.

The only way to really honour our nation on Waitangi Day, is to honour the document that started it all. The document centred on friendship, reciprocity and a desire to live together in this beautiful land we call home. The real strength of a nation is found when it is willing to relinquish power back to where it came from. Ready to share, and create a common narrative, without fear of losing privilege. It is time to honour Te Tiriti – the original document, the legally valid document – by listening this Waitangi Day.

Let us give space to push back against the myths we cling to. Let us earn our reputation as a country with great race relations. Let us not shy away from the conversations that need to be had and move past uncomfortable together. Let us use this day to become the nation we were intended to be.

Until then, Waitangi Day will continue to celebrate one history – the colonial one.

Cover by Daniel Jacobs