Published on Stuff
By Joel Maxwell and Virginia Fallon
6 February 2020
From the hopeful to the sad, from the irreverent to the reverential, and from both sides of the Treaty signatories table, we have spoken to eight prominent New Zealanders about what our day means.
The one thing the likes of Mike Smith, Jim Bolger, Jeremy Corbett and Mai Chen have in common, is a common desire to find the best way forward together.
Whether we are at Waitangi, or celebrating in our own corner of the country, in our own way – whether it’s just a day off work, a day with family, an opportunity to meditate on our founding document, or a fight for justice: however we spend it, Waitangi Day is our day.
Kua kōrero mātou ki ētahi tāngata rongonui mai i tēnei whenua, hei rongo i ō rātou whakaaro e pā ana te Rangi o Waitangi.
I te tirohanga tuatahi, he tāngata rerekē a rātou, ko Mike Smith, ko Jim Bolger, ko Jeremy Corbett, ko Mai Chen, me ētahi atu, engari he rite tō rātou hiahia ki te whai i te ara tika mō tātou katoa i tēnei whenua.
Nō reira, ahakoa ki ētahi tāngata i te whenua nei, he rangi mahi tonu; ki ētahi atu he rangi whakatā noa; ki ētahi anō he rangi whakahirahira – koinei tonu, tō tātou rangi, arā, ko te Rangi o Waitangi.
Mike Smith, lead chair of climate change iwi leaders group
We’re celebrating the agreement that was forged all those years ago, which was quite a visionary statement for the future of New Zealand.
If we’re celebrating, it’s about the fact that was done at a critical time where, when nations were forged and came together it was usually at the barrel of a gun, and that didn’t happen in 1840.
But of course it happened 20 years later when the Treaty of Waitangi wasn’t observed, so we’re not celebrating the fact that there’s been any adherence to it.
Having said that, Waitangi Day is not a day to resolve any of these issues – it’s a day to commemorate, to remember, to celebrate the positive aspects of the Treaty and I guess to reflect on how it all went wrong, and to remind ourselves that we need to get these relationships right if we’re to have justice in our society.
It’s kind of like what Independence Day is for the Americans. Whether or not New Zealanders as a whole give it that significance – let’s face it, there’s a lot of racism in this country, and I think that lies at the core of where the problems are, and there’s a lot of resentment, there’s a lot of misconstrued feelings that Māori are getting things that they’re not entitled to.
It’s been exploited ruthlessly by groups like Hobson’s Choice and Don Brash and his ilk, who ride that Pākehā backlash into political power.
But for me climate change is the biggest issue that mankind’s ever had to grapple with, and it’s a critical, life or death situation and so it somewhat relegates all these difficulties we have as humans living together and subsumes them to a certain degree.
I’ve been a Treaty activist all my life but some 10 years ago I decided to put that to one side and focus on just securing the future for our children and the space for them to carry on these discussions about nationhood and Māori rights.
Jim Bolger, former prime minister
The treaty is the founding document of New Zealand and any attempt to disagree with that is false.
Its high ambitions were unfortunately ignored from the beginning. If you go back to the signing of the Treaty which guaranteed Māori would retain the ownership of their land and water even a brief glance of history tells you that wasn’t honoured by the crown.
The grievances have been there for a long time and understandably so but we have been in the process since 1990 of more substantively addressing the issues.
We’re still working forward but there are still legitimate issues being raised and we need to address them with honesty and openness.
We’re on the right track and we’re well advanced but I welcome the fact we’re now going to teach an honest history of New Zealand’s colonial period. We certainly weren’t taught an honest history – or any history – when I went to school.
I grew up close to the great Pa at Parihaka and was never taught a word about the invasion and the removal of their leaders, a peaceful community.
The then-crown decided they wanted the land and these leaders in Parihaka were in their way so despite no confrontation from iwi – they offered them kai, these 1600 troops – they were arrested and locked in caves in Dunedin
Many aspects of our colonial history have been conveniently left to one side but now many of those will be aired, sometimes vigorously, at Waitangi events.
This Waitangi Day I’ll be at Government House. Of course in times past I was at Waitangi itself.
Meng Foon, Race Relations Commissioner, former Gisborne mayor and speaker of reo Māori
Waitangi Day is a very spiritual one for me because it allowed my parents to come to NZ, because of the Tiriti itself.
Having been involved in Māoridom I can feel their pain in terms of land loss and suppression of language but I’m very hopeful for the future in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal land settlements and the enhancement of language.
Its great to hear the Prime Minister say they’re going to teach New Zealand history which is very important and will help towards better understanding and hopefully less stereotyping and more harmonious communities going into the future.
This Waitangi Day I’m looking forward to the A Company Māori Battalion Museum opening on the fifth, I will be up at 5am to attend a karakia and the official opening.
For a number of years now I’ve had the honour to present a prayer in Chinese for the dawn service on the sixth, and I’m looking forward to the Labour Coalition cooking sausages for breakfast.
Then I’ll attend the iwi chairs forum to listen to their issues, making sure from a perspective of harmonious communities and human rights that all goes well and just enjoy the vista of Te Tii marae and pay my respects to the people who passed on.
I remember our school did Waitangi Day, I think we learnt about the history but only from one side, the Pākehā side, but its all different now. In high school I might have written one or two essays about it but it wasn’t as full on as it is these days with every town and city taking part.
If New Zealand is going to develop a constitution I think the 1835 and 1840 documents signed by the Crown and Māoridom themselves should be the foundation. It seems very sensible and very fair and we can all enjoy the fruits of our beautiful paradise here in Aotearoa.
Jeremy Corbett, broadcaster
My first thought with Waitangi Day is ‘day off’, obviously.
But I was thinking about this, and I do contemplate what it stands for, and what happened back in 1840 and the signing of Te Tiriti. Usually my next thought is ‘I need to find out more’.
Roughly, I know the clauses of the Treaty but subsequent to the signing I think there were wrongs that need to be righted, that as a country we’ve got that story of colonists taking over the indigenous people, and I feel very proud that New Zealand is addressing that – we’re taking steps.
It’s a day of celebration – but I hope we can celebrate it in a more guilt-free way later on once we come to terms, and all parties reach an agreement and acceptance and we can say ‘ok this was not the perfect forming of a nation but we’ve got a fantastic country’.
We are not there yet but I’m very proud that we’re having the conversation.
It is our national day but it’s also a time when I think maybe I need to see things from the perspective of people who protest, maybe they’ve got a point and I need to see things from their point of view.
It’s not a proud day where we show off to the world, it’s a bit more introspective than that.
On Waitangi Day I will be on a beach hopefully, enjoying the fantastic New Zealand summer, and I will raise a glass to New Zealand and hope that it doesn’t get torn apart; hope that it comes together.
Mai Chen, lawyer
Waitangi Day is significant for all New Zealanders and not only for Māori.
If we do not adapt fast enough to the growing size of the indigenous population and their growing legal rights under the Treaty of Waitangi, then we are going to get into a burning platform situation.
As Treaty settlements continue to be concluded, land and resources are restored and legal rights are created, Māori play an increasingly prominent role and exercise significant power in New Zealand society and business, central and local government and in the community.
Census 2018 also shows that Māori numbers have grown and the rate of intermarriage with tauiwi [non-Māori] has continued. The position of Māori in New Zealand has transformed and we need to adapt to better understand their culture, history, rights and aspirations for our nation’s success.
Otherwise, regardless of your view of the Treaty, you will not be able to accurately predict the consequences of your actions in business or in the community.
Wisdom is a prediction of consequences and it is hard not to get surprises without it. You have to know enough to understand what decisions will get a negative or a positive reaction from iwi and hapū. New Zealand will be less successful.
That is why I am spending Waitangi Day at Waitangi. As another Waitangi Day dawns at the start of this new decade, I know that I cannot succeed as a New Zealander, in business nor in the community without what I will learn about Māori culture, history, rights and aspirations by going there.
Georgina Beyer, Māori politician and world’s first openly transgender MP and mayor
Waitangi Day is obviously a day of celebration and reflection of our past, and how we have unified over decades – centuries really – to become the country that we are. I think it’s right to pause for that.
Looking into the future, I think it’s a huge opportunity for us all over the country to turn our minds off the drama up at Waitangi and to look at our own areas and find our own special ways of acknowledging, expressing and celebrating our national day.
It’s a day to honour our past – it has not been an easy journey, of course, but we have set a standard I think for how to resolve bicultural issues regarding First Nations peoples and colonisers.
We’ve come up with a fairly unique way of addressing, acknowledging and redressing some of the wrongs of the past. That is something we can all be proud of, because you look at other nations around the world, such as our closest neighbour: the Aboriginal situation is so vastly different to ours.
We came off the lucky ones, you mightn’t think so, sometimes, but we did.
The multicultural nature of our country now is also worth celebrating and it’s been exemplified by the Christchurch mosque response.
It was a huge example of this country putting aside any particular differences and focusing in on the welfare and wellbeing of people after that.
On Waitangi Day I will be going down to Wellington to seek out and enjoy some of the events on our waterfront. I’m sure the waka will be out in the harbour, although I won’t make the 5am dawn service!
Jeremy Wells, broadcaster
First and foremost it’s a holiday and a day off from work. It’s a pity it’s not on a Friday or a Monday – it’s weird how they put it on the sixth of February. I understand some people signed the Treaty on the sixth, I believe some people signed the Treaty quite a long time after that. It was written a bit before that.
So if we’ve decided we’re going to celebrate this particular day – obviously up in Waitangi there was a mass signing at that time – I reckon it would be great if Waitangi Day was celebrated on the first weekend of February, whenever that is.
I think the Friday is better than the Monday to be honest. And then you can always have a weekend, because this year, having it on a Thursday is crazy, it makes no sense at all.
I wasn’t there in 1840 but I would have loved to go back and have a look at what was going on. Obviously it was signed between the Crown and some iwi – not all iwi. So I imagine if you’re one of the iwi that didn’t sign the Treaty you’d feel pretty weird.
On Waitangi Day I’m doing Seven Sharp. I can’t wait to broadcast to the nation. Hilary and I will be working. I guess the news continues, we don’t get Waitangi Day off for Seven Sharp so I’ll be talking that up as a day in lieu.