Let's be proud of our legacies

DAVID SHEARER
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013

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OPINION: Waitangi Day can be changed to make it more of a celebration and less of an argument, argues Labour Leader David Shearer. 

"Happy Waitangi Day." That's not something you hear many people say. I'd like to hear it more.

On Waitangi Day most Kiwis opt for a barbecue, go to a concert or take the chance to go to the beach like any other day off. They make a point of making the day quite ordinary, and I understand why.

They don't see the appeal of a celebration if it's going to be a day where the focus is on argument and protest. But what we have had does not have to be what we will have forever.

I believe Waitangi Day is special - it's our national day. We should make more of it. We should celebrate it properly. All over the world, countries celebrate their national day. Surely we have as much - or more - to celebrate as they do.

So, here are a few suggestions of how we might make it more special.

Our most special award, the Order of New Zealand - given to only 20 living New Zealanders - should only be awarded on Waitangi Day.

Let's move our New Year's honours. Let's announce those who have made a contribution to our country to Waitangi Day when we're already focused on what makes New Zealand great rather than in the middle of a time when we're all on holiday.

And, while we're at it, let's announce the New Zealander of the year on Waitangi Day, along with a young Kiwi of the year.

I'd like to see parties, concerts, fireworks, special events across towns and cities in New Zealand, each celebrating what makes us special in their own way.

Too often discord has defined the day. I'm tired of it, and I think most New Zealanders are, too. While there are legitimate issues to debate for Maori and Pakeha alike, Waitangi Day should be the day when we focus on what we have to celebrate as a country.

Consider what we have to celebrate. We have peace. We have led the world on many occasions - we were the first country to give women the vote, for example, and we are frequently at the forefront of science, music and sport internationally.

Visitors look in awe at this landscape of ours. We are judged the most honest country in the world.

And we have the constitutional and legal arrangements we need to ensure that every New Zealander is treated fairly and justly. That, to me, is the legacy of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty was ignored for over a hundred years.

As we work through what the Treaty means for us today there will be natural tensions. We've made undeniable progress in the past 30 years. As a nation we have had the chance to make amends for past wrongs, and made New Zealand the better for it.

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Maori culture is unique in the world. It is an expression of what New Zealand is and means.

The Treaty plays a critical role in ensuring that it is vital and strong.

It has resolved differences peacefully. I see that as a compelling reason to celebrate. We have found ways to recognise past wrongs, acknowledge and correct them and move on.

I have spent a good part of my life working in places around the world where people were literally killing each other for a country to call their own. We New Zealanders have so much to be thankful for.

I want Waitangi Day to be a day when we Kiwis celebrate what unites us, rather than dwell on what still divides us.

When Prime Minister Norman Kirk first made Waitangi Day a full national holiday in the 1970s he launched a big celebration. The holiday was designed to help give us "a full sense of nationhood".

We've got a way to go to live up to that goal.

So, let's be proud. Let's be thankful. Happy Waitangi Day tomorrow to you all.

- Wellington

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