Treaty mars efforts to make Waitangi special

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2012

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Sean Plunket

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OPINION: I don't get invited to Government House that often, and haven't been there since the multi-million dollar refurbishment, so it was with keen anticipation that I threw on a tie and rocked up to Sir Jerry and Lady Janine's place on Tuesday evening.

Parking was no problem and I have to say I love what we (the taxpayers) have done with the place. But I wasn't there to write a piece for Home and Garden - rather to attend the launch of the Waitangi Museum fundraising campaign.

Now I shamefully admit I wasn't aware that the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi are not actually owned by the Government,  but rather a trust set up by former governor-general Lord Bledisloe, who bought them back in the 1930s and gifted them to the nation.

They are managed by a trust of luminaries and originally the idea was that a nearby forestry block would provide the income needed to maintain and enhance the grounds. The deed of gift apparently specifies that, apart from contributing to the annual Waitangi Day shindig, the place shouldn't be a burden on the taxpayer.

Which is why the GG was hosting a Westpac Bank- sponsored nibble conference on Tuesday evening.
The trustees want to make Waitangi more than it is now by building a museum on site and an education centre to which New Zealand schoolchildren can make a sort of cultural pilgrimage and be told of the long, sometimes turbulent, but ultimately noble history of interaction between Pakeha and Maori.

As the blurb in the glossy pamphlet we were given (DVD included) says, ''Waitangi stands central to our history as a nation. Dating back to the time when two adventurous peoples first made contact with each other ... began the process of getting to know one another, and learning to live with each other''.

The idea, if the free champers wasn't clouding my judgment, is to make Waitangi the New Zealand equivalent of the Washington Monument, Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, a kind of nationally and internationally recognised ground zero in defining what New Zealand is about and what it means to be a New Zealander.

That is a lovely idea and would certainly be a lot easier for most people than trekking to Gallipoli to feel some emotional connection with the birth of our nation.

The problem is while most of us are happy to embrace Anzac Day as special, Waitangi Day and Waitangi itself are not held in the same regard. For many Kiwis, Waitangi is simply a place where politicians go once a year to be yelled at, manhandled and spat on.  The Treaty itself is not regarded by most New Zealanders as a founding document, rather a troublesome relic that has become the foundation stone for political correctness, white guilt and a brazen gravy train ridden by a growing cast of Maori elite, lawyers and consultants.

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Despite years of indoctrination of our public service and the legal recognition of the ''principles of the Treaty'' the plain fact is New Zealanders simply aren't buying the idea of biculturalism and are increasingly concerned at the ever more outlandish and legally convoluted claims being made by those who promote it.

I would like to see Waitangi made more special and significant than it is. I would like my son to have somewhere he could go to feel a surge of pride in the multicultural and tolerant country he was born in and lives in.

But I don't want him and his friends to be bussed north and brainwashed into believing the bullshit that surrounds so much of our officially sanctioned history and culture.

The idea of a museum to house and preserve the relics and items associated with that day back in 1840 is also a great idea and would doubtless pull in the tourists. Waitangi is the right place to create a site of national pilgrimage and if private capital has to be used to pay for it, that is fine.

But bricks and mortar aren't going to solve the serious problems we have embracing the Treaty right now.

I wish the Waitangi trustees well in their fundraising endeavours but suspect even if they are successful Waitangi will not become New Zealand's spiritual home until the claims have all been settled, the gravy train derailed and the Treaty itself finally locked away in a museum where it rightly belongs. 

- The Dominion Post

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