National day to celebrate and honour

Last updated 05:00 06/02/2013

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OPINION: New Zealand has a lot to celebrate on Waitangi Day. It also has a lot to argue about. A grown-up country can do both.

David Shearer suggests we do a bit more celebrating, and he's right. New Zealand is blessed among nations. It is one of the oldest democracies in the world. It is still among the wealthiest communities on earth.

Above all, it lives in peace. There has been no armed conflict between the Treaty partners for the best part of 150 years. Mr Shearer, who has worked in foreign communities hell-bent on killing each other, is right to remind us how lucky we are.

At the same time, we have plenty of problems and the national day is a good time to talk about them. The yearly gathering in the north has become a place for fierce argument, and that is a healthy thing.

For a long time, Waitangi Day was an empty ritual, full of complacent talk about the nation's glories and no mention of simmering Maori grievances. Maori have forced Pakeha to do something about those grievances, and that process continues. So let the debate continue as well.

For much of the country, Waitangi Day is just a holiday occasionally interrupted by news of trouble in the Far North. In recent years, though, more and more local events, often taking the form of cultural festivals, are held. In this sense, it is already a day of nationwide celebration.

Mr Shearer would like to give this a boost, partly by making Waitangi Day the day when the honours list is announced. It's a good idea. 

There's no reason why the list should come out on New Year's Day, let alone Queen's Birthday. Why not switch them both to February 6? Is there any reason, apart from habit, why we have to have two days for honours? Why not do it all on our uniquely national day?

This would not only hasten the slow business of making our honours list a truly indigenous, rather than an inherited one, but also give an extra dimension to Waitangi Day.

Honours lists, after all, are meant to be a form of national celebration. Announcing them on Waitangi Day might discourage governments from dividing the country by awarding honours to political hacks and the already-rewarded.

This year there has been a silly domestic argument about who should welcome the prime minister on to the marae. This was settled in a muddled and very Kiwi way, with both sides sort of joining in.

There will be fierce talk about water rights and the Treaty, as there should be. There is no excuse for letting strong talk spill over into threats or intimidation, least of all physical assault. Offering bodily insult to guests appals Maori as much as it does Pakeha, and there is no place for it on our national day.

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The best thing for race relations in 30 years has been the Treaty-settlements process. The grievances divided us; settlements have helped bring us together.

This process is not over but, without it, New Zealand would be a much more dangerous and divided community. The belated honouring of the Treaty is truly a cause for celebration.

- The Dominion Post

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