Jubilant atmosphere at Waitangi

16:00, Feb 06 2013

With water rights at the top of the agenda, "granny gate" and the prime minister warning against the consequences of Maori extremists for New Zealand's national day, Waitangi sounded ready to explode.

Instead, yesterday was one of the most peaceful, celebratory Waitangi Days at the Treaty Grounds in years.

At his annual breakfast speech, Prime Minister John Key called out "headline seekers", a thinly-veiled dig at marae matriarch Titewhai Harawira, for creating diversions and distractions that detract from Waitangi Day.

"Those headline seekers know they will get more attention by being flamboyant and negative than they will by being considered and positive," Mr Key said. "It sometimes saddens me that that is the window that a lot of New Zealanders see Waitangi Day and that taints their view of Waitangi Day."

But the only protest on the superbly sunny national day was a 200-strong, well-behaved hikoi against domestic violence.

Mrs Harawira even said she had respect for Mr Key and his leadership, despite his comments.


"I think John Key makes very clear decisions on a whole range of things. Unfortunately those clear decisions are excluding Maori people," she said.

However, her son, Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira, said protest and activism would always be a part of the Maori fight to succeed in New Zealand.

"I hope that Waitangi will always represent the opportunity for the young and the hot-blooded, and those willing to challenge and step outside the box, to make a point," said Mr Harawira, calling himself an "activist by nature".

Mr Key was "dead wrong" that history would not look kindly on Maori protests, he said. "Maori history will show that protest activity and protesters have great mana.

When we look across to the other side [of the harbour] and see the flagpole that Hone Heke chopped down, the act of Maori protest is deeply ingrained in Maoridom."

Throughout the two days at the Treaty Grounds, politicians had called for Waitangi to be a national day of celebration instead of controversy.

While Maori continued to be an underclass in New Zealand there was no cause for celebration, Mr Harawira said.

"Given that our statistics still rank Maori in terms of welfare, justice, employment, education and health at the absolute bottom of society then there is not a hell of a lot to be celebrating."


THE governor-general used his Waitangi Day address to praise not only New Zealand's national day but the contribution made by women to its success.

Speaking at Government House in Auckland, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae said there had been plenty of misunderstandings and disagreements since the Treaty was signed, and this would probably continue.

But despite this, the spirit of that "sacred compact" - a new way for two peoples living together - remained integral to New Zealand and its enduring democracy, he said.

He used most of his speech to talk about the contribution of women to New Zealand society, mentioning milestones such as women being granted the vote in 1893, the first New Zealand woman to receive a bachelor of arts degree - Kate Edger in 1877 - and the first woman mayor of a town in the British Empire - Elizabeth Yates, elected mayor of Onehunga in 1893.

The Dominion Post