Waitangi Day a reason to celebrate

Festivals steal focus from special day

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 12:25 04/02/2014
Bev Maata-Hart
Derek Flynn

Bev Maata-Hart is inviting the comunity to celebrate Waitangi Day at the Waikawa Marae on Thursday.

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Despite the low-key nature of public Waitangi Day celebrations in Marlborough, iwi representatives say the national day remains an important part of the country's history and do not want to see it replaced with a New Zealand Day.

Picton's Waikawa Marae, a principal marae for Te Atiawa, is hosting a gala day on Thursday for its Waitangi Day celebration, with about 200-300 people expected to attend. Committee member Bev Maata-Hart said about half the visitors to the marae each year were tourists as the committee contacted Picton accommodation providers to make sure the invitation got through.

Ms Maata-Hart was unsure whether many New Zealanders celebrated or understood the reason for Waitangi Day, which commemorates the date the country's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840.

She disagreed with the idea of a New Zealand national day, in place of Waitangi Day. "No, I feel very strongly about that because the [Treaty] is our founding document which allowed other people to come here and settle in peace and partnership with Maori."

Omaka Marae manager Kiley Nepia hoped New Zealand would continue to celebrate Waitangi Day.

The marae, in Blenheim, had hosted between 150 and 200 visitors on Waitangi Day since the marae opened in 1985.

This year the focus was on family, he said. "It's going to be a nice, relaxing family day where people can learn a bit about the local history and enjoy a few games and activities."

Mr Nepia was concerned Waitangi Day didn't become "just another day off" and an excuse to market the holiday as a bonanza sales day for retailers.

"I think you could always have more celebrations around Waitangi Day, especially for places like Marlborough.

"If you look at other cities and towns in New Zealand, they celebrate it really well."

Ngati Kuia community relations manager for Te Hora Marae in Canvastown, Raymond Smith, said the marae would not be hosting any Waitangi celebrations this year.

"Ngati Kuia has done in the past, but we're waiting for our treaty settlements to come through so we can celebrate it all at once," Mr Smith said.

The Te Tau Ihu Claims Settlement Bill currently going through Parliament would enact treaty settlements for eight iwi at the top of the South Island.

Mr Smith anticipated the bill would be assented about July.

Waitangi Day celebrations in Marlborough were out of focus, pushed aside by big events such as the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival or the former Blues, Brews & BBQs event, Mr Smith said.

"It's just turned into an alcohol-fuelled long weekend," he said.

"If those things weren't there, there would be more focus on Waitangi Day."

People in Marlborough can attend Waitangi Day celebrations on Thursday, February 6

Waikawa Marae, 210 Waikawa Rd, in Picton, from 10am

Omaka Marae on Aerodrome Rd, near Blenheim, from 10am-3pm

To attend the Omaka Marae event, register by phone on 03 578 9256 or email omakamarae@xtra.co.nz

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