Editorial: Day to celebrate

Waitangi Day seems to be a laidback occasion in Marlborough and the rest of the top of the south.

On an organisational level, commemoration of the Treaty of Waitangi has been approached as a duty and the wider public were hardly hanging out to take part.

With a few happy exceptions, many of them sporting, Waitangi-focused events aren't seen as enjoyable. It's hardly just a Marlborough problem and it stems from the way the day has remained too narrowly focused.

It is never a day for appreciating who we are. Rather it is either a source of indifference or widespread antipathy and an opportunity for some radical Maori up north to engage in some showboating.

Yes, it's a subject worthy of regular and honest examination, but that hardly suffices as a replacement for what should be a day for appreciating who we are. All of us.

Waitangi Day has decomposed into a politicised forum for recrimination and is ignored by most of the country. That is a shame because ceremonies held throughout the nation, not so much at Waitangi itself, have sometimes been uplifting.

But if this is to be our national day then it needs to have a wider focus than the Treaty and the concept of biculturalism. We're multicultural. It's not the same thing.

A genuine celebration of our national identity should start by recognising the cultural backgrounds from which the entire society is derived. Maori take a proud role in this, but not to the extent that every other cultural group somehow becomes part a single alternative group.

The ethnic diversity of our population is predicted to increase - most strikingly the Asian population.

We do need to acknowledge our cultural influences, but above all else a day to celebrate New Zealand identity should be more about what unites us, and what distinguishes us from other countries rather than what distinguishes us from our fellow New Zealanders.

There is a case that it's really Anzac Day that brings out the depth of passion and gratitude that New Zealanders feel about their country, but it's not a case of choosing one day over the other.

Waitangi Day will continue to mean as much, or as a little, as we want it to. If we're prepared to broaden the scope then it could mean a whole lot more, without meaning a single thing less.


The Marlborough Express