Editorial: Waiting for Waitangi

In spite of what you may have heard, actions don't always speak louder than words.

The right words can persuade us or dissuade us. They can leave us better-informed, or badly misled. They can also disclose as much about the speaker as they do about the subject. So speeches can matter.

As for actions there are times, when push comes to shove, when for all the apparent drama the outcome is best regarded not only unedifying but inconsequential.

Regrettably, ructions are a possibility around Te Tii lower marae on Waitangi Day as the ever-provocative Titewhai Harawira is widely expected to defy the wishes of Ngapuhi elders to stand her down from her longtime role of leading invited guests on to the marae for traditional celebrations.

Did anybody really expect her to react with meek acquiescence?

Of course not. Not her style. And sure enough when the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, arrived yesterday morning it was Harawira, rather than her appointed replacement, who magically appeared alongside him. And she has a sizeable family of minders looking out for her.

So now the likes of Prime Minister John Key can also look forward to finding himself, upon arrival, with his elbow double-booked. In a simpler world the fact that the man actually has two of them may have provided a solution. But Waitangi has never been a simple world. Ideally, the divided hosts will come to an accommodation. Failing that, if the result is merely an awkward moment leading to grumbles from one party or the other after the event the rest of the country could live with that.

Trouble is, the risk of things getting a bit pro-wrestlingish out there is hardly notional, given the experience of past Waitangi events. To be fair, some protests have been dignified, but too often they have been sour, self-indulgent and boorish, with not only jostling but spitting and mud-flinging.

At least, even then, the underlying issues have been of rather more widespread significance than this clash of protocol and egos about which the rest of the country is pretty much indifferent.

More bad behaviour would either entirely repel, or at least distract, the rest of the country from the more substantive issues on the agenda at Waitangi. And that would be a pity because, as ever, there's much to discuss.

Reports have it that Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul is "threatening" to deliver speech about the water rights court battle which stands as a hurdle to the Government's asset sales agenda.

That is hardly a threat. For him to do so would be both fair and appropriate. Though the details of the case have already been thrashed out in the Supreme Court, and a verdict is now awaited, Waitangi Day provides an opportunity for Maori and the Government to revisit the issue in a less legalistic forum.

The day is meant to be a celebration but not to the extent that it finds no place for the voices of dissent or reproach. Just as long as everyone is working towards a clear and acknowledged goal.

The US civil rights movement had a phrase, even a song, for this. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. It's a thought worth bearing in mind at Waitangi, and around the country, in the next day or two. In that context, anyone getting het-up about protocol surely has their eyes elsewhere.

The Southland Times