The calm waters of Waitangi this year reflected a maturing of our 168-year journey as a nation since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Each anniversary is a measure of our nationhood, an annual stock-take of how we regard our country.
At its signing, the treaty was lauded as the greatest piece of philanthropy on behalf of the Maori to protect their rangatiratanga, lands, forest, fisheries, estates and taonga. We were "he iwi tahi tatou" - one people. As settler demand for land increased, the solemn guarantees of the treaty proved as substantial as the dew on the grass. War, confiscation and a litany of unjust legislation followed, denuding Maori of land, mana and dignity. Treaty parchments were stored away and nibbled by rats.
Pakeha revitalised the treaty as they sought an identity separate from Britain. There were grand celebrations for the 50th anniversary, the gifting of the treaty house in 1934 and a centenary predicated upon a false racial harmony to legitimise nationhood. We adopted the national anthem, the Navy erected a flagpole on the exact spot where the document was signed although no one knew precisely where that was.
Nga Tamatoa initiated the Maori renaissance seeking equality in 1971. Protesters fought to "Honour the Treaty". Waitangi Day became bitter, angry, tearful and funny for over three decades. Dun Mihaka showed his bum to Prince Charles. Pakeha Christians once prostrated themselves before God and the police (who re-prostrated them into jail). A dignified Archbishop Vercoe told royalty that Maori were marginalised in their own country. Hone Harawira and Wira Gardiner jousted belly-to-belly across Te Tii. Tame Iti spat with great accuracy and even greater aplomb in the direction of a Prime Minister. A protester was jailed presenting a souvenir t-shirt to the Queen. Titewhai Harawira made Helen Clark cry. Don Brash got a pie in the face for slinging mud.
The Waitangi Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Crown declared the treaty was the foundation of our nationhood. Only since then has the treaty been regarded with greater sincerity than when lies were told in 1840 to secure signatures. We have settlement processes, legislation and meaningful principles few comprehend.
The choices people made this Waitangi Day reflect their place in our country. Some prefer pomp and ceremony. The Navy returned this year to their flagstaff, the white dress uniforms contrasting with the elegant red, black, white and green banners of rangatiratanga protest fluttering above the thin blue line between. The Governor-General held a tea party.
Others prefer debate, historical and contemporary. Did the treaty cede sovereignty in 1840? Some say settlements are too little; others say too much. Maori want the treaty constitutionally entrenched, some Pakeha want rid of it. Keep the Maori seats or nuke them. The past year: UN reports saying Maori are discriminated against, Landcorp caught selling off land tagged for settlements, government opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, new settlements signed, others falling apart, the Ruatoki raids and how quickly Pakeha pre-judge and fear Maori.
Debate fuels protest, now more dignified and confident in the surety of its indefatigable contribution to nationhood. Eight hundred Tuhoe and 2000 others harangued police about the Urewera raids. Iti held a press conference, TVNZ sponsored accommodation and petrol dollars. Annette Sykes made a financial plea many contributed.
Transit flew two New Zealand flags from Auckland Harbour Bridge. Protesters flew flags on boats underneath, a plane overhead and 20 cars in slow procession over it.
The mayor of Wanganui told Te Ata Tino Toa to stuff off, although the monocultural award goes to King's College for belittling Maori students (and our heritage) by pressurising them into attending school on nation day.
Most choose whanau time, some the big day out. Two thousand Maori and Pakeha performed the largest haka ever in Kaiapoi. There was a great day at Okains Bay. A 30,000 cultural all-sorts picnicked in Manukau City. A thousand Ngati Whatua re-enacted the signing of the treaty at Okahu Bay, thousands relaxed in the sun at Western Springs. Otakou Maori debated tourism. Eleven waka and the ocean-going Te Aurere sped through the Bay of Islands. Forty thousand visited the treaty grounds.
The embracing of the day by immigrants, Pasifika, Asian and other ethnicities over the past five years and their lesser Pakeha-Maori baggage, innocence and enthusiasm has added calm to February 6. They express their identities and learn about their new country in a way that reinforces both their place in the tapestry of our nation and the multicultural fibre that binds it together.
Waitangi always reflects politics and this is election year. The Maori Party opened with a salvo against the Race Relations Office for glossing over treaty and indigenous issues. A second, more ambitious, volley declared the party would clean-sweep the seven Maori seats at the election.
Labour fired back, announcing a foreshore and seabed deal with Ngati Porou, the first under a clause allowing negotiated settlements for those who can prove continuous use since 1840. Expect something similar with Tainui over Kawhia Harbour, and if so, accusations of iwi favouritism and vote bribery as Labour looks to reinforce support for its MPs in Te Tai Rawhiti and Tainui-Hauraki. Also expect cries of betrayal from those who lost rights because they were removed from coastlines during colonisation, and a possible backlash in the polls.
John Key left Waitangi with a points victory over Clark. Key visited Te Tii Marae and the Leaders Forum. Clark snubbed both and in doing so looked to snub Maori. Key followed Jenny Shipley's lead and took the arm of Titewhai Harawira a canny way to get onto Te Tii unmolested followed by a smiley photo opportunity with Iti.
It's odd how conservative leaders are often more relaxed in cross-cultural environments than liberals. But Key needs to be cautious; there is talk he is a paternalistic try-hard who envisions making our kids better than we are. He suggested Toi Iti's son might become a rocket scientist. Toi's reply: he might want to be like his granddad. What's wrong with that?
Waitangi Day is our national day. Forget the impertinence of those who suggest renaming it New Zealand Day. Waitangimirrors our growing pains better than any false pageantry, our beginning, present and future one nation, two peoples, many cultures.
- Dr Rawiri Taonui is Head of Canterbury University's School of Maori and Indigenous Studies.
- © Fairfax NZ News