OPINION: Waitangi Day is New Zealand's day.
That's the theory anyway, but the reality is that by the time you are reading this the likelihood is there will already have been protests, politicians getting jostled and a spat over just who should lead Prime Minister John Key on to the marae at Waitangi.
In other words, it's business as usual. It doesn't have to be like that. For New Zealanders, today is a significant day in our nationhood. It commemorates the day, in 1840, when representatives of the British Crown signed New Zealand's founding document with more than 500 Maori chiefs.
It took us a while to fully appreciate that, however, and the first Waitangi Day celebrations didn't take place until 1934. Even then it was not until 1974 that New Zealanders were given a public holiday to mark the occasion. Historically, it was seen as a date when Maori and Pakeha came together as "one people".
At the time, Norman Kirk's Labour government did its bit to ensure that by changing the name to New Zealand Day. That was short-lived, however, with Robert Muldoon's Government changing the name back to Waitangi Day a couple of years later.
In the last 20 years the level of protest and threats has escalated to a level where violence simmers away. And occasionally erupts. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark did not attend in 2000 after being reduced to tears the year before. She actually shifted the official celebrations to Wellington in 2001.
In 2003 it was returned to the Treaty House at Waitangi but the level of invective from some Maori radicals means the celebrations have been reduced to farcical levels. Last year Prime Minister John Key was drowned out and didn't get to make his speech. A victory was claimed by the noisy minority, but for most it was simply a case of bad manners and boorish behaviour.
It is understandable that some Maori will use the opportunity as a chance to air their grievances, but when it is done with contempt and little respect, it does little to enhance the mana of the Ngapuhi hosts.
At least part of the focus this morning will have been on the wrangle between Titewhai Harawira and the Ngapuhi trustees over just who would escort Mr Key on to the marae. The combative Ms Harawira, mother of Mana Party MP Hone Harawira, threatened to disrupt proceedings if she didn't get her way. There's nothing new in that; in fact, it seems to be a perpetual tactic within her family.
With the Maori Council also given speaking rights to talk about water rights, the stage was set for an intriguing celebration. Sadly the genuine messages from Maori leaders and the Government are once again likely to be overshadowed by theatre and agitation.
That's a shame because the Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of our country and surely it deserves to be treated with respect through informed debate and dialogue, rather than chaos, enmity and disrespect.
Especially on this most important day.
- Taranaki Daily News
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