Waitangi Day: A legacy of protest
Waitangi Day has often been a time for protest and demonstration in Aotearoa. Karanama Ruru looks back on significant events of the last 50 years.
The 1970s saw the establishment of Waitangi Day as a national public holiday. At the same time, Māori activism took a much more radical stance. Groups such as Ngā Tamatoa (the Young Warriors) and Te Ika a Maui Players were influenced by international indigenous movements, post-colonial independence of new nations, and the Black Power movement of the United States.
One of the first major protests of the 1970s to take place on the treaty grounds was on the 1972 commemoration of Waitangi Day, in which Ngā Tamatoa staged a walkout of the Waitangi ceremony. This prompted comments to be made by Governor General of the time, Sir Arthur Porritt.
“I just do not believe that racism or discrimination exists in this country,” Porritt said.
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Waitangi Day 1973 saw members of Ngā Tamatoa wear black armbands to mourn the loss of Māori land, alongside recurring phrases of ‘honour the treaty’, and ‘the treaty is a fraud'. Protests were revived in the later half of the decade by the Waitangi Action Committee.
The 80s saw a continuation of Māori activism at Waitangi. While there was no unified Māori response, many activists called for a boycott of Waitangi Day events until treaty grievances were acknowledged and the terms of Te Tiriti o Waitangi were met.
Marae became sites of arguments and conflict between older and younger generations of Māori over accusations that the Treaty of Waitangi was a fraudulent document.
In 1984 a hīkoi was launched from Tūrungawaewae Marae in Waikato to the Waitangi treaty grounds in protest of celebrating Waitangi Day.
The march was organised by the Waitangi Action Committee, New Zealand Māori Council, Māori Womens Welfare League and the Kīngitanga (Māori King Movement), and included leaders from older and younger generations.
A number of Pākehā supporters also joined throughout the march. Publication Tu Tangata reported at the time that the numbers swelled from a few hundred marchers to 2000 by the end of the hīkoi.
There was still however, a divide between generations.
“It's harder to convince some of these younger, city people that we have any of the right answers. They [young Māori] ... see our generation as much more passive than the ones coming through now,” one trustee said.
“What they don't understand is that we had much less opportunity to be other than passive, we were indoctrinated to such an extent as to our lack of worth.”
The 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi was marked in 1990 with the attendance of Queen Elizabeth II. The decade however, was turbulent.
In 1990, 27-year-old Henearoahuea Tepou threw a wet black t-shirt at the Queen during her visit to Waitangi, which she described as a symbolic gesture to place New Zealand’s attention on Māori issues.
In 1995 protests escalated at Waitangi after the Government revealed financial caps on future treaty settlements. The outrage from Māori was so intense that public security was deemed uncertain, and the event was cancelled.
Prime Minister Jim Bolger said in the state of the nation address that the Government could no longer commemorate Waitangi Day at the treaty grounds.
“What happened at Waitangi is not the universal face of Māoridom and must not be seen as such,” Bolger said.
“Equally, what happened at Waitangi means there can be no going back to commemorate and celebrate Waitangi as it was. That is over.”
Official ceremonies were held in Wellington from 1996-98.
The Foreshore and Seabed legislation in 2004 was an incredibly divisive issue in Aotearoa. National MPs at that year’s commemoration had mud thrown at them, and Labour attendees were bumped into and treated roughly as they entered Te Tii Marae.
Prime Minister Helen Clark did not visit the marae after the incident but continued to visit Waitangi –instead hosting a breakfast in the hotel below the treaty grounds and taking a walk with dignitaries, then heading to Auckland to attend events there.
Minor protest continued throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s, largely regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).