3 Feb 2017

Waitangi Day: Protest is better than a propaganda holiday

11:29 am on 3 February 2017

We asked writers who walk between the Māori and Pākehā worlds to give us their views on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand. What they came back with is something to think about this long weekend.

On February 6, 1840, two documents were signed at Waitangi.

On February 6, 1840, two documents were signed at Waitangi. Photo: Unknown



They say you can only be sure of two things in life, but as February 6th rolls around for another year, I’d like to add a couple more.

Ben Leonard

Ben Leonard Photo: Unknown

Firstly, you can be sure there will be protests at Waitangi. Secondly, as always, the New Zealand media will spend most of the day talking about them.
From this we are meant to safely conclude that the whole thing is a minefield of political and otherwise uncomfortable subjects that are best left out of polite conversation. These persistent, yet context-less, portrayals are meant to convince us Pākehā that Māori protesters are “disturbers” to the otherwise “peaceful bi-cultural partnership” we all signed up for.
Don’t buy it.
On February 6, 1840, two documents were signed at Waitangi.
One, written in English, ceded “all the rights and powers of sovereignty” to the British Crown. The other, written in te reo Māori guaranteed tangata whenua absolute sovereignty (“tino rangatiratanga”) over their lands and resources, while giving the Crown the much more limited rights of “governorship” (“kāwanatanga”).
Guess which one the majority of rangatira signed?
After the meeting at Waitangi both documents were copied and went on a very short trip through a few select locations around the country. Some rangatira signed, many more did not.
No further attempts were made to get either document to the remaining parts of the country and no more rangatira were given the opportunity to consider whether to sign or not. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor William Hobson happily sent the documents home to Crown officials in England, while (oops ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) forgetting to mention any of this.
Sound suspicious?
Well none of this really mattered anyway because a few months earlier, in May, when a dispute flared up with new settlers in Port Nicholson, Hobson was moved to promptly declare sovereignty over the whole of Aotearoa.
So before you start tuning out on Waitangi Day, take a second to think about where that leaves us. What is it that these protests are really threatening? Two contradictory, partially signed treaties do not a nation make. 


I am sure there are a few New Zealand patriots who feel that the controversy and protest on Waitangi Day mar the celebration of Aotearoa. I think it is a good thing that we are reminded of the injustice our colonial forefathers bestowed upon a diverse and divided group of people. I would take this day of discussion between dignitaries over something like Thanksgiving or Australia Day. 

Geneva Alexander-Marsters

Geneva Alexander-Marsters Photo: Unknown

I am grateful to activists who do not let this day become a whitewashed propaganda holiday. I am grateful to those who come to Waitangi and speak their mind, I am also grateful to those who listen. Our current prime minister, someone received that position by default, has allowed his mediocre sensibilities to override our country’s tradition

What use is a politician who speaks and never listens? 

It is an honour to be invited to Waitangi and I can hardly acknowledge someone who cannot grasp the concept of mana. Perhaps the prime minister is afraid that if he listens to people about Māori issues, he would be obligated to acknowledge them as his responsibility? A true leader must shoulder the people’s burden. 

If you want to contribute to Waitangi Day on the 6th of February, have a healthy debate about politics! Allow yourself to face off in a discussion and spend time with those you love. Relish our history and never forget its relevance to the present. In closing, I’d like to quote the dynamic Ngati Maniapoto tipuna, te Rangatira, Rewi Maniapoto, who uttered the immortal lines, “Ka whawhai tonu matou. Ake! Ake! Ake!”

For me, and many Māori, issues of structural racism in our country are simply accumulated knowledge, not coming from anything specific, but are something we understand in the ways we have simply lived our lives.

Kahu Kutia

Kahu Kutia Photo: Unknown


I cannot pinpoint the exact time I realised that the discussion about Māori in the mainstream media was wrong, I just know. There was an uncomfortable inconsistency in the images I saw of my whanau on TV, compared with my whanau as I knew them. I’ll take my own iwi as an example though. Ngāi Tūhoe have been labelled “terrorists”, and “angry for no reason”. To see how society painted Ngāi Tūhoe made me angry, and very confused.
Many of those who grow up privileged often also grow up unaware. I see every day how the atrocious actions of early colonisers still adversely affects people every day. Every day I share in the hurt and anger of my people. Other people in my life did not see that. I have witnessed a peer who is Māori, make a bitter comment, something about his iwi being ignored by a politician, and be silenced by a Pākehā peer who found his comments “dramatic” and “unnecessary”.
Prior to beginning my Māori Studies major at university (which I am paying thousands of dollars to access), the only things I could really tell you about the Treaty, was that at some point during that debacle, Hone Heke chopped down a flag. As a nation, our ignorance about treaty issues and the historic mistreatment of Māori creates misplaced resentment against Māori.
It is one of the founding documents of our nation, and yet it is so abysmal that even I, young, Māori, and academically engaged could not access it. It’s hard to begin a conversation about race-relations as an apparently “bi-cultural” nation so many of us don’t even know what the grounds are that we were formed on.
Māori activism, hurt, and anger is still constantly being relabeled as Māori violence and terrorism, and this is stopping us from successfully finding an identity in which we can comfortably exist as one nation. The creation of The Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti is an event steeped in injustice, but there is an idea that we can to work on. Bring our country’s history back into understanding and conversation, properly, and maybe then we can talk about bi-culturalism.


“Waitangi Day. It is the day to commemorate the birth of our nation at Waitangi. A treaty got signed. Then the British Queen was represented by Governor Hobson and with help of respected British local James Busby. And then Chief Hone Heke was really unhappy after the treaty got signed and he chopped the flagpole down. And then this started the Northern Wars.”

Sandy Wakefield

Sandy Wakefield Photo: Unknown

- Me learning history at Raumanga Intermediate, circa 1992.

This lame lesson is now unacceptable. We ask for more.

There’s a growing desire for a nationwide acknowledgment of the series of historical

For example, Henry Williams and his son Edward pulling an all-nighter to translate the document [incorrectly] into Maori, or Governor Hobson relentlessly re-erecting that Union Jack where it didn’t belong, prompting locals at Kororareka to split.

In 2015, two young women from Otorohanga College took a petition of 10,000 names to Government, spearheading a movement to introduce a compulsory Māori and colonial history module to our school curriculum, that will unify our understanding of New Zealand’s nationhood.

Our young people want to learn about the 1 million hectares of land that was confiscated as punishment. They want to learn about New Zealand’s bloody and irreversible history, so desperately pissed on by a defensive Pākehā establishment.
Our mainstream society still seems intent on forgetting that this history still lives and breathes today in every region of this country.

Meaningful change is in the air, and it has taken the form of clued-up kids.

I’m looking forward to the babbling, self-justifying cries of “we should all forget and crack a beer like it’s "‘Straya Day" fade into the background.


Waitangi Day has been a sensitive topic for generations but I feel like it's gotten to the point when the day arrives patriotic sentiment becomes rife. An Us vs Them mentality kicks in and New Zealanders have to side with either the Pākehā or Māori. As a daughter of a Ngapuhi father and a New Zealand European-Irish mother, I found myself torn. 

Annabelle Dick

Annabelle Dick Photo: Unknown

But Waitangi Day isn't about digging up old wounds and there needs to be a systematic change in the way Waitangi Day is viewed. I don't weep when I remember February 6, 1840 - the day tangata whenua lost their sovereignty. To me it's a day of remembrance, reflection and celebration. 

In Waitangi, where the main commemoration is hosted, it's a day of celebration. You'll see kids running around enjoying the sunshine, arts and craft stalls and cultural performances. I think everyone needs to experience Waitangi Day in Waitangi to get a sense of what it's really about. We need to remove the negative stigma surrounding Waitangi Day. 

While Te Tiriti o Waitangi had negative implications for Maori, it ultimately united the Europeans and people of the land to create the modern day New Zealand we see today. We must remember that in spite of all the implications the treaty had, it was our ancestors who signed it and felt its full force. 
The grudge isn't ours to hold. Instead we should reflect on the effect the treaty had on our nation and celebrate the bicultural society we live in today.


Barely two months into the year and we’ve already seen some profoundly awkward grandstanding as our “leaders” (both existing and aspiring) flirt with Māori while trying to keep things cool with the general population. 

Te Arikirangi Mamaku

Te Arikirangi Mamaku Photo: Unknown

With the prime minister declining with great enthusiasm the invitation from Te Tii Marae for this year’s celebrations in Waitangi, and both he and Gareth Morgan throwing some mean shade at the annual Ratana celebrations, we are also fortunate that this time of the year kicks up the usual, albeit superficial rhetoric surrounding Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Perhaps one of the problems is that people can’t conceptualise a postcolonial nation that is governed in partnership between tangata whenua and tangata tiriti, however you can always count on, with absolute certainty that the opinion camps will hunker down ready to exchange volleys in the day’s leading up to, and including Waitangi Day.  

Now, chances are high that if you’ve witnessed this cycle enough times you’ll know that by the 7th of February the dust has already started to settle and murmurs of changing Waitangi Day to New Zealand Day gets parked for another year while we’re treated to whatever issues our political and media savvy overlords have in store for us next.

If I may be so bold in sharing this opinion the core issue here that leads towards the eventual downward spiral is that as a collective we lack a basic understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as well as a “working understanding” of New Zealand history.  It’s like arguing with your friends about how terrible Shortland Street is without having actually watched it.

As I see it, you’d expect clear leadership and decisive action from our nation’s leaders and political institutions but if anything what we actually get each year is division rather than unity, and confusion where there should be clarity, empathy, and understanding.

The good thing among all this is that I firmly believe that today’s young people are going to be the generation to bring about positive change. It could be a rather big call considering the unfair amount of bad press “millennials” get but actions speak louder than rhetoric. 

I acknowledge passion and tenacity of Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson for petitioning to have the battles of the New Zealand War’s recognised. I also acknowledge metal band Alien Weaponry and members Lewis de Jong, Henry de Jong, and Ethan Trembath for honouring te reo Māori and your heritage with integrity and imagination. These young people are among many of their generation that demonstrate empathy and compassion while defending their place in the world.

If the collective vision for the nation’s future is one where its foundation is genuinely Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its inherent principles then it is the youth of today that are truly paving the way. The challenge for Aotearoa New Zealand is determining whether we challenge what we think we know and having the courage to step aside and guide tomorrow’s leaders - today.