Why it should remain Waitangi Day

The 6th February 1840 was when the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place.  It was meant to have taken place on the 7th of February but there was a shortage of food and supplies and Hobson wasn’t feeling too flash.  Over the next 7 months, 9 copies of this document circulated around New Zealand to collect over 500 signatures from rangatira (chiefs).  This however does not represent all iwi and hapu as there were a significant number who did not agree to this contract and purposefully did not sign it.

Even though the last signatures were collected in September, Hobson declared sovereignty over New Zealand much earlier than this, completely disregarding ‘democracy’ which people so often like to say was brought to these shores.

Of the 9 documents, only one was written in English.  This is the document that the British Crown took as lore (since it is not considered a legal document given Hobson’s lack of legal expertise).  What many people don’t realise is that the translation between the Maori and English documents is not quite accurate.  This is one reason that Maori get upset about the Treaty of Waitangi.  In the English version Maori are said to be allowing Queen Victoria of England to have sovereignty over the land.  In the Maori version, Maori are guaranteed their tino rangatiratanga or in other words, their sovereignty. This alone is the cause of much contention but even without the different translations, the Treaty guaranteed Maori the right to their lands and customs, it espoused the idea of partnership between Maori and the Crown and it promised Maori equal treatment.  None of these agreements were actually kept until the Treaty of Watiangi Act 1975 enforced the government to make sure they were. So Maori have been treated as equal citizens for less than half a century.

Before anyone gets their back up I am not interested in making any one individual feel guilty for anything. That is not what most iwi or hapu want, neither is it the point of the tribunal process.  Unfortunately the New Zealand media and right wing governments are intent on perpetuating this idea.  I am interested in Kiwi’s sucking it up and acknowledging that while we might have a dirty history, that we can also learn from our past in order to move forward and do it better.  This can only happen if people learn our history. And if we do it justice, its a bloody interesting history too!

I am Maori and Pakeha (NZ European/Kiwi) and it is in my interest to explain our history as best as I can so that people gain an understanding. I dont want to anger or upset people, I just want people to understand one another.

Lets put to rest the myth that the Treaty was written to put an end to war between the British and Maori. UNTRUE. Yes there were wars between them, but these took place after the signing of the Treaty and they occurred because Maori were trying to protect their land from being confiscated by the Government.  It is also important to appreciate that Britain was in the midst of the industrial revolution. Britain was overpopulated to the point that life in general was pretty crowded and unsavoury.  They also needed raw materials, but unlike many other colonies which were only used for their raw materials i.e. India, New Zealand was also scouted as a settler colony.  It would be a mistake to try to understand the workings of the Treaty of Waitangi without understanding the global poltical, economic and social climate of the times.  The British needed more land and resources. So the foundation of Maori/British relations was economic (the colonisation story).

Within 20-30 years of the signing of the Treaty, the New Zealand demographic changed dramatically.  In 1840, New Zealand was a Maori world where Maori was the predominant language and Maori customary law prevailed.  By 1860, Maori were a minority whose rights were quickly eroded. When you look at the way policies are made, they favour the majority.  That is what happened in New Zealand.  The government implemented policies that favoured the European population and Maori became aliens in their own land.  On top of that, the Government completely disregarded Maori rights, customs and values. Furthermore, the Government waged war against iwi and hapu all over the country.  They used a war with weapons to confiscate ancestoral lands and they waged a war of words, creating numerous laws and acts devised to undermine and alienate Maori from their lands and their traditional way of life.  Maori were systematically discriminated against right up until the 1970s. That is a fact. If one wishes to know more in depth facts and statistics, there is plenty of evidence to research.

The Hunn report of the 1960’s looked into the wellbeing of Maori communities around the countryside.  The report was damning and was an embarassment, illustrating the underclass that was created and ignored under the eyes of successive governments. It was seen as particularly significant due to the global era of post-colonisation politics, human rights and the feminist and civil rights movements.  Queue the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.   The TOW Act 1975 made sure that government policies and law should refer to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and gave the Crown authority to compensate for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.  Ten years later, this was amended to allow the Crown to compensate for historical breaches and grievances.

It is important Kiwis understand that the settlement process is in no way designed to create new injustices for today’s New Zealand people.  Most iwi, hapu or individuals seek a hearing with the Waitangi Tribunal because they have genuine grievances that need to be addressed.  But this does not always mean they receive money or land as compensation.  In fact, this is a far cry from the truth – of course the New Zealand media has lots of fun perpetuating this myth! In many instances, you have elderly kuia and kaumatua who actually lived through discrimination, who actually lived through their lands being confiscated; or whose parents and grandparents shared stories of going to war for this country yet not receiving a cent that their European counterparts received in benefits; or for being incarcerated in caves and chained to the side of the road and even being killed, for protecting their families, their rights and their ancestral lands.  You’ve got to be pretty cold if you do not believe those actions deserve apologies.  And that is what most Maori seek through the tribunal process. Acknowledgement, validation and apologies for the mamae, the hurt, the suffering that they and their ancestors went through. And you know what, this is a hard hard road to go down because it is not simply given willy nilly.  Nope. Our people have to do a CRAPLOAD of research to secure evidence proving these instances to be the case.  I don’t know about the average person but I grew up watching my Koko (grandfather) go through this process and it is not only time consuming but it is tiring, it is stressful, it is painful (I have read the medical/coroners reports of some of our elite warriors who died in prison. They were arrested without trial, under the bogus claims of treason coz they wouldnt sell our land). But it is necessary to do this, to reclaim the dignity that their iwi, hapu and tupuna deserve. And so while our kaumatua, nannies, aunties, whanau go through this process, the New Zealand media and majority population lay insult after insult as if they’re scrounges!

As for the settlement process, well thats a whole other kettle of fish in itself.  Once again, land and money is only part of that process, if at all. Maori realise that much of their ancestral homelands now belong to other people and while it may be upsetting, Maori – for the most part, though I cannot speak for all Maori – do not wish to recreate injustices for the people of today.  If land cannot be returned, then the Office of Treaty Settlements will consider other ways to compensate. This doesn’t necessarily mean money will be given.  It may be that an apology is offered, a memorial plaque created or it may be that kaitiakitanga or guardianship will be conferred.  It is equally important to understand that guardianship is not the same as ownership.  It is more akin to stewardship of the land. And securing guardianship/stewardship over a property is not always about making a quick buck or two. Although, I question why it is ok for NZ Europeans and other Non-Maori to make profits from their property and for private enterprise to charge for use of their resources, but when Maori do so, they are criticised for it? It would do us well to remember that it was the British who introduced the current economic system which forces one to capitalise on their resources in order to survive.

I do think the most impotant bit of information Kiwi’s need to understand is the process of redress.  I worked as a Treaty educator over a  couple of years. In that time I dealt with tens of thousands of Kiwi’s, of all ethnic backgrounds. Being a blonde, green eyed Maori helped a lot, and i became a bit of an undercover brotha.  Not realising that I’m Maori, people felt really comfortable to share their uninhibited thoughts and feelings with me.  Needless to say that without adequate education of our history, a lot of people completely misunderstand our history, Maori culture and the point of the settlement process. People come to their own, unfounded and often negative assumptions about these issues, egged on by the media of course. On enquiring with people, in a non-threatening and genuinly inquisitive way, about why they had certain beliefs, much of the time they expressed concerns about what the process meant for them. People would often talk along the lines of ‘I’m not maori so if my land/house is returned via the settlement process, what are my rights? Where do I belong? I’m not Maori but I’m not English either’.  It became clear to me that, hidden beneath all the claims that ‘she’ll be right’, there are a fair few Kiwis who actually feel threatened by this whole process. Without any way of understanding it, who can blame them? While those of us who understand the importance of this process know this is not the point, it is an unintended consequence which I strongly believe needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

So this complete lack of education that we Kiwi’s receive about our history has ended with whole generations of people feeling a bit unsure about our Kiwi identity – if they allow themselves.  The inverse is that many New Zealanders claim their Kiwi culture with such pride, alongside the mantra ‘we are all one’, which serves to deligitimise the settlement process, as well as suppress these most uncomfortable questions about who we are and where we come from.  Man this irks me. Its plain to me that Kiwis deserve to understand that they are not personally being asked to pay for the mistakes of the past; that they are not personally being attacked; that they are not personally being made to feel guilty. All of this responsibility lies with the Crown.  Most importantly they have a right to know that they and their homes are safe because private land is rarely used in the settlement process (this being the primary concern of many people). Only Government land is used, if at all.  Furthermore, most settlements have absoloutly no bearing or consequence – financially or otherwise – to anyone outside of each respective tribe.  So the settlemet process is nothing to be afraid of. In fact it is something New Zealanders should feel immensely proud of.  And really, I don’t mean to be rude but if a settlement has no effect on you, then it is pretty safe to say that you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

At this point, I’m often met with other justifications for why the settlement shouldn’t go ahead. I’ve heard every justification one could possibly think of to deny the settlement process and I also have a rebuttal for all of them if you allow me the time and space. One I’d like to nip in the bud is the argument about feuds within Maoridom.  The fact that feuds exist is often used to deny the legitimacy of these processes because “they can’t even sort it out between themselves”.   Well, thats a pretty dumb argument.  Thats like saying “Pakeha don’t deserve a fair go coz they have an Act Party, a National Party, a Labour Party AND a Green Party”.  It’s illogical.  Just as no one NZ European is the same, Maori, iwi and hapu are not all the same and should not be expected to act the same. And anyway, if it doesn’t affect you, just don’t worry about it. Trust that they’ll sort it out amongst themselves. I think the biggest point I need to make on this issue is that each iwi or hapu will have their own unique histories and experiences which in turn will shape their grievances, needs and dreams for the future. For this reason I must make it clear that it is not my intention to speak on behalf of all Maori but to provide some insight into some of the issues that exist within and across te ao Maori (the Maori world), based on my own experiences.

So anyway, here we have two lots of people, Maori and Non-Maori who are fighting for the survival of their cultural identities and our successive governments are doing jack sh** to facilitate any adequate understanding from either side.

Lets look back at the facts once more: Maori really were horribly discriminated against for more than 130 years.  This included having their culture, customs and values completely disregarded, as well as having land confiscated. It is a fact that land is an economic base so without that economic base, Maori did not have the same life chances and opportunities as non-Maori.  The Hunn Report uncovered the damning state of Maori communities in the 1960s which paved the way for the Waitangi Tribunal to be set up in 1975.  In 1985, the Waitangi Tribunal was given the authority to address breaches of the treaty and grievances going right back until 1840.  Most of the time, what Maori, iwi, hapu, whanau and individuals would really like is acknowledgment, validation and apologies from the Crown, represented by the Government, they do NOT seek this from everday New Zealanders.  These things allow our mana or dignity to remain intact.  If land is returned, it is usually Government owned land. In the last 40 years, Maori have gone from being an invisible minority whose rights were not recognised, to being a very visible, integral part of contemporary New Zealand society.  We now have Maori television, our children sing in Te Reo Maori at pre-school, it is common to attend powhiri for business purposes and many organisations offer staff Te Reo Maori classes. Maori culture and identity has become an everyday part of New Zealand society which, while exciting and awesome for many of us, must be threatening to non-Maori who grew up in a substantially different New Zealand, a British Colony of Mother England.  I am not justifying the negative behaviours nor the denial of rights that some of these people might declare, but I am trying to demonstrate that Maori and non-Maori actually have very different experiences of life in New Zealand.  Where Maori once questioned whether their identity was going to survive (and we still do), we now have a generation of non-Maori who silently wonder where their turangawaewae is if they’re not Maori themselves (well, not in those words). Where Maori once had their lands confiscated, we now have non-Maori concerned that their home could be taken off them and used in a settlement (in reality this is more likely to be done by your local council to build a motorway!). Where Maori are now a permanent and proud feature of New Zealand society, we have non-Maori wondering  ‘whats the big deal anyway? Why can’t we all just get along?’ (the subconscious assumption being that ‘getting along’ means not challenging the dominant Pakeha values).

It is deeply soul searching stuff when you get down to it.  It asks the hard questions. But just because they’re hard and uncomfortable, does not give us the right to live in ignorance. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to inform, educate and facilitate this whole process. Just as Maori grievances should be respected, validated and understood, Pakeha also have the right to have their concerns acknowledged and understood.

And I hate the argument that ‘we are all one’, this is not true.  We have unique cultures and histories and we should endeavour to understand them all, for they make up who we, as Kiwis, are today. Recognising, supporting and promoting different cultures does not have to be at the expense or demise of another.  In fact, we need to remember that we have more in common than we have differences and we need to work together to find the common ground – especially given the difficult future we’ll be facing together (climate change anyone?). I am proof that this isn’t as big a deal as people make it. I am Maori and Pakeha and I live happily with myself (and my French husband) everyday.  Cultures do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, we need to find a way to capitalise on this wealth of diversity that exists in New Zealand.

Education and conversation around these issues is imperative and must be done for the sake of race relations in our country.  The fact is that all sides, Maori, Pakeha and our migrant populations have some genuine concerns that need to be addressed. We all deserve the warm fuzzies that come with knowing our turangawaewae, our roots in this world. We have so so much to be proud of in Godzone, so the constant negativity and racist remarks which emerge every Waitangi Day are a blight on a day that we actually should be remembering/commemorating, and it is okay to do this in different ways.  For various iwi, hapu and whanau, an appropriate way to commemorate the signing of these documents may be to go out and protest and that is their right.  For many others it might be to simply relax at home.  For others, it may be a non-event.  You have a right to commemorate this day as you please but don’t dismiss our history as if it means nothing, as if it hasn’t quintessentially shaped each of our experiences of growing up in this country.  As with Thanks Giving in America, Bastille Day in France or even Anzac Day, we should be remembering our past not living in ignorance.  Each of those days is not about re-living the past, (you don’t see the French running around letting prisoners out into the streets of Paris, because that is not the point). Instead, it is about taking stock of where we have come from, so that we do not make the same mistakes.

Changing Waitangi Day to New Zealand day is not going to fix any of these deeply entrenched and underlying issues.  It will simply wash away the whole point, which is to pay homage to OUR history, New Zealand’s history. We need to recognise our collective history, learn from the mistakes and allow it to bind and guide us as a nation.

NB: I would like to acknowledge the issue of socio-economic inequality.  A lot of people assume that empowering indigenous peoples must mean that others are missing out on something; that they are being disempowered or dispossessed in some way. But empowering Maori or other minority peoples does not and should not take place at the expense of others. Unfortunately, this is often how the discussion is framed by the media. We need to recognise this as a divide and rule tactic, which serves no other purpose than to stop people from uniting under one cause. I urge people, particularly non-Maori working class populations or minority peoples, to consider learning from local Maori experiences and other grass roots movements. Push for your rights and for self determination with the guidance of those who have been there and done that. We could learn a lot if we break down the barriers and, instead of throwing stones, listen to one another! 

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One thought on “Why it should remain Waitangi Day

  1. This is a great post. I believe New Zealander should be proud of Waitangi day, proud to have one of the most progressive race relation and fairest dealing between the indigenous people and settlers in the world. Be proud of your history…

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