Friday, February 15, 2013

Have you been to Waitangi - on Waitangi Day?

New Zealand is in my blood and bones, in my DNA. My family threw off the shackles of class; land-clearings in Scotland; potato famines in Ireland; and tin mine closures in Cornwall – arriving in New Zealand in the mid-1800s.

      The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is what allowed us, and every migrant since,  to come to New Zealand and I was thrilled when Norman Kirks 3rd Labour government made Feb 6th a public holiday. The 1970s were a time of huge changes in race and gender issues in NZ and I, a 5th generation kiwi, was glad to be a passionate part of the processes.

      That being so, I loved revisiting Waitangi last year for the celebrations and commemorations of this our country’s founding document and next year I’m planning on attending the day’s celebrations in Okains  Bay on Banks Peninsula.  Annually I attended the events in Christchurch but now actively encourage others to do something to acknowledge our national day. I’d love all new Zealanders to attend Waitangi Day, in Waitangi, at least once in their lifetime. It’s a great day there, but please just start by saying “Happy Waitangi Day.”

      Michael King, in The Penguin History of New Zealand says “And most New Zealanders, whatever their cultural backgrounds, are good-hearted, practical, commonsensical and tolerant. Those qualities are part of the national cultural capital that has in the past saved the country from the worst excesses of chauvinism and racism seen in other parts of the world. They are as sound a basis as any for optimism about the country’s future.” page 520.

      There will always be conflict and tensions around the day in Waitangi, they are legitimate and desirable debates that define a democracy, and for us, necessary.  Our Treaty was ignored by one partner in the agreement for over a hundred years then, as a result of our national protests and debate over apartheid, we finally looked into our own backyard. We still need to be looking and examining it – we have made much progress but, just as feminism and the 1970s progress has gone backwards, so too do we need to ensure we continue moving forward in our nation’s human rights and our legal and moral obligations agreed to by the signatories of document. 

      As Norman Kirk said about our holiday it is designed to give us “a full sense of nationhood” and I encourage you to celebrate our nation by at least saying to your friends and family, and people whose paths you cross on the day “Happy Waitangi Day” as we continued to build our nation.
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