Over the last few decades, Waitangi Day has been remembered for acrimony and division along with the fun many people choose to have on this most special day. For those who focus on the negatives, it is a day that causes them a good deal of confusion and possibly pain.
If we go back to the beginning and seek out the purpose of the Treaty for which this day takes its name, then we would find differing views on what the document that many Maori and Europeans were signing meant. For the Europeans (Pakeha) it was seen primarily as a document to enable the peaceful ‘takeover ‘of a people and their land. For those Maori present and the subsequent journey of the ‘document’ to places far and wide within the new colony of New Zealand, a very different view was taken as to the meaning of the said document. They were not signing away their relationship to the land; indeed they viewed their guardianship of the land and its resources as being theirs forever.
Thus the divisions were magnified and unscrupulous measures were employed to acquire vast reaches of New Zealand. There is no doubt that Maori were dispossessed and as a result they were alienated within their own land. Subsequent European ‘settler governments’ took their own view and eventually the two people went to war; one to keep what was left and the other to subdue and conquer.
It is surprising that New Zealand is as peaceful as it is and perhaps that can be put down to other factors; for example, form the very first time of European settlement, there was dialogue and a meeting of two peoples. Today, the races are mixed to the point that many New Zealanders can claim Maori blood. We cannot however, get away from the fact that not all Maori have thrived in modern times. Despite large ‘settlements’ negotiated in recent years, a large proportion of Maori are overrepresented in negative crime figures and poverty numbers.
Many efforts have been made to address the gap between Maori and the new-arrivals (including the massive inflow of other ethnic groups) but the debate continues about a ‘people dispossessed and the ramifications of this.
There is also a growing groundswell of opinion within Maori and other New Zealanders about where we are going as a nation and going alongside this is a movement that pushes NZ as ‘one nation’ but many people. There is a spirit within NZ to make things work and Waitangi Day now means different things to different people. Move away from the controversy at the Treaty grounds and you will see most New Zealanders celebrating in very happy ways. Indeed, if one looks away from the few moments of anger, confusion and downright stupidity at the Treaty Grounds, one will see a nation moving towards a better understanding; both of its history and where it is going. I do not fear for our future!