Many countries have a national day, a day that’s a holiday but celebrates or recognizes their heritage, culture, and history. In the USA, we have Independence Day, more commonly called “The Fourth of July”. It’s a day where we acknowledge the country’s brave founders, men and women who declared their independence from the British Empire in a document called the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. The rest, they say, is history.
When I lived in the US, we would either gather with family or with friends (or a combination of both) and see the local parade before having a BBQ and maybe watch the village’s fireworks display that night. It’s usually a day to hang out, celebrate, and enjoy your freedom. The key word here is “celebrate”.
Most importantly, when you see friends and family or even people you don’t or may barely know, you say, “Happy 4th of July”. It’s just kinda a normal thing to say.
New Zealand’s equivalent to Independence Day is Waitangi Day. Originally not always recognized as a public holiday, Waitangi Day switched its name to New Zealand Day for a while until Muldoon’s government felt the name “New Zealand Day” detracted from the significance of the day: the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and Māori on 6 February 1840. And so, the name reverted back to Waitangi Day.
The first Waitangi Day I spent here, I went around wishing everyone a “Happy Waitangi Day”. People kinda looked at me like I was nuts; they were probably thinking I was some crazy Yank who had no clue what he was talking about. Noel said that one really didn’t wish people a “Happy Waitangi Day” in New Zealand. I knew there had been issues around the day, most significantly the injustices some Māori felt the British had created under the Treaty. To be honest, the New Zealand Government has, for the most part, made big leaps and bounds in addressing these grievances in an attempt to help Māori achieve and succeed. At least, I kept telling some people who’d go on about how poorly the British (and then New Zealand government) had treated Māori, they didn’t displace Māori from their land then place them on reservations or segregate them from the general public like other countries with indigenous people had done. *cough* America *cough* Australia *cough* Many African countries. *cough*
The Fourth of July in the US is a day of celebration and recognition. More importantly, it’s a day of pride and patriotism for the country.
Waitangi Day is a public holiday. Some people have BBQs, some just chill and hang out, some go shopping. For more radical activists on both ends of the spectrum, it is a day of protest, activism, and division.
Case in point from this year: Titewhai Harawira threw her toys out of the cot because marae elders wanted another kuia (female elder) to lead Prime Minister John Key onto the Waitangi marae. This is the same woman who told former Prime Minister Helen Clark she couldn’t speak on the marae due to Māori protocol not allowing women to speak on the marae yet doesn’t follow that same protocol herself. She made Clark cry. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Helen Clark, but the woman was our Prime Minister; she deserved more respect from a woman who claims she’s full of mana.
It doesn’t end there, good people. No, one of Titewhai’s offspring decided to disrupt a re-enactment. One of her other sons, Mana party leader and MP Hone Harawira, who isn’t above courting controversy himself, stated that Waitangi Day is, “about focusing on issues that were important to Māori.” Two of Hone Harawira’s nephews assaulted the Prime Minister on Waitangi Day in 2009.
(Noel said yesterday, when the whole Titewhai bun-fighting over who would lead the PM onto the marae affair raised its ugly head, that he thought the entire family should be tied to a flagpole or banned entirely…)
Those from the other end of the spectrum probably have or will emerge to say that that Māori shouldn’t have any special rights above others and the Treaty of Waitangi should be scrapped, or Waitangi Day should be de-legitimized as a public holiday in place of another national day, like ANZAC Day. Even former ACT MP Dr. Muriel Newman called Waitangi Day “Our national day of shame” and argues her reasons why it is.
I personally don’t feel these actions are solutions to the problems. Sure, Māori may have legitimate grievances, but there are many other days throughout the year and many processes, including the Waitangi Tribunal, to address these. Likewise, those non-Māori calling for the abolishment of Waitangi Day (and everything associated with it) should push harder to make it a day of celebration.
I think there’s a small fringe of radicals on either side of the political spectrum, jumping up and down, making a lot of noise. Of course, to sell papers or raise ratings, the media latch on to this like a leech to its host. This kinda stuff sells. It might sell, but it’s divisive and destructive.
Even Labour leader David Shearer, a man I honestly don’t have a lot of time for, expressed his opinions supporting celebrating Waitangi Day in the Dominion Post today.
In the US, the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”, is important. United, as a nation, we can do anything. So, as our national day, the day on which our modern nation of New Zealand was essentially created, as an agreement between non-Māori and Māori alike to co-exist harmoniously, we need to think of ways to celebrate those things that make us different but, more importantly, those things that make us great as a nation.
Let’s go forward and use the day wisely, as a celebration of all things New Zealand, all things Kiwi, all things that makes this beautiful, wonderful country great.
Happy Waitangi Day!