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Today February 6 is a public holiday in New Zealand – Waitangi Day.  It celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi the nation’s founding document that was signed on this day in 1840.

The document was signed on behalf of Queen Victoria by William Hobson and by various Maori chiefs representing their tribes.  NZ Maoris are tribal and there is not one Maori nation and so the Treaty had to be taken around the country for signing by other Maoris.  The two versions of the Treaty (one in English and one in Maori) are not identical and over time there has been much debate as to what the two sides actually agreed.

The Treaty gives Maoris the rights of British Citizenship and rights to their land.  The English version of the Treaty promises to:

  • protect Māori interests from the encroaching British settlement;
  • provide for British settlement; and
  • establish a government to maintain peace and order.

while the Maori understand it to :

  • secure tribal rangatiratanga (most often defined as chieftainship); and
  • secure Māori land ownership
Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Treaty Grounds, Waitangi

Traditionally celebrations are held at the Treaty House in Waitangi.  Politicians and other leaders are welcomed onto the marae, (a sacred open meeting place) by Maori elders.  Recently there has been a lot of dissension and Waitangi Day has become the focal point for Maori discontent.

However, apart from the Treaty we do have the Waitangi Tribunal where claims by Maori for redress for breaches by the Crown  are made.  The claims and settlements have been a significant feature of race relations since 1975.

Successive Governments have attempted to compensate Maori for the loss of their land and quite large settlements have been awarded.  This too has caused dissension particularly among the Pakeha (the Maori word for those not Maori) and some of the Maori tribes who have not received compensation.

So while February 6 should be a day of rejoicing and celebration, it is regularly marked with protest.  This year the Prime Minister, John Key was ‘drowned out’ by protesters when making his speech.

Our peaceful bi-cultural nation is hurting under the arguments and protests and in the end nobody wins.

 

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