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Keeping our Te Tiriti promise

Each year, as February 6 rolls around, I find myself reflecting on the events surrounding Waitangi Day.

As our understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi evolves, more of us are asking how to appropriately commemorate it – cognisant of its fraught history and the healing that is still required.

It seems many in Wairarapa agree that an Edwardian Games is not the event – well-intentioned perhaps, but certainly tone-deaf.

The games, proposed for Monday, have since been cancelled after a tide of social media backlash. However, it was not the region’s only event taking advantage of the long weekend.

Notably lacking in the schedule, however, is a council-run initiative.

It seems all three of our district councils are reflecting on how best to acknowledge the signing of the Treaty.

Local historian Gareth Winter says the region’s Waitangi Day commemorations have changed dramatically over the past 183 years.

In 1890, on the 50th anniversary of the signing, Masterton held a public games event on the oval.

“But it wasn’t the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi they were marking, it was the arrival of the settlers in Wellington.”

He says the occasion [held on Wellington Anniversary Day no less] was on par with Australia Day – the day Europeans landed in Sydney in 1788.

In recent years, the opposition to the January 26 anniversary has only become louder, and rightly so. Colonialism has delivered no shortage of suffering, here and in Australia.

Winter says Te Tiriti’s centennial in 1940, enjoyed large-scale celebrations, despite the fact that the country was at war. Again, Masterton had its own event, and again it was devoid of any Treaty recognition. “The focus was on Pakeha settlement.”

However, as noted by The Spinoff’s Leonie Hayden: “Ironically, it was the Government’s centennial celebration … that first gave Maori the opportunity to challenge Treaty breaches publicly.”

And by February 6, 1990, the narrative surrounding Te Tiriti and Waitangi Day had changed significantly. Winter says the clear focus on European settlement had given way to the acknowledgement of the living treaty document, and 30 years on the advances have been remarkable. “Wairarapa iwi have settled their Treaty claims, and there is much better recognition of Te Tiriti at a local level and Maori representation.”

Historian and Ngati Kahungunu environment manager, Rawiri Smith says he hopes the current Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, will continue the ethos of Jacinda Ardern.

“That is, the idea of Maori and the Crown meeting on a bridge, but on a bridge of Maori construct.”

He says the Prime Minister cooking breakfast is in the spirit of manaakitanga, Maori values of hospitality, which includes not shying away from difficult subjects.

“It’s the way of acknowledging the mana of the other group.”

On Waitangi Day, that is the coming together of Maori and the Crown, and with that, a search for mutual solutions. Smith says commemorating Waitangi Day through the lens of Maori values could see New Zealanders looking at how we interact with the environment, think of whanau, and seek balance in our lives. “It can all be a part of a collective attitude, that’s what I hope it would celebrate. I would like to see the promise of Te Tiriti recognised.”

Me too.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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