On February 6, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and is considered New Zealand’s founding document.
The Treaty is an agreement between Maori (Indigenous people of New Zealand), represented by many Rangatira (Chief/Leader) and the British Crown, represented by William Hobson.
The Treaty made up of nine sheets – two are on parchment (stretched animal skin) and seven on paper. Eight of these sheets are in te Reo Māori, and one is in English. One of the Māori language sheets is printed, but all the other sheets are handwritten.
The sheets were taken around the country, sometimes by land but more often by sea, to be signed by as many Rangatira as possible. In the end, about 540 Rangatira signed. The exact number is not known because parts of some sheets are hard to interpret.
Waitangi Day is recognised as New Zealand’s national day and was announced as a National Holiday in 1974 by the Prime Minster of the time, Norman Kirk. The day is commemorated and protested at the Treaty House in Waitangi.
Concerns over land and other matters continue to be voiced by Māori, asking for greater awareness by Pakeha (White people) and acceptance of Māoritanga (Maori custom), seen as guaranteed by the Treaty, and for acknowledgement of Māori as the tangata whenua (people of the land). “Māori sovereignty – defined over the years in as autonomy, self-determination or self-regulation, has been one of the most enduring Māori understandings of the Treaty’s second article (in which te tino rangatiratanga was not ceded but guaranteed)”.
Waitangi Day events have become a focus for times of confrontation and activism and protests about sovereignty. Some years, the governing Prime Minister decided that there was too much “disorganisation and disruption” and opted out of attending.
This year we have a new Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern. In her address yesterday, she said, “I think we should stop striving for perfection at the commemorations of our national day. If people choose to use their voice on this day that does not mean it is a failure, it does not mean the day needs to change or move it just means that we’re not complacent.”
Given that my children and grandchildren have blood on both sides of this fence, let’s hope for a path to forgiveness, with the thought that they will be free to grow into a more united future.
For more information about New Zealand History: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/treaty/waitangi-day