Today is Waitangi Day in New Zealand. Every year on 6 February we "celebrate" the signing of a treaty between Maori (the indigenous people) and the Crown (the British colonists), This treaty was signed in 1840 as New Zealand became colonised by the British.
Today it is still controversial and readily misunderstood. Most New Zealanders spend Waitangi enjoying the public holiday which falls midsummer and treat it as most other long, hot summer days, by going to the beach, spending time with family, lounging by the pool or having friends over for a barbeque. No doubt some discussion, even heated debate will occur about the merits or otherwise of Waitangi Day.
Others go to their local marae and many flock to the Treaty grounds at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, the very spot where many of the forty chiefs who signed it, together with representatives of the Crown planted their mark on the important document. Some make some sort of protest that the Treaty has not been honoured. Some mix and mingle and enjoy the coming together of people in this important place.
This treaty essentially recognises this land, Aotearoa New Zealand, as being governed dually by the two parties. It therefore acknowledges the first peoples (Maori) and the newcomers (Pakeha) as partners, as equals. This treaty was the only one of its kind in the colonised world. The intent was for Maori and Pakeha to have equal rights into the future.
But unfortunately over the years it has been misunderstood and ignored leading to a large number of grievances on behalf of Maori, mainly to do with the acquisition of land and resources, including blatant confiscation by the government and the resettlement of people. I am not going to describe the extent of the wrong-doings but New Zealanders must understand that wrong has been done.
New Zealand is now made up of people from many different countries, after further waves of migration and the settlement of many different ethnicities. Some find any reference to the Treaty threatening and call it "political correctnes gone mad". Some see Maori being treated in a special way and argue that we are a multicultural nation and not a bicultural one. Others argue that the settling of the grievances through the Waitangi Tribunal is costing the country millions and they therefore should be halted.
Accusations of Maori money-grabbing, up-rising and other negative activities are made out of ignorance. Waitangi Day itself is reported on extensively in the media especially when strong statements are made at the marae, by either Maori speakers or government representatives, as examples of how frought Waitangi Day and therefore the Treaty are.
The fact is that the Treaty exists. And it cannot be denied that back in 1840 parties signed the document with the intent of engendering partnership between Maori and Pakeha; Pakeha being the new people.
Today, both the New Zealand flag and a flag selected by Maori will fly together on the Auckland habour bridge, for the first time ever. Let's hope that as those symbols flap in the wind New Zealanders will recognise that NOW is the time to throw our grudges to the wind, and hope that our nation will now fly high.