FOOD FOR THOUGHT: NZ’s National Day

He iwi tahi tatou – We are now one nation. Lieutenant-Governor Hobson, February 1840

Take the politics out of it?

By Roger Childs

We are still more than three weeks away from Waitangi Day and the sparring has already begun. The Prime Minister won’t go to Waitangi because he wouldn’t be allowed to speak, and Maori groups in the area have responded with mixed messages.

New Zealanders are tired of the annual stoush over the national day and would be delighted if the event could be de-politicised.

Politics are not an issue on Australia Day or Canada Day, so why here?

When did the nation begin?

Waitangi Day commemorates the signing of the Treaty by some New Zealand chiefs and British officials 177 years ago. But is this much disputed document actually our founding document?  No. This was the date when the British reluctantly decided to officially declare New Zealand a colony; a status which has long been consigned to the dustbin of history.

The country had been inhabited by Pacific Island migrants and their descendants for 500+ years, and traders, whalers, sealers and settlers from Britain, Europe and America had been around for decades.  So our nation’s history does not begin in 1840.

The Treaty of Waitangi did formalize the relationship between the British crown and all the people settled in New Zealand. The three clauses have been much debated, however any interpretation should centre on what the actual 1840 agreement stated. (We’ll take this up in later article.)

Put the emphasis on all New Zealanders

Kiwis holding the New Zealand flag

Back in 1840 there were two main groups living here: New Zealanders (the descendants of Pacific Island immigrants) and “European” peoples.  Today New Zealand is a cosmopolitan society with citizens from almost every cultural and national group on the planet. So the biculturalism of 177 years ago has given way to a rich tapestry of ethnic threads in the 21st century.

Whatever their origins, or the date they or their ancestors arrived, all New Zealanders are equally important, and Waitangi Day (or New Zealand Day) should be about taking pride in the country’s ethnic diversity.

It is time to revert to New Zealand Day and take the focus off Waitangi? Obviously there would be celebrations in the Bay of Islands, but why should these be any more important than those in Napier or Dunedin?

In 1840 Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson said He iwi tahi tatou – We are now one nation. This is still the case in 2016, so on Monday February 6, let’s celebrate being equal citizens of that great nation.