Sunday, February 6, 2011
Mike Butler: Moving on from Waitangi Day
Waitangi Day commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, officially New Zealand's founding document, on February 6 1840. The signing of the treaty was not commemorated until 1934. Before that date, most celebrations of New Zealand's founding as a colony were marked on January 29, the date on which Governor William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands. In 1932, Governor General Lord Bledisloe and his wife bought and donated to the nation the run-down house of James Busby, where the treaty was signed. The treaty house and grounds were made a public reserve, and dedicated on February 6, 1934.
Annual commemorations began in 1947. That year a brief Royal New Zealand Navy ceremony centered on a flagpole which the Navy had paid to erect in the grounds. A Maori speaker was added to the line-up in 1948, and subsequent additions to the ceremony were made nearly every year.
From 1952, the Governor General attended, and from 1958 the Prime Minister also attended, although not every year. From the mid-1950s, a Maori cultural performance was usually given as part of the ceremony, which included a naval salute, and speeches from a range of Maori and Pakeha dignitaries.
The New Zealand Labour Party proposed to make Waitangi Day a public holiday in their 1957 party manifesto, but after Labour won that election they were reluctant to create a new public holiday. The Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1960 making it possible for a locality to substitute Waitangi Day as an alternative to an existing public holiday. In 1963, after a change in government, Waitangi Day was substituted for Auckland Anniversary Day as the provincial holiday in Northland.
In 1971 the Labour shadow minister of Maori Affairs, Matiu Rata, introduced a private member’s bill to make Waitangi Day a national holiday, to be called New Zealand Day. The third Labour Government under Norman Kirk passed the New Zealand Day Act in 1973, which meant that from 1974 Waitangi Day would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day. At the 1974 celebrations, the New Zealand flag was flown for the first time at the top of the flagstaff at Waitangi, rather than the Union Jack, and a replica of the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was also flown.
Robert Muldoon, who became Prime Minister in 1975 leading the Third National Government, did not like the name "New Zealand Day" and some agued that the new name debased the Treaty of Waitangi. Another Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1976 to change the name of the day back to Waitangi Day.
The commemoration has often been the focus of protest by Maori activists. Some have felt that Waitangi Day is too divisive to be a national day and have sought to replace it with Anzac Day or revive Dominion Day, on September 26, the anniversary of the day New Zealand was granted dominion status within the British Empire in 1907. The United Future Party's leader Peter Dunne suggested that the name of the day be changed back to New Zealand Day. Some New Zealanders of neither Maori nor British ancestry view the day as being relevant.
The Maori sovereignty flag became a potent symbol for separatists, and Prime Minister John Key last year somewhat naively humoured them by agreeing to fly that flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and on government buildings last year. No word this year on whether that flag was flown in that way.
Concerts and festivals around the country mark the day. Some marae use the day as an open day to promote Maori culture and protocol. Other marae use the day to explain where they see Maori are and the way forward for Maori in New Zealand. Since the day is also Bob Marley’s birthday, Wellington has a long running "One Love" festival. There are no mass parades, nor widespread celebrations.
On the contrary in London, which has one of the largest New Zealand expatriate populations, a massive 27-stop pub crawl takes place on the Circle Line underground train, and at 4pm, a large-scale haka is performed at Parliament Square as Big Ben marks the hour.
A Yahoo Xtra poll took the nation’s political pulse today with the question: Should Waitangi Day be celebrated? A total of 4052 votes had been recorded since the previous day at the time I looked. A total of 2101 votes, or 52 percent, said “no - why celebrate something that has created so many issues?” 909 votes or 22 percent said “yes– but not as our national day, since it’s not a day of unison”, and 846 votes or 21 percent said “yes – it has a great historic significance to all New Zealanders”.
Most have moved on from Waitangi Day, it would appear.
Waitangi Day, WIkipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waitangi_Day
at 1:10 PM