Every year I’m jarred by criticism of Waitangi Day protests and the suggestion that we should all just get along and celebrate our beautiful nation. I’m jarred for several reasons.
Firstly, we are not one country. Te Tiriti allows the crown governance over Pakēhā and it protects Māori land and self-determination. Tangata whenua did not cede sovereignty, so we must respect the independent nationhood of hapū and iwi Māori.
It also annoys me that there are so few spaces in our mainstream media/communities/parliament for the consideration of Te Tiriti o Waitangi from the perspective of mana whenua. It’s not guaranteed to happen in our schools. Even the Treaty settlements that go through Parliament, while they are some of the only English text records of what happened, are far from the story or the outcome mana whenua would write for themselves. These documents, while hard fought for, are ultimately still controlled and written by the Government and not mana whenua.
For all the talk of celebrating ‘the treaty’ and our nationhood, it all too often seems as if any acknowledgement of the reality of our relationships is somehow wrong and rewritten every year, to the benefit of the colonisers.
Take for example the media coverage this year. It seems to me that it’s been dominated by criticism of the home people of Te Tii, despite it being their house.
The majority of New Zealanders, along with the people on the visiting cruise ship who were warned by their captain not to go to Waitangi because of protest, may be left with an impression of the people at Te Tii/Waitangi as angry or scary people. While they certainly have reason to be angry, I want to share a few images of my experience on Te Tii this year to provide some more context to this.
A Ngāpuhi kaumatua spoke of the pain of colonisation, of how the Crown had tried to destroy everything of what it is to be Māori except their skin colour, but we couldn’t destroy their spirit.
David Seymour, leader of the Act party, stood in reply and did his mihi in te reo Māori, the first time he had ever done that on a Marae. It turns out he has whakapapa back to Ngāpuhi. At the end of his mihi the Ngāpuhi women stood by him and sang ‘Ngā Puawai ō Ngāpuhi’, their iwi anthem, for him and then took him to their side of the house.
Another man stood and told us how he was returning for the 12th year since his father had died to bring the flag his father had brought each year to Waitangi. While he was speaking the protesters outside were calling out to come on because it was so hot.
After some reorganising, they were welcomed on, and gently reprimanded by an elder for not respecting the tikanga. One of the protesters (who were protesting/raising awareness of the devastation P is causing in our communities) replied expressing anger that there had been so little support for their cause. In turn another elder replied acknowledging the harm of P and thanking them for their efforts bringing the hīkoi to Te Tii. He then called on all of us to show our support for their mahi by giving koha.
For me Te Tii and Waitangi are places of learning, of challenge and this year at least, a place of heartbreak and love.