Image: Versions of the Treaty of Waitangi / Archives New Zealand / Wikimedia Commons
I am not celebrating this Waitangi Day, and I’m okay with knowing that I probably won’t be celebrating next year either.
To many, a day off is a day off, but Waitangi Day to me is a day of grieving, of reflecting, and of contemplating what meaningful reconciliation will look like. After facing and delving into the reality of stark injustice, celebrating seems inappropriate when conversations of constitutional change are not even on the agenda.
Put into real talk, the guarantee of chieftanship (rangatiratanga) granted in te Tiriti is closer to, if not synonymous with, a guarantee of soverignty; greater in authority than the Crown’s kāwanatanga (governance). Though the English version of the Treaty depicts “alternative facts” that align with the Crown holding the ultimate authority, over 500 Māori chiefs, as well as the Crown representative, Governor Hobson, signed the Māori version of the Treaty, not the English one. This forces us question why then the Treaty, rather than te Tiriti, is the version that is upheld as binding today.
Māori leaders understood, from the Māori version of the Treaty, that signing the document did not compromise their chieftanship as that would be the equivalent of signing over their mana – an act that would have simply never gone down. The Crown’s breach of te Tiriti in retaining Māori rights of authority and partnership has led to Māori impoverishment, loss of chiefly authority, institutional Pākehā dominance, Māori marginalisation and the compromising loss of taonga – ranging from Te Reo Māori, to land alienation, to tikanga Māori.
The inability for Māori to be able to navigate their own direction, or have the autonomy and authority that is increasingly being sought, speaks to the violation of promises made by te Tiriti and explains why the current mechanism for restoration - return of land, financial pay outs, and formal apologies - do not, and will not fully reconcile. Māori are demanding to at least have a legitimate seat at the table, and ideally for the table to be ours as it was always intended to be.
The slow progress towards recognising Māori rights of self-determination, promised in te Tiriti and recognised by the Waitangi Tribunal, highlights the way in which hearing Māori experiences of injustice is distinct from the actioning of full restoration. While claiming the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s basic constitutional document, we are not yet fully committing to getting in the trenches and working through the fundamental injustice that has spawned since its signing.
However, much like the invitation sent from iwi chiefs for the Crown to come and reconcile settler lawlessness rather than refusing their stay, and much like the invitation from Te Whiti o Rongomai to land surveyors to come in for dinner rather than reacting with violence, the calling from Māori for a restored Aotearoa is an invitation for everyone – to create an Aotearoa in which everyone continues to be welcome.
Waitangi Day is a day that seems centralised around our ‘national identity’, around us vs. them, around “Māori issues” that immediately dichotomise what constitutes a “New Zealand issue” and a “Māori issue”. And, more recently, this day sparks controversy around who is invited where and to what degree.
This Waitangi Day is not yet the celebration New Zealanders are hoping it will be. Until the day conversations of meaningful constitutional change are brought to the table, then yeah, we will probably still be angry. But I have a dream that one day we will celebrate. That one day, this weekend will, and should, be a proud moment of standing in arms, reflecting on all that we have overcome together.
For Māori I believe we can celebrate right now because we have survived! I can only speak for myself, and I only plan too. I am young, Māori, white, female, semi-educated, and prone to destructive idealism. For me, sitting with fair skin, limited Te Reo Māori, and a faith that is usually connected to colonialism, means that I am not straddling any moral high horse. In fact, I am forced to consider myself as perpetuating the problem by simply being a symptom of it. I have work to do to; we all do. But, Aotearoa, I believe we are ready.
I believe, not only that we are ready, but that in the deepest parts of ourselves we are hungry. Hungry to be rid of the brokenness, of the political spectacles, of a media landscape that loses truth and paints hate and division, and in fact yearning to step into the potential of being a lighthouse of reconciliation that the world will be astounded by. Whether consciously or in the undertones of our reality, we yearn for truth, for justice, and for our broken relationships to be restored.
This new world holds a vision of true reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā... A vision of true acknowledgement and understanding of each other, of true grieving together, and of true restoration for the grievances experienced past and present. This is a vision that – wait for it – everyone is indeed both invited and welcomed to be a part of.
Karanga mai ki ngā tangata.