Yesterday I joined in the Westport Waitangi Day celebrations at the NBS Theatre. It was great to be given a warm welcome, to hear from the Maori organisations within our community and the movie "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" was a great choice to end the family-friendly celebrations.
We were all asked the question "What does Waitangi Day mean to you?" One person bravely stood up to share her answer to that question - and won a whanau-ora T-shirt for doing so. I wasn't that brave, but with a bit of time to think, I've had a stab at answering that question here on this blog.
My wife and I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on our honeymoon 15 years ago... and it was infamously the scene of our first marital argument (we did get to cuddle and make up later!). But it wasn't until I moved to New Zealand from the UK in 2009, that I got to appreciate some of the history and the politics behind Waitangi Day.
I think for me Waitangi Day is a day of hope, whilst also being a day to recognise that there have been many injustices committed against the spirit of te Tiriti in the last 180 years. It is worth celebrating that within the generation of the first Europeans settling in New Zealand, a bicultural treaty was drawn up and signed. I know there have been differing interpretations of what the treaty stood for and how it was interpreted. But to my mind a treaty by its very nature recognises 2 equal partners.
I am also encouraged by the role that another Anglican priest, CMS Missionary, Henry Williams played in translating the text of the treaty into te reo Maori. The title "missionary" for some conjours up images of thoughtless colonialists unwilling to listen to the local culture. But in the case of the early missionaries to Aotearoa New Zealand, this couldn't be further from the truth. Williams and others spent time to get to know local culture and customs. They were the first people to write down the Maori language. And their motivation in translating and supporting the treaty was to protect Maori from the unthinking colonialists they are sometimes mistaken for.
How should we celebrate Waitangi Day? Well in Kawatiri Westport, I was glad to be able to join with both Pakeha and Maori in an event that was fun, informative, and built community for all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
NZ Maori identify themselves by their local mountain and river, but I grew up in the south of England where the land is flat, and our local river - the Blackwater - lived up to its name as being one of the most polluted streams in the UK. So now I'm claiming the Buller River, or in te reo Maori the Kawatiri, as my own.