Waitangi Day – A celebration of nationhood

Waitangi Day – A celebration of nationhood

New Zealand celebrates Waitangi day every year on the 6th of February. The day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between the local Maori (NZ’s indigenous people) and the British Crown.

Over the years the Treaty has been hailed and celebrated as a symbol of New Zealand’s nationhood. This is proudly acknowledged and embraced. On the other hand the Treaty is also condemned by those who seek to ignore and dismiss its provisions and obligations on the Crown to safeguard Maori rights to their language, culture, land and resources.

This has meant that Waitangi Day is both a celebration of nationhood, and at times a flash point between the differing cultural values of Maori, as Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, and some of the descendants from the dominant colonising settlers and migrants from other parts of the world. Historically these settlers have come predominantly from Britain and Europe. However nowadays, new migrants are increasingly coming from Asia adding to New Zealand’s already diverse population. (The speed with which this demographic change is happening has created a phenomenon referred to as Superdiversity.)

The Tangata Whenua, are the guardians of the land, including its numerous resources above and below the earth, forests and sea. The Maori see it as their role to safeguard the land and its resources, as a treasure or Taonga, for future generations. Some among the settling groups tend to see the land as a resource whose treasures are to be owned and developed as part of progress and the generation of financial wealth.

The flash point comes with the tensions between the different notions towards ‘guardianship’ and ‘ownership’ of the land. There are differing cultural expectations around how the land and its resources should be best used, and the subsequent distribution of the financial wealth and gains that arise from that.

It is a tension that has parallels throughout history around the globe. However at its heart, Waitangi Day is the celebration of nationhood. It marks New Zealand’s birth as nation that provides a focal point for these tensions to be acknowledged. New Zealand is a democracy. Waitangi Day is the celebration of a democratic nation that allows differing views to be freely shared, debated and discussed in peace.

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