Today is Waitangi Day, where Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, whereby Aotearoa New Zealand became a British colony. There are in fact two versions of the Treaty of Waitangi: the Treaty, signed by Governor Hobson on behalf of the British Crown, which was written in English; and te Tiriti, which was signed by most of the Māori signatories, and was in written in Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). What the Crown intended, and what the Māori believed they were signing up to, were not the same thing, and has been a matter of dispute ever since, including bloody warfare. I stated my point of view in a 2015 blog post Treaty of Waitangi 101 which also includes a video clip of a presentation made to the Quaker Yearly Meeting in 2013.
There has been a call, both from Māori and from some sections of the Pākehā community to enshrine the treaty in law. There arises a problem: which version? I don’t think this is solvable. However, I think we are on the right track in looking at the principles or spirit of the treaty and working within that framework. Te Ara (the Encyclopedia of New Zealand) has a story on the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti that illustrates where we are at today. The Waitangi Tribunal had this to say in 1983:
The spirit of the Treaty transcends the sum total of its component written words and puts literal or narrow interpretations out of place.
In River gains personhood I wrote about how the Whanganui River and its watershed has gained personhood. This is an example of respecting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. A similar law saw a section of the North Island change from being a national park to an entity with personhood.
There are some who find the notion that a “primitive animistic” perspective being permitted within a “civilised Western Christian” (is that Oxymoronic?) society to be totally unacceptable – mostly, but not entirely on the religious right. Some of these detractors are not Kiwi, but some unfortunately are. Personally, I find the partial absorption of each other’s culture, values and perspectives both challenging and beautiful, and long may it continue to be so
Finally I have embedded a YouTube clip of a speech from Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Yes, I’ll concede that as well as discussing the importance of Waitangi Day, she manages to include a little politics and nationalism (after all, she’s a politician), but what I like about her style, is that she challenges us to make her and her government accountable for what they say and do (or don’t do as the case may be). I like that in a politician. (length: 12m 16s)