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Why I'm Protesting on Waitangi Day, For the First Time

Most years I either work or get ready for the Superbowl.

(Top image: Protest at Waitangi. Image via Wikimedia Commons)

"It doesn't mean anything to me," said Dad. "If I'm home, choice, it's a day off from work." I try to look casual but he can tell I want some story of Hone Heke resistance from his youth. I can't really blame him though. When I ask myself the same question—What does Waitangi Day mean to me?— I come up empty-handed.

Growing up Māori in far North Queensland, I was never exposed to Waitangi Day. My only understanding of commemorative holidays was drawn from the rampant White nationalism that dominated "Australia" Day and the subjugation of indigenous history. Invasion Day engineered my anti-antipoedean-nationalism. Coming home to Aotearoa, I was unsurprised to find Waitangi Day was marred with the same problem.

I've never spent Waitangi Day in Waitangi. Some years I have worked but the last three years I have watched the Superbowl. I'm not sure why I felt the need to escape to something so foreign as gridiron.

The decline of Te Reo Māori. Shorter lifespans. Over-representation in prison population. Poverty twice that of Pākehā. Higher infant mortality rates. Higher unemployment rates. Lower income. Can I stop now?

Perhaps it is because I can't stand any farce of national celebration on Waitangi Day. New Zealand indulges one size fits all business models across every government department, why should this not extend to our national holiday? This day is not a celebration of Māori, it is the Empire's Birthday, the Crown Parade; commemorating the illegal and legal tactics used to justify colonisation.

1865 Native Lands Act. 1867 Native Schools Act. 1905 Tōhunga Suppression Act. Māori Affairs Amendment Act 1967. Bastion Point. Parihaka. Foreshore and Seabed. Ngāwha. Rogernomics. Waitangi.

This year I'll be at Orakei in Auckland. I don't have the means to go to Waitangi. I will fall in rank, placard in hand, alongside the others voicing their dissent to the continued, illegitimate occupation of indigenous land. Like many Māori before me, I want to lay siege to the national allegory that Aotearoa is an idyllic model of race relations.

Improving race relations requires us to relinquish monoculturalism and invest in Māori. Some find equity scary; it's a threat to privilege.

If I am truly honest, I agree with my Dad. Waitangi Day means nothing to me. It celebrates one history, a settler history; one that avoids accountability and affirms the maintenance of a settler hegemony. The Crown's failure to uphold and honour Te Tiriti renders any semblance of meaning void.

Since its inception in 1840 the Crown has been in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The lack of Māori history in our education system has dispersed the colonial myth that 'the Treaty' has been consolidated into one document. There are two separate documents; Te Tiriti, that was debated, discussed, signed by rangatira and given international authority by contra proferentum (against the drafter where ambiguous), and the Treaty; not read to or debated or signed by rangatira, that is in no way a translation of the former. Te Kara of 1834, Te Whakaminenga o Ngā Hapū o Nu Tīreni (The Confederation of Hapū of New Zealand), and He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tīreni 1835 (The Declaration of Independence) both support Māori as having sovereignty.

Nearly two hundred years on since Te Tiriti was first signed, the Crown continues to rely on the illegitimate Treaty as the basis for its relationship with Māori, and dictate how we should conduct our affairs, use our resources and contest our rights on our land. Settlements, for example, proffer their own subset of frustration for Māori; according to academic Margaret Mutu, those who have settled have received less than 0.1 percent of what was stolen in compensation. Since 1988 the United Nations has reported on Māori society three times and each report has condemned government and civil society's treatment of Māori. 

This year, an election year, the government will again present national issues as purely Māori. Mainstream media, as a separate body, should work to challenge the status quo and hold themselves to the recommendations made in the 2007 UN report. They need to give historical context and report inaccuracies, explain concepts such as tikanga and marae protocol; and ground their report within a Māori world view. Better yet, viewers should be encouraged to engage with Te Kaea, Te Karere, and other forms of Māori media who provide the balance lacking in mainstream media. Media compliance only sustains the Prime Minister's claims of Māori protest at Waitangi as cringey and irrelevant, spoiling our national day; insulting and ostracising Māori in one breath.

Protests continue to have relevance and will be contentious until Te Titiri is honoured by both Māori and Pākehā. The issues cannot be contained as purely a Māori problem. The Crown's long history of breaching Te Tiriti is our greatest shame, and as a nation we should summon the courage to hold them accountable. The issues Māori face are so often contained as isolated issues and yet the uncomfortable truth is that responsibility belongs to us all. We cannot restore integrity to our national day until the Crown admits fault. Only then can we begin to have a national, Māori-led dialogue that acknowledges the complexities of two histories and their ramifications. Give Māori something to celebrate. Honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

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