Rosemary McLeod: Keeping awareness alive


I'm sorry if we upset the British with our antics in London on Waitangi Day. They're not used to this sort of thing.

The British are known for their abstemious ways with alcohol and the respectful way they behave on, for example, soccer grounds.

They may be known for their steady drinking at neighbourhood pubs, their homes way from home, where they down pints while eating whatever's curled up in the warming cabinet, but goodness knows they'd never chunder on Westminster Abbey, or pee out aside a pub. They only riot.

What better time could there be than our national holiday to remind us of their gentler introductions to this country?

Alcohol was among those; early descriptions of the carry-on in the Bay of Islands, fuelled by booze, depict a Saturnalia that would astound even us today.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

And think of the Treaty itself, a pact with Maori made by the British in the name of Queen Victoria, but soon flung somewhere out of sight for rats to gnaw.

Those land-grabbing acts by our founding fathers are with us today in the annual Waitangi Day demonstrations.

There are sour memories, actually, in all Britain's former colonies, where indigenous people got a raw deal - but why pee on their footpaths? It's so disrespectful.

I was in London recently. Their great Trafalgar Square was looking tired and tatty, and I noted how many of their memorials and statues had to do with one war or another.

But they also brought us the neighbourly art of curtain-twitching, fine china, the Church of England, Oasis and The Rolling Stones, so we should go easy on them.

Labour leader David Shearer put his finger, metaphorically speaking, on why we should be gentle with each other, too, on our national day, observing that: "Often we don't realise how lucky we are until we are on our OE or travelling offshore on holiday."

Few Ngapuhi are able to enjoy that experience, being mired in poverty, but what a nice thought.

Letters to one newspaper lamenting our annual naughtiness were an interesting read, one of them from a person rejoicing in that wonderful English surname, Cholmondeley.

He wanted "some government" to have the "intestinal fortitude and decent pride to wipe this 'holiday' from the statutes" because of "piggish behaviour".

Nations of the world, he wrote, "Must watch us and raise an eyebrow or snigger outright." Now there's a thought to make us hang our heads in shame.

A person with the surname Heikoop, possibly Dutch or South African, for we are multicultural, told us that "Behaviour on a marae is governed by respect, honour and protocol."

What a shame that Maori don't live up to her expectations. I wonder if she lives up to theirs.

It's a good thing that we have the annual theatrical production at Waitangi and the angry outbursts in newspapers.

They keep awareness of the Crown's partnership with Maori alive, especially as Maori persistently feature far too often in this country's negative statistics.

Blaming them for that won't solve anything, but it might make some difference if we took the Treaty at its "dangerous words" as another protesting letter-writer put it. Yes, they are dangerous words; dangerous to ignore.

In the background to any latent racial conflict that simmers over Waitangi Day is the issue of whether or not Chinese interests buy the Crafar farms.

We have accused ourselves of xenophobia and racism because of protest against the possible deal.

My personal protest is that we sell our land outright to foreigners regardless of their culture or nationality.

It's a much better idea to sell long leases, as was the case with country singer Shania Twain. She paid $21 million in 2004 to acquire scenic high-country land for 30 years.

Protest over that soon died down, and rightly, because it made good sense.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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