Editorial: Healthy debate can lead to unity

By Dylan Thorne

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I have come to appreciate Waitangi Day.

It is, in turns, a day of unity and a day of division. Protests at Waitangi, which so often grab headlines, are often staged alongside a much larger celebration of the day.

For many, February 6 is just a day off work, others see it as a chance to celebrate our nation, the anniversary of the signing of what many believe is the country's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

For others it is a time to focus on the wrongs of the past and to remind others that there is still much work to be done.

In the past I have despaired at some of the behaviour on display at the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi.

It doesn't bother me so much anymore.

For decades we have debated how the day should be marked. Should it be a day to debate, air grievances and protest? Or should we join together to celebrate?

The answer, for now at least, is that it's okay for the day to feature a bit of both.

There is no doubt that Maori have been wronged in the past and this is why we have demonstrations today. Protest is a healthy part of any democracy and grievances should be aired.

This point was acknowledged by Prime Minister John Key who used his annual address at Waitangi to make the case for the day to keep its edge, "warts and all".

He pointed out New Zealanders were not a bunch of flag-wavers but there was no other day on which the weight of history in this country was felt so heavily.

We don't have to look too far back to see that Anzac Day was also once a day of protest.

As one commentator has pointed out, Anzac Day was intended to be a day of celebration of nationhood and sacrifice, but was transformed into a social battleground as tensions arose from New Zealand's participation in the Vietnam War.

Over time that changed, and Anzac Day has become everything it was intended to be - a celebration of what we stand for and who we are.

The same could happen to Waitangi Day as historic grievances are settled and past injustices are addressed over time.

Until then, the vigorous debate that surrounds this day can only help us on the path to unity.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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