Uesifili Unasa: Let's have a multicultural Waitangi Day

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The waka fleet prepares to leave Ti Beach during Waitangi Day activities. Photo / APN
The waka fleet prepares to leave Ti Beach during Waitangi Day activities. Photo / APN

Waitangi Day came and went, but the niggle remains: the small world of bicultural politics rarely notices that New Zealand is more than just a nation of Maori and Pakeha. Believe it or not Waitangi Day is an exclusive club of two. It looks, sounds, feels more like segregation than celebration.

The historian Buddy Mikare was given a full page in the last Weekend Herald to imagine a Waitangi Day that will mean something special to all New Zealanders. Obligingly, he imagined a day where, amongst other things, prominent Maori and Pakeha here and overseas speak on their pride in being New Zealanders on this day. He does not imagine there could be other proud New Zealanders from very different ethnic backgrounds.

However, Mikare unwittingly touches on some basic questions which we have avoided asking but loom large; namely: to whom does the treaty belong; and what is the place of a bicultural treaty partnership in the context of a multi-ethnic nation. These are important questions, it would seem, for the simple fact they are to do with the kind of nation we must become and the sorts of qualities that will uniquely define us as New Zealanders.



For now though, Waitangi Day is undeniably about Pakeha and Maori - despite the soothing noises about diversity and oneness. We all know it, think it, talk it, live it - but not necessarily accept it.

If ever a reminder was needed over the weekend of what New Zealand is or is not today, it was in the contrasting images of the small band of cultural and political elites dutifully filing onto a remote Northland treaty ground and the hundreds and thousands of New Zealanders of every racial background flocking into Albert Park in central Auckland to enjoy the Chinese New Year. One was seriously fun, open to all, buzzing with positive energy and looking every bit the rich, dynamic and diverse future New Zealand is becoming; the other not.

Indeed, the Auckland spatial plan for the next thirty years project the Asian and Pasifika population will be a significant presence by 2021. Maori will be a minority amongst the brown faces. Put all three together and Auckland's population will be mostly non-Pakeha.

The unparalleled demographic transformation of Auckland, and of course New Zealand, point to a very different kind of future. New Zealanders will be international in make- up and outlook, focussed on the 'now' and more so on the future. They will be global citizens finding their identity and belonging in multiple peoples and places instead of one. This change is critical to our nation's viability and relevance in the global context.

Take economics. The future of our export economy lies in Asia as it once did in Europe. It is already a multi-million dollars export market with potential future earnings in the billion dollars mark. Alongside it are the technology and education sectors as well as the growing wine industry.

Our knowledge based industries are in desperate need of talent. It is no secret Asian countries warm to the opportunities in New Zealand as is the fact that Asian New Zealanders are high achievers and excel in our schools and universities. A smart nation is one that sees the development of the sciences, technology and knowledge as being critical to a better and more prosperous future.

In geo-political terms, New Zealand's international relevance has been heightened by the United States renewed interest in the pacific region. As the capital city of the Pacific, Auckland and its Pasifika people are strategically positioned as honest and influential brokers in a region of growing international significance. The potential benefits to New Zealand interests are enormous.

As well as that, Maoridom has a historical and cultural kinship with Pasifika peoples and Pacific countries which naturally lend themselves to a powerful political and economic leadership role in the region. A uniquely Maori New Zealand perspective in the Pacific region is as important as a Pasifika one in New Zealand. Needless to say, this does not even begin to consider the possibilities which may lie with New Zealanders of African, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Eastern Europe origins.

These, and more, only makes the small minded prejudices over the farm sales and the unbridled domination of Waitangi Day by the few all the more galling. Our future can ill afford the growing perception that our society is one of inequality and marginalisation.

Waitangi Day ought to be of, by, for all New Zealanders. It needs to fairly represent our present and future as much as it speaks truthfully of our past. And as for Te Tiriti, it must not become the political inconvenience it has been made out to be, but the empowering and sacred covenant of a people willing us to honour each, respect all and love for the land. All of this, of course, will require greater generosity, as the race relations commissioner has rightly called for. But it must be more than just between Maori and Pakeha.

* Uesifili Unasa is Chairperson of the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, Auckland Council

- NZ Herald

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