Lizzie Marvelly: My Waitangi Day one of joy and celebration

Let's not allow racism of the few to spoil fantastic event.
Personally, I love Waitangi Day. It is a day when I celebrate the precious bicultural fabric of our nation. Photo / Getty Images
Personally, I love Waitangi Day. It is a day when I celebrate the precious bicultural fabric of our nation. Photo / Getty Images

Today, according to Mike Hosking, is an "embarrassment ... an annual ritual of abuse, anger and ignorance ... arrogance and rudeness". If he were Prime Minister, he informs us, he would "flag Wai-tang-ee", as he simply cannot see the point. Listening to Hosking I found myself agreeing with him on one count. Waitangi Day is indeed a beacon for many forms of rabid ignorance.

Every year, when Waitangi Day approaches, I am filled variously with pride and sadness. The weeks leading up to our national day are inevitably tainted with racism, both thinly veiled and overt, as a group of high-profile Pakeha commentators suggest that we should flag it, replace it with Anzac Day, call it "New Zealand Day", adjust or do away with it in any multitude of ways that would make them feel more comfortable.

I'm not sure if it's the fact that the day has a Maori name, or that it reminds people of our problematic colonial history for one day of the year, but Waitangi Day certainly grates for some New Zealanders.

"It doesn't unite us!" this group cries outwardly, "it's all about the Maoris wanting more!" they think internally.

Our national day is not one of mindless patriotism, and that offends some people. We're forced to actually think about our history - the great and the not-so-great parts. We can't just use it as an excuse to get sloshed, as many Australians use theirs.

Personally, I love Waitangi Day. It is a day when I celebrate the precious bicultural fabric of our nation. Today I will undoubtedly feel a sense of gratitude that we in New Zealand have at least attempted to create a harmonious relationship between our peoples, one that is formalised by the Treaty. I will feel proud to hark from a nation that embraces Maori taonga such as the haka, Pokarekare Ana and E Ihoa, the powhiri and the koru as vital parts of our national identity.

I will probably go to one of the many public gatherings around the country to enjoy music, food and all things Kiwi. It's amazing how joyful these occasions are. I assume that their relaxed and celebratory atmosphere and complete lack of [newsworthy] controversy is what keeps the television cameras away.

I will celebrate both my Maori and Pakeha ancestry - the relationships that have gone deeper than any treaty to connect us - and the healing that has already taken place, especially since the advent of the Waitangi Tribunal. I will also acknowledge one of my greatest privileges: that I grew up in Rotorua.

I will celebrate both my Maori and Pakeha ancestry - the relationships that have gone deeper than any treaty to connect us - and the healing that has already taken place, especially since the advent of the Waitangi Tribunal.

In my hometown we have a saying. It is, in fact, the motto of our city. "Tatou tatou" means "we together" and it informs everything we do. You could say it began in 1880, when my iwi Te Arawa gifted to the Crown the land for the public hospital, the schools and numerous other pillars of our community to be built upon. It continues today.

Being part of a partnership in which neither group was forced or even expected to give up any part of its identity shaped me in ways I could never have understood at the time. Growing up under the mantle of "tatou tatou" taught me that we don't have to be "one people". In fact, we have nothing to gain from surrendering one of our cultures and everything to lose.

And yet, I do understand the angst around Waitangi Day. For those who have never had the opportunity to learn about its significance, who see television segments about protests and extremism, who read ill-informed pieces like the late Paul Holmes' "Waitangi Day a complete waste of time", how can they be expected to have any kind of balanced view?

The thing about extremists is that they come in all colours. The difference is that we've become desensitised to caustic Pakeha commentators, as they repetitively espouse their outdated yet historically sanctioned extremism. Maori extremists are heard far less prevalently and less prominently, except around Waitangi Day.

Thankfully, many of my generation of New Zealanders know better than to listen to one-sided tirades that ignore basic facts, as we were educated both about the Treaty and Maori culture. At the three state schools I attended we were taught to say our mihi, the basic elements of te reo, and the history of our Treaty, among many other things. I will be forever grateful that my education empowered me to understand the history of my country.

So let's flip the narrative and encourage everyone to learn about the Treaty. Waitangi Day should be a huge source of pride for New Zealanders. That we celebrate the partnership between our peoples shows the honour of this great nation. Waitangi Day demonstrates that we as a country are not afraid, nor ashamed to admit the mistakes of our past. I can only hope we'll continue to learn from them.

I'm not saying that we're perfect. We're not. There is still work to do, Treaty principles to be upheld and issues worth protesting, but we are on the right path.

So today, let's not allow the racism of the few to spoil a fantastic day for the many. Happy Waitangi Day, my fellow Kiwis. May it be truly great.

- NZ Herald

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